While a horrifying military conflict is continuously raging in Afghanistan there seems to be a complete stalemate on the political front. As 2014 is drawing closer there is little hope for any breakthrough in terms of some consensus among the most important players who are egoistically clinging to their positions on post-withdrawal arrangements.
Zero-sum games are being played out at the cost of Afghan blood. There seems to be no willingness for striking compromises for the sake of peace and for the sake of the Afghan people who have faced war ravages for more than three decades for no fault of theirs.
There are serious disconnects among the key players. As if the disconnect between Pakistan and the US were not enough, the fresh disconnect between Pakistan and Afghanistan after the tragic murder of Prof Burhanuddin Rabbani has further complicated the situation.
The future of the high-level joint Pakistan-Afghanistan peace commission is in question. Afghans are convening a new peace jirga on Nov 16. What does it mean? It clearly implies that the course charted by the previous Loya Jirga leading to the emergence of the grand peace council aimed at reconciliation in Afghanistan has come to a dead end.
President Hamid Karzai in a recent interview categorically stated that his government cannot talk to an adversary whose only address is that of a suicide bomber’s. Therefore,
Afghanistan needs to rethink the entire situation.
Before one dwells upon a possible fresh course adopted by the Afghan government and its implications, it would be useful to refer to some lessons of the situation after the withdrawal of the Soviets from Afghanistan in 1989. At that time, too, the main focus was on the withdrawal of foreign forces, and little attention was paid to post-withdrawal processes in Afghanistan.
No effort was made to create a consensus on a transitional government before the withdrawal. Even afterwards, the pleas of the then Afghan president Dr Najibullah for negotiation on transition were ignored. Consequently, a ferocious civil war followed the Soviet withdrawal, not only destroying the urban centres of the country but also turning Afghanistan into a hub of international terrorism. If the post-Soviet withdrawal experience of Afghanistan is anything to go by it is quite clear that an exclusive approach in or around Afghanistan will never lead to a sustainable solution.
To ensure a rational inclusion of all important players for finding a sustainable solution in post-withdrawal Afghanistan the creation of a credible international mechanism for drawing three circles of negotiations and ensuring simultaneous development in all three is proposed.
The first circle should be that of an intra-Afghan dialogue. In recent times, outsiders have exaggeratedly focused on the vengeful tribal mindset. Yes, the tribal mindset is vengeful but it is equally pragmatic if allowed to work on its own. The experience of the 1990s is convincing evidence that almost every Afghan group did talk to and
compromised with every other Afghan group. Such understandings were disrupted due to foreign interference and this brings us to the second circle.
The second circle should be that of negotiations among regional players of the Afghan scene. Let us not forget that Afghanistan has its south, east, north and west. Afghanistan has important neighbours in all these directions with common ethnicities. No neighbour can be excluded from a consensus on the possible future arrangements in and around Afghanistan. Any effort by any one of the neighbours aimed at a monopolising influence on post-withdrawal Afghanistan can bring back the proxy wars of 1990s. Let us not forget that the glue that holds Afghanistan together is getting thinner and thinner.
Finally, there should be a third circle of negotiations aimed at creating international convergence. It is important for three reasons. First, there are international players actively involved in the Afghan conflict and they will have to be part of the negotiations for finding solutions. Second, Afghanistan will require large-scale assistance for reconstruction, and it will not be possible to find resources without the participation of the international community in the peace process. Third, the presence of international powers in the process will, to a certain extent, defuse the chronic regional rivalries with the potential to create serious complications.
It is worth mentioning that simultaneity of the progress in all three circles is a must. Without this, one circle will have the capacity to hit and subvert the process. That is exactly what happened during and after the withdrawal of the Soviet forces. Simultaneous progression steered by a neutral international mechanism in all three circles can prevent the repetition of the 1990s’ fatal mistakes.
Policymakers in Pakistan must realise that they cannot support Afghanistan by befriending a single group. We should be open to friendship with the entire Afghan nation. We should have a benign policy modelled after China’s. Secondly, we also need to focus on the political and economic aspects of our relationship with Afghanistan, instead of getting bogged down in the Cold War-like fixation with the geo-strategic.
We can have a special relationship with Afghanistan only when the Afghan people are convinced about its justification. It cannot be imposed on them. The government of Pakistan needs to take fresh and effective initiative to defuse the current tension between the two countries immediately before the Afghanistan Loya Jirga binds the government of that country by taking a tough stand.
Afrasiab Khattak is a member of the Senate and ANP provincial president in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. This piece originally appeared in Dawn.