Clash of egos

With little or nothing to lose, the Taliban will have more demands and offers that they will expect the world to meet.

Muhammad Ali Ehsan July 05, 2013
The writer is a research scholar who is doing a PhD in civil-military relations from KU

Massive egos are on the line. The egos of the Afghan government, the Taliban — both Afghan and Pakistani — the Americans, as well as the Pakistan Army. All continue to fight the Afghan War for a purpose; the cost that all of them pay forces them to pursue peace as an instrument of policy. Yet, the massive egos of all of them remain intact because none of the parties involved in the conflict have been completely or sufficiently beaten or defeated. All of them carry on their shoulders not only the burden of abandonment of their goals and missions that haven’t been or only partially achieved but also their massive egos and pride. And for this reason, the future of any regional peace agreement will remain uncertain and doubtful.

Today’s Taliban seem to be shaping up to offer their political face to the world. With the Afghan presidential elections hardly nine months away, they need to show the world that they can talk and practices politics. The Afghan government that has faced the brunt of their militant attacks has little faith in the Taliban becoming a political stakeholder in future Afghan politics. For over a decade, the Taliban’s politics has flown only from the barrels of their guns, the IEDs that they have planted on roadsides, the suicide jackets their volunteers have worn and detonated and the innumerable bomb blasts and attacks on civilians and armed forces personnel that have caused many casualties. They have forced the world to negotiate with them only because they proved it to them that in this third dimensional and irregular war, they are a force to reckon with and cannot be defeated. So, the Taliban negotiate with their military capability as well as their ego completely intact. With little or nothing to lose, they will have more demands and offers that they will expect the world to meet rather than the concessions and compromises that we all wish them to concede.

The Pakistan Army has not been able to achieve a position of military ascendency. Yet, with a regular army fighting against an irregular force that is good at fighting a guerrilla war — in a geographical area best suited for such warfare — no side can claim a permanent military ascendency. In fact, achieving military ascendency permanently in this form of warfare is not an achievable goal. Now, the military chooses to follow the policy of  “wait and see”. It has put its hope and money on the Taliban to lay a major claim on the developing political landscape in future Afghan politics. North Waziristan has been left untouched only with a purpose. So, for the Pakistan Army and Pakistan, it means little if the goal of achieving peace remains elusive — at least, in the immediate context. For the policymakers in Pakistan, war and peace in the region may continue to take momentum of their own. Holding on to the position of being a game changer, the Pakistan Army’s influence will become apparent only after the exodus of ISAF troops from Afghanistan. For now, the Pakistan Army waits and is more focused on “testing future intentions” of all stakeholders.

For the Americans, it suits their national interests if the Taliban threat is a little beyond Afghanistan and Pakistan. They will continue to employ coercion and diplomacy to achieve an end. But as the Americans leave, they leave behind an Afghanistan that they imagine will be able to govern itself. Yet, the continuity of any central rule in Afghanistan has been an elusive goal. The 334 districts of the 34 provinces have tribal rulers and their own customs and traditions. There are also warlords with private militia. All this means that it will be a difficult and unsustainable peace that the Americans will leave behind.

The Americans may design and formulate an exit strategy that ensures that they leave with their ego intact. However, what they leave behind is a battlefield in which no side is defeated. Egos of all sides are unhurt and intact. This is not a recipe for peace. It is a prescription for an unending conflict between sides that have varied ideological goals and interests that largely diverge and hardly ever converge.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 6th, 2013.

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Feroz | 8 years ago | Reply

Pakistan backed the Taliban right from the 1990's and continue to do so. Having hitched its band wagon to the Taliban the planners never envisaged that it would cost the lives of almost 50,000 citizens. To escape accountability for its disastrous policies it continues to hoodwink the people. No one cares a fig about whether Afghanistan stabilizes after the departure of US / NATO forces. When help was available to eliminate militancy and terrorism, Pakistan rebuffed it. This is what the World knows and will remember. When the Wolf knocks on the door the World will tell Pakistan to handle its own problem. "Hoist on the petard" describes the situation aptly.

Pak tiger | 8 years ago | Reply

Well grounded argument

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