The great Afghan game

  • The Afghanistan of today stands divided more than ever

The second round of Taliban talks concluded on 28th January 2018 with a glimmer of hope for the Afghans, and the world anxiously awaiting an Afghan peace settlement. However, this is just the second round of what is required to be a continuous series of talks, although these have been more conclusive as compared to the last round.

The second round, lasting six days, has borne important themes for an international discourse. First, the recognition of Taliban as legitimate stakeholders in the politics of Afghanistan. Second, the need for an inclusive strategy by key players; United States, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Third, the fact that power can be easily matched with power, when both sides are supporting and are supported by their set of ideologues. Fourth, ideological consensus; so far as it exists and sustains itself, formulates a camp strong enough that it can only be dealt with through diplomatic means. Fifth, US’ cost of war, especially in Afghanistan has increased monumentally and the Middle Eastern chessboard has become difficult, with more forces at play. This long, forgotten war has not only challenged US’ position as the global hegemon, but also damaged its economy, diminished its appetite for an overseas engagement, and is largely unpopular amongst its own citizens.

What initially started as an international need for protection, perpetrated by the US, has now transformed into a much bigger threat. When a state’s sovereignty is breached, no matter the humanitarian concern, the locals always group together to protect the ideologues that sustains them and are idiosyncratically theirs. It’s their ancestral land, their values and customs, traditions, and their chance at governing themselves. When either or all of these ideologues are threatened, small collectives are formed around them. In practice, it is Machiavellian – when there is trouble on borders, people unite to present a strong front. If the civilians fear use of power, they build up arsenal. In a country where there are more weapons than food, and infighting between tribes, around the metropoles has been the norm; the devastation that the 17-year long war has brought, furthering differences and worsening the socio-economic indicators; has driven the Afghans and the world to a state of amnesia where the past of a rather stable Afghanistan seems like a distant illusion. Reiteration of the idea that the Afghans in fact needed the US and the ‘free world’ has dampened those pages in history where the glorious days of Kabul were celebrated.

In the 17 years of reformation and rebuilding, all efforts by the US and the free world have been in vain. The very fabric on which the Afghan sustains itself hasn’t been altered

The Afghanistan of today stands divided more than ever. There are factions that see little in the country’s future, and fearing their extinction, want to push for their influence as soon as a vacuum is created. Right now, the US troops and the Afghan security forces are keeping this balance. As soon as the troops start to withdraw, a number of challenges shaped as insurgent factions will rush to dissolve the government.

At the basis of all these is an inherent need to understand the prevailing on-ground conditions in Afghanistan, with respect to, the US troops, Afghan government, the role of Pakistan, and the sentiments of Afghans. An understanding of the Afghans will tell us how they view the forces in their country, and expect to see their country being run after the US troops withdraw. It is only with this that the dream of an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led peace process can actually be realised.

But this isn’t entirely so simple. The Afghans are still as unaware of the democratic system of governance, as they were before being invaded, and are more likely to side with a Taliban regime, with which they can relate to and look towards for political participation. On the other hand are the many factions that exist in Afghanistan, which can easily fall prey to civil unrest if the Afghan government and security forces aren’t there to maintain balance. If conflict persists and civil unrest ensues, the worst hit will be the country’s women and children, who would be even further taken aback and stand to face even worse marginalisation.

In the 17 years of reformation and rebuilding, all efforts by the US and the free world have been in vain. The very fabric on which the Afghan sustains itself hasn’t been altered, and after almost two decades, the US should accept its defeat in not being able to battle the intricacies of what makes the Afghan ever so resilient. And also accept that till this day, it is but only a foreign invader of the country.

This in itself should be the starting point for the third round of talks with the Taliban, and it is therefore essential that the Taliban and the Afghan government are able to sit together, if an armistice is to be reached. Ahead of the second round, the Taliban carried out an attack on a security base, to increase their stakes and get a higher ground in negotiations. Moving forward, such pressure tactics should be expected and as a prerequisite factored in. However, what the other side of the table can do is to cleverly word the future of Afghanistan in a way that it resonates with the beliefs of the Taliban as well. While this appears to be unorthodox and in direct negation of what we’ve proclaimed to have been fighting, the solution to Afghanistan will come from the Afghans themselves. The US’ Afghan endgame is nearing, and that for the Afghans has just begun.