Peace process in Afghanistan


Can’t be Afghan-led, Afghan-owned



I have always objected to the Pakistani foreign policy position that solution to Afghan situation should be Afghan-led and Afghan-owned. Even Afghan President and government reject this position when they repeatedly blame Pakistan for aiding and facilitating the Afghan Taliban thereby making it the party to the issue. The fall of Kunduz, even if it was for a few days, was a reminder to the government in Kabul that their writ is limited to the capital city and its surroundings. The rest of Afghanistan is controlled by various factions of Afghan Taliban. The Kunduz attack was significant in one respect that traditionally Northern Afghan fighters have not formed close association with Afghan Taliban. Their combined attack on the provincial capital sent a message that the factions can unite against the government when their interests converge.

The deteriorating situation in Afghanistan can only be blamed on President Ashraf Ghani’s government itself. Firstly, the coalition government of President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah could not agree on the cabinet. This has created a stalemate and non-functioning of the administration which has frustrated the people. Secondly, domestic crisis has its effect on foreign policy as it has toggled between warm and cold relations with Pakistan. If Afghanistan feels that Pakistan is a key country to resolve their internal crisis then how can they expect to achieve progress without maintaining steady relations for medium to long term? Afghanistan should appreciate that Pakistan has repeatedly stated that it will not allow its soil to be used by foreign fighters.

Thirdly, Afghanistan has to understand that India will use internal security lapses of Afghanistan to tarnish Pakistan’s relations with it as well as try to isolate it internationally using their unitary label of sponsoring terrorism. This strategy of India is so far working to influence the Afghan government and populace but has not worked in international arena. Lastly, if the government was serious in peace negotiations with Afghan Taliban then they should have accepted the ascension of Mullah Mansoor as Ameer to strengthen his position. It is even more disturbing when it is revealed that it was Mullah Mansoor that was willing to sit down and initiate a dialogue. This uncompromising attitude of Afghan government forced new Taliban leadership to show their grip on the ground by initiating attacks and enter Kunduz. This tactical success has raised the stature of Mullah Mansoor and strengthen his grip on power.

The solution to Afghan situation cannot be left to Afghan-owned and Afghan-led. It is a regional crisis affecting all neighbours substantially from both economic and security perspectives. A better approach should be to create a regional platform led by Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan to initiate discussions with international powers including China, Russia, USA and EU. This platform should mediate the negotiations between Afghan government and Taliban representatives. The eventual negotiations should be at the highest level involving Mullah Mansoor and Afghan President. We have the example of Ukraine where the solution to the crisis was found when summit meetings were held among the heads of governments resulting in a cease fire and next stage of dialogue. Involvement of heads of governments is mandatory to find a far reaching and viable solution. These summit meetings can be held in Islamabad, Tehran, Istanbul, Beijing or Moscow.

The solution has to be proposed and agreed to by Afghans but neighbours and international powers have to provide guarantees and resources for the success of any agreement. China and its newly established Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) have to create a development plan on the line of Marshall Plan offered by the US to Europe after the Second World War. This will help strengthen the Afghan economy and link it with Chinese sponsored One Road, One Belt initiative as a transit country to Central Asia and beyond.

The delay in finding solution to Afghanistan will allow emergence of ISIS in the region because anarchy and breakdown of authority are two necessary ingredients for their success. Emergence of this anarchist movement will destabilise not just Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan but could reach to Russian Caucasus and Chinese North Western province of Xinjiang. Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and other neighbouring countries are also concerned about the spillover effect if the situation went out of control.

Pakistan should rethink its Afghan foreign policy and initiate diplomatic efforts for the creation of the regional platform. Any delay in this is detrimental to both Afghan and Pakistan who are joined by the hip in this.