IPRI – Islamabad Policy Research Institute

The Future of Afghanistan

By Prof. Dr. Tughral Yamin, Associate Dean, Centre for International Peace & Stability (CIPS), National University of Sciences & Technology (NUST).    
19 July 2021                       

The US forces are withdrawing from Afghanistan at a very fast pace and the Taliban are making rapid territorial gains. Most of the western forces have already departed from Afghanistan. Symbolically the Americans have given the 11th of September as the cutoff date for the evacuation of their military forces. This date signifies the day when commandeered commercial planes brought down the Twin Towers in Manhattan and crashed into the building of the Pentagon in 2001. This marked the beginning of America’s so-called war on terror. On 7 October 2001, the US supported by its main ally UK launched Operation Enduring Freedom to remove the Taliban from power and to dismantle the Al Qaeda. The Taliban were driven out from their strongholds by the 17 December. This feat was achieved by bribing the tribes to switch their loyalties and by militarily supporting the Northern Alliance. Most of the Al Qaeda cadres escaped, some into Pakistan. Their leader Osama bin Laden was killed ten years later by the US Navy SEALS in Abbottabad on May 2, 2011. The Taliban melted away into the countryside to live and fight another day.

Following the fall of the Taliban in the month of December, the UN Security Council established the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to oversee the military operations and train the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). NATO became part of the ISAF forces in 2003. The overall command of the foreign military forces in Afghanistan always remained with the US. In a conference held in Bonn in December 2002, Hamid Karzai was selected to head the Afghan Interim Administration. After the Loya Jirga (Grand Assembly of Tribal Elders) of 2002, the administrative mechanism was renamed the Afghanistan Transitional Interim. In 2004, Karzai was elected as the president of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Karzai remained the president of Afghanistan till September 2014. He was succeeded by Ashraf Ghani, who still remains in office. How long will he survive is anybody’s guess. Given the fast changing situation, concerned parties are making efforts to engage with the Afghan stakeholders. Pakistan wants that there should be no civil war or chaos in Afghanistan after the departure of foreign forces. The US is leaving behind an Afghanistan as fragile, fragmented and bloodied, as the one they had occupied in 2001. Perhaps worse. Pakistan believes in an Afghan led and Afghan owned peace process. It believes that only Afghans themselves can make a bid for a peaceful future.

America’s ‘forever war’ is about to end but what does the future hold for the Afghans, who have seen their country’s ruination at the hands of two foreign occupiers – the Soviets and the Americans. The prospects right now are very grim. There is a distinct possibility of a civil war, unless the warring parties themselves desist from it. There is little pressure on the Taliban not to consolidate their military gains. They can take their time. They have in fact asked the Kabul Government for a three month ceasefire in exchange for the release of 7,000 prisoners. The Afghan government thinks that this price is too high. One will have to wait and see. The best way to prevent bloodshed would be to ask all parties to accept a ceasefire. This should be followed by negotiations to decide about the future political dispensation in the country. An all-inclusive government giving due representation to all the minorities (Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Hazaras) and women can be in a position to lay the foundations of a peaceful and modern Afghanistan. 

The essential thing is reconciliation among all parties. Every conflict has a baggage. Although the Taliban have promised that they would not seek revenge but the urge to target former collaborators, is a distinct possibility. Badal or revenge is an essential tenet of Pashtunwali (the tribal code of the Pashtun). Can a tribesman, who has suffered individually or collectively forgive and forget the blood of his kin? Forgiveness is a virtue that is unknown to an Afghan. It will regard great power of persuasion on the part of the tribal elders to convince their followers to display large-heartedness and make a clean break from the past.

Some form of elections to elect the new government will become imperative. If the Taliban are able to capture Kabul, they will be chary to allow anyone else to be part of the government. Why after all should they share the spoils of war, with those, who had opposed them or allied themselves with foreign forces? This would require a lot of patience by those engaging or facilitating the talks. Pakistan had its fingers burnt in trying to convince the warlords to kiss and make up after the Soviets withdrew. Even a meeting in the Holy Kaaba and a promise to renounce violence did not stop bloodshed in Afghanistan. Kabul that had survived the Soviet invasion was destroyed due to the infighting among the opposing parties. After reconciliation and the installation of an all-inclusive government, the next step would be international recognition.  Any government that is established under the banner of the Taliban would find it extremely difficult to find a seat for itself in the UN and/or recognition by the world capitals. Last time the Taliban were in power, only the governments namely Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE recognized the Taliban. Pakistan paid a heavy price for the ‘diplomatic indiscretion.’ It is therefore, not unsurprising that Islamabad is being very careful in not taking sides.

Next few months are going to be very important for the Afghans. The future lies in their own hands.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are of the author and do not necessarily represent the institute’s policy.

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