A scrimmage in a border station,
A canter down some dark defile,
Two thousand pounds of education,
Drops to a ten rupee Jezail….
Strike hard who cares,
The odds are on the cheaper man.
Afghanistan is a place where the staccato sound of the machine intones the funeral dirge of the peace every other decade as a chant de guerre in favour of one group of warriors or the other. Afghanistan endgame has begun after the US decision to pull out its remaining troops by September. Some say the Americans are trying to cut their losses, while others ascribe the decision to the US democratic impulse’s triumph over the military industrial complex. After 20,600 US casualties, including around 2300 fatalities, the Americans have decided to treat over a trillion dollars invested in this war as a bad investment. Fatigue, both on the battlefront and at home along with an ambivalence about the war objectives, ultimately led to the US decision to withdraw from Afghanistan, writes Raashid Wali Janjua, Acting President of Islamabad Policy Research Institute.ADVERTISEMENT
The domestic politics’ impact on US policymakers is evident in the shape of policy shifts during Obama and Trump tenures. Obama in his autobiography “The Promised Land” mentions Biden excoriating the troop surge demand of the US generals. Even as Vice President, Biden was against this enervating conflict that continually drained the economic lifeblood of the US in pursuit of the unachievable nation building project in Afghanistan. He instead wanted a light US footprint on ground only in pursuit of counter terrorism tasks to deny sanctuaries to terrorists. It was a concept borrowed from the playbook of Professor Stephen Walt who was a great proponent of offshore balancing strategy instead of messy interventions like Afghanistan.
What has led to war weariness for Americans is a combination of factors, including a reappraisal of the national security threat profile preferring counter China policy over regional entanglements. Last but not least was what T.V. Paul calls the “Asymmetry of Will” in asymmetric wars. It was not the asymmetry of resources but an asymmetry of will that compelled the US to call off its Afghan project. So therein emerges a question for all stakeholders to answer. Is the Afghan war really over for protannists who believe they are winning because of their ability to wage an armed struggle? When Taliban in the Afghan fray believe that they have a better chance to force the issue through bullet instead of ballot, would they be amenable to a political solution? Would Afghanistan be left to its own devices after withdrawal of US troops and private security contractors?
Another important issue is the Afghan willingness to reach a consensus through intra-Afghan dialogue. Would that dialogue yield any consensus on future power sharing arrangement or the Taliban would wait till the Americans leave and then force the issue through brute force? What leverage do the regional countries like Pakistan, Iran, China and Russia have on the Afghan factions’ ability to forge a consensus on the future constitutional scheme in the country? What is the possibility of ideal power sharing arrangement and what are the potential spoilers to peace? What is the role of international community and regional powers to shore up the Afghan economy, which is aid dependent and suffering from the war economy cirrhosis?
To answer these questions, one needs to understand the tectonic shift in the global power politics. A skein of competing alliances is being built starting with regional alliances like SCO, ASEAN and BIMSTECH, leading onto supra-regional alliance like the “Indo-Pacific.” Despite China’s espousal of concepts like “communities of shared interests” and “common destiny,” its economic initiatives like BRI are being viewed with trepidation by the US and its allies. There are global developments that are impacting Afghan peace. The new US Grand Strategy is shifting its geopolitical focus away from South Asia towards East Asia, South China Sea and Western Pacific. The reorganization of the US Special Operations Command for conventional roles and rebranding of Asia-Pacific as “Indo-Pacific” region with Quadrilateral Security Dialogue as the piece de-resistance of the whole endeavor clearly indicates the new US priorities..
What does the above portend for Afghan peace? In simple terms the US departure appears final and interests in Afghan peace peripheral to its vital national interests. The main dramatis personae in the final Afghan peace denouement would henceforth be the regional countries directly impacted by the Afghan conflict. These countries in order of impact include Pakistan, Central Asian Republics, Iran, China, and Russia. Various commentators of the Afghan situation opine that the Afghan society has changed and that it would not be easy for the Taliban to defeat their rivals like in the past. To some extent it is true because the Afghan Taliban have a broadened outlook due to better exposure to the outside world. The Afghan society has also developed greater resilience compared to 1990s.
The Taliban are also expected to encounter tough resistance from Uzbek, Tajik, Turkmen and Hazara ethnicities, led by experienced leaders like Dostum, Muhaqqiq, Salahuddin Rabbani and Karim Khalili. In Afghanistan’s 34 provinces and provincial capitals, the Ashraf Ghani government is in control of 65% of the population with over 300,000 strong Afghan National Defence and Security Forces. This makes for a strong opposition but the coalition of the expediency featuring Dae’sh,Al-Qaeda and TTP on the side of the Taliban tips the scales in their favour. If the intra-Afghan dialogue on future power sharing and constitutional agreement does not succeed, the Taliban are likely to triumph in a protracted civil war. The recrudescence of violence and instability would lead to an upsurge in narco-trafficking, crime and human rights violations. Such a scenario would not only impact regional but global peace and security.
Pakistan and the regional countries have to prepare themselves for such a destabilizing scenario. A Grand Jirga of Afghans is an appropriate forum for a consensus on future-power sharing agreement. The involvement of international community is essential for the sustenance of a war-torn Afghan economy as well as and provide a useful leverage over any future government in Kabul to maintain the political, economic and social gains of the last two decades, especially those related to democracy, governance, human and women’s rights, girls’ education, etc. Regional countries like Pakistan, Iran, China and Russia need to form an alliance for Afghan peace without which the journey of Afghan peace would be bound in shallows and miseries.
Note: This article appeared on Eureporter, dated 06 June 2021.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are of the author and do not necessarily represent Institute’s policy.