Vagaries of fate in Afghanistan

  • Writing on the wall

The clock has turned a full circle in Afghanistan, with antagonists becoming allies and vice versa. When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, the US urged Muslims from all over the world to join the jihad against the Red Army. Afghan Mujahedeen, jihadists from the Muslim ummah became the al Qaeda to wage war against the occupying Soviet force and after nearly a decade of guerrilla wars, the Soviet Union was forced to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan.

Since the US government did not wait to disarm the mujahedeen or re-indoctrinate them, it paid a huge price. Al Qaeda morphed into a terror organisation and 9/11 occurred. This time around, US led forces led an invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001, since the al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was provided shelter in Afghanistan and the Taliban government refused to hand over to the US, the main accused in the 9/11 attacks. The Taliban were defeated but not eliminated, they hid in caves and ran helter-skelter but soon regrouped, rearmed and became a force to reckon with.

According to its latest report, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) informs that the Kabul government has control or influence over 65 percent of the population but only 55.5 percent of Afghanistan’s 407 districts. The Taliban not only controls the rest but targets the government and US forces with impunity. The US watchdog agency informed last week that the Afghan government was losing control of districts to the Taliban while casualties among security forces had reached record levels.

Seventeen years after toppling the Taliban government in Afghanistan, the US, having been forced to withdraw the bulk of its forces, is now seeking negotiations for peace with the Taliban. Post 1989 archival photographs depict US President Ronald Reagan receiving Taliban leaders in the White House with current US President Donald Trump’s special envoy to Afghanistan, then a lowly translator taking notes. Zalmay Khalilzad also appears to have undergone a metamorphosis from an arrogant US Ambassador to Kabul, threatening Pakistan with more drone attacks and boots on the ground, is now seeking Pakistan’s help in getting the Taliban to the negotiations’ table. He met the Taliban quietly in their office in Doha last month, beseeching them to come to the peace talks.

Russia, which had been the target of the mujahedeen for the decade 1979-1989, has now become an interlocutor for peace in Afghanistan. Russian attempts for peace earlier on September 4 this year had to be placed on the backburner after US decided to stay away and the Afghan government had refused to attend on the flimsy plea that all meetings on Afghanistan should be Afghan-led. This time, the US sent its diplomat in Moscow to attend the moot after dilly dallying for a while.

For centuries, Afghanistan has been a country which has been a graveyard of invaders. Failing to learn from the mistakes of erstwhile USSR, the US repeated the same and is still suffering

The Indians waited the fence to take a cue from the US and when they received the green light, they too sent a mid-level official to Moscow to join the peace conference. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani was still loath to attend, perhaps for the better, because the Taliban stole the limelight. Kabul dispatched members of its high council for peace, which has already met the Taliban at other locations previously.

Russia had been active for peace in Afghanistan since it hosted a trilateral meeting of Pakistan, China and Russia in December 2016, followed by another meeting attended by Afghanistan, India and Iran. Russia launched the Moscow-format consultations in 2017 as part of its diplomatic efforts to press for a political solution to the Afghan problem. A five-man delegation of the Taliban comprising Muhammad Abbas Stanikzai, Maulvi Salam Hanafi, Maulvi Shahab Uddin Delawar, Maulvi Zia-ur-Rahman Madani and Muhammad Sohail Shaheen participated in the conference.

It was ironic to see the Taliban leaders being sought by the media for comments after the conference. Speaking in impeccable English, Maulvi Shahab Uddin made it clear that the Afghan Taliban were talking to the US about the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan. The Taliban leader categorically declared that when the withdrawal plan of the foreign forces is finalised then the negotiations will enter the second phase, about drawing a road map depicting how to bring about peace in Afghanistan. Shahab Uddin reiterated that the talks now are centered on the modus operandi of the withdrawal and if the US has any security concerns, it should present its concerns on the table. The Taliban made it crystal clear that they were a liberating force and were only interested in liberating their homeland from the occupation of foreign forces, rebuild it after liberation and not interfere with anyone outside. The Maulvi, when asked by foreign correspondents being in Moscow, helped, he responded by stating that anywhere peace could be discussed was welcome.

Donald Trump should take cognizance of the fact that more than 3,430 members of the International Occupation Force Troops have been slaughtered in Afghanistan while more than 100,000 Afghans have lost their lives since 2001. The US taxpayers are paying $32.08 million for total cost of wars in Afghanistan, which has surpassed a total of $4,664,931,905,571.

These funds could have been utilised in establishing schools, hospitals, paid for clean energy, created jobs, eliminated disease, hunger, poverty and made the world a safer place. Persisting with the wars and threatening to indulge in more wars is only going to create more problems for the US and the rest of the world.

As far as Afghanistan is concerned, the writing on the wall is clear there is no place for the likes of Ashraf Ghani and his ilk, who indulge in corruption, have no backing of the people and cannot stand up to the war lords. To the USA, it must be amply clear that it should seek a path of clean egress before it suffers more losses. For centuries, Afghanistan has been a country which has been a graveyard of invaders. Failing to learn from the mistakes of erstwhile USSR, the US repeated the same and is still suffering.

It may be a blow to its ego, negotiating with the same forces it had ousted but the bitter pill will perhaps have to be swallowed.

Pakistan too should have learnt some bitter lessons and must avoid playing favourites and forever ditch its dreams of strategic depth. Its own development plans are on hold till peace returns to Afghanistan. Pakistan is thus a stakeholder in Afghan peace but must resist the temptation of jumping into the fray and only assume responsibilities, which the legitimate Afghan government, whenever it is formed, asks it to fulfill.