16 Years of Afghan war in retrospect

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In the 72nd UN General Assembly session, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi categorically told the international community that “Pakistan won’t be a scapegoat in the Afghan War.” This statement is an indirect response to Trump’s new Afghan policy. During his speech PM Abbasi firmly said that Pakistan believes in “urgent” and “realistic” goals in Afghanistan and wants complete elimination of all terrorist organisations including Da’ish, al Qaida and TTP. He further denoted that apart from the people of Afghanistan, Pakistan and its people have suffered the most from four decades of foreign intervention and civil wars in Afghanistan. For 16 years, peace has not been achieved which clearly depicts that now we should ponder other options.

Before analysing PM Abbasi’s speech, it is important to discuss the American role in the region generally and in Afghanistan especially. After 9/11 incident, the US deployed more than 100,000 troops in Afghanistan, did massive bombardment with strategic bombers, conducted more than 10,000 intelligence based operations in almost every corner of Afghanistan. But what was achieved? Obviously nothing. After spending one trillion dollars and deploying massive military might with modern weaponry, still more than 60 percent Afghanistan is under Taliban’s control. Unfortunately, today Kabul government has no writ outside its presidential palace. Infrastructure has totally collapsed, the agriculture sector is ruined and Human Development Index (HDI) has dropped to one of the lowest in the world.

Because of all these failures it seems the American role in Afghanistan is to achieve maximum level of “unrest” and “instability” instead of peace and stability. Without doubt, Uncle Sam has badly failed to assess and understand Afghanistan. Realities on the ground are utterly different. Afghans have their own socio-cultural values but tactlessly America is looking through its own glass. For instance, most recent power transition in Afghanistan under American supervision within different ethnic groups was nothing more than an eyewash. People at grass root level were displeased with this transition of power and ultimately Taliban took advantage of the politically vulnerable situation and allied them against the Kabul government.

Similarly, in economic development of Afghanistan, Trump’s policy has failed to posit any development plan. The world is aware of the poor socio-economic conditions of Afghanistan. Humans are being deprived of the basic facilities of life. Socio-economic degradation causes frustration among the masses which ultimately leads to aggression. And this is an admitted fact that you do not win the wars by using force, rather you only win the wars by winning people and creating opportunities for them. But unfortunately, America is in Afghanistan without any kind of a long term economic plan. Some experts openly claim that America is facing an inextricable situation and Trump’s new Afghan policy merely consists of delaying tactics.

Great power comes with great responsibility and being a great power America is alacritous to play a larger role in contemporary geopolitical dynamics of South Asia with its “new fella” India. In fact, new policy allows the United States to engage the region with long term political and strategic objectives. Here the US has to deal with multiple fronts. For instance, first, the US is inclined to stay in Afghanistan to keep a watchful eye on Beijing’s growing influence. Secondly, Russia is prone to re-engage in this region as well, that will be defiantly noticeable for the Trump administration. Thirdly, America has to monitor Tehran’s growing nuclear program and fourthly ISIL Khorasan, which is an emerging non-traditional security threat in South and Central Asia. And the US has to “deal” with it. So, the Trump administration would increase its military and intelligence capacity in Afghanistan but not for peace rather for playing a larger role in new developments in the region.

Coming back to PM Abbasi’s speech, while discussing Afghanistan he firmly said the only solution is negotiation and the US will not achieve anything anymore while using force. PM Abassi’s stance aptly represents our state’s policy on Afghanistan. Peace and stability in Afghanistan is highly important for regional stability and Pakistan always encourages peace process in Afghanistan. But unfortunately the international community is reluctant to acknowledge our sacrifices for regional peace and stability.

All regional and extra-regional players couldn’t deny the geographical realities of south Asia. Cooperation between Pakistan and Afghanistan is extremely essential for regional peace and stability. And all those actors who are creating mistrust between the two countries are actually not in the favour of regional peace and stability. Therefore it is the dire need of time that ongoing mistrust between Kabul and Islamabad comes to an end. More than that Kabul must be aware of all those elements including India which are not willing for regional peace. Now it puts great responsibility on policy makers in Islamabad to look at things in a broader spectrum. Along with it, Islamabad must move cautiously and avoid siding with any of the two contending powers in this New Great Game.