Pakistan, Afghanistan, US, Nato and regional powers seem to be deeply interested in peace in Afghanistan. Peace will only come to Pakistan if the war in Afghanistan ends. US President Barack Obama has made various attempts to lay down a policy that will lead to an early exit of external forces from the country. Following from that, the policy that General David Petraeus is implementing is aimed at enhancing Afghan security by breaking the back of the Taliban resistance. However, this approach was recently criticised by none other than President Hamid Karzai, who said that night-time raids into Afghan homes and high civilian casualties generated by the “surge” only multiply the opposition to peace. It was in this context that Nato leaders met in Lisbon recently.
For its part, America has been pressurising Pakistan to remove safe havens from Fata and Balochistan. Washington has asked Islamabad to end its support to the Siraj Haqqani group that is fighting in the Khost, Paktia and Paktika provinces of Afghanistan out of its base in North Waziristan. It is not understood how Pakistan will respond to this demand given its own need for retaining leverage in future peace talks. However, it has agreed with the US to undertake joint security operations in Balochistan. Apparently the “long war,” that began with the US attack on Afghanistan in October 2001 and later affected Fata, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and parts of Punjab, will now enter Balochistan with a new litany of death and destruction. This decision of the Pakistan government will be viewed with suspicion by Iran.
Nato has now come out with its plan for ending the war in Afghanistan by December 2014 when security duties will be taken over by Afghan national security institutions. At the same time, summit participants also expressed hope that the Afghan government’s efforts at reconciliation and reintegration of the Taliban will succeed. Governments and institutions somehow begin to believe what they plan on paper — as if their wishes will be transformed into results. The world, unfortunately, is not like that and the subject of statecraft is very complicated and treacherous — rarely will the final product resemble the initial goal.
The statements coming out of Lisbon also produce an eerie sense of déjà vu; what the Lisbon meeting has planned for Afghanistan in many respects mirrored the worries of the Soviet Politburo in the 1980s. According to Russian archives, the Politburo had decided as early as 1985 that war in Afghanistan was unwinnable and they should quit. However, the leaders could not come up with an agreed timetable until the fall of 1987. Gorbachev made the withdrawal announcement in February 1988 and complete withdrawal took place on February 15, 1989. President Obama and Nato are following a similar construct.
According to Gorbachev, the Soviet leaders did not take timely action for fear of causing wrong perceptions and a loss of face. Secondly, the USSR had to create a stable and peaceful Afghanistan through a strong national Afghan military while at the same time initiating a national reconciliation process with the Mujahideen. Externally, the USSR wanted the cooperation of both the US and Pakistan in creating stable conditions through the Geneva negotiations. However, Gorbachev says that both the US and Pakistan dragged their feet in Geneva, destroying any chance for peace to emerge. Had President Najibullah received support from Pakistan and the US in creating a broad-based transitional government, the subsequent history of Afghanistan could have been different. Pakistan and the US are now paying a heavy price for their past neglect. One hopes that both Nato and President Karzai are luckier this time. However, Afghan history is unpredictable and the final end of the war may be quite different from Nato’s projection.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 24th, 2010.