- Who are the players pulling Afghanistan in and out of peace?
By: Syed Usama Shirazi
Afghanistan has not seen peace and tranquility since the USSR invaded IT as a part of its expansionist strategy. The USA, the Soviet arch-rival entered the arena to circumscribe it through its alliance with jihadis, using the Pakistani state in this nexus of holy warriors and crusaders against communist Russians.
After the Soviet debacle at the hands of jihadis, things were changed. The former allies were designated terrorists and Pakistan was penalized by economic sanctions through the Pressler Amendment. The Soviet withdrawal created a power vacuum and to fill it different factions of jihadis started infighting which culminated in the capture of Kabul by the Taliban. The Taliban ruled the country until the incident of 9/11 happened which gave the USA a pretext to winkle them out of the power.
Then came the darkest era of violence and horrors which engulfed hundreds of thousands of innocent lives and ravaged the whole infrastructure of the county. After the protracted war, both parties realized that they could not end the conflict without a negotiated settlement that would be acceptable to both sides.
From the moment the USA and the Taliban signed the peace deal in Doha, Qatar, this year, many have been optimistic about the arrival of peace and normalcy in the country. However, while optimism is a good thing, when it overshadows the reality, things backfire. The peace in Afghanistan does not merely depend upon the withdrawal of forces. Rather, until the interests of all major stakeholders are met, peace is elusive.
To bring normalcy in Afghanistan is not as easy as it looks. The conflicting interests of the major stakeholders are real impediments. China, Pakistan, and Russia are on one page since their interests are entwined with peace in Afghanistan. While on the other hand, India and the USA are on the devil’s side as their interests lie in sabotaging BRI and CPEC, which can only be done by creating and flaring insurgency in both China and Pakistan using Afghan soil
China: it wants to exploit enormous Afghan’s mineral market and to ensure the smooth running of its Belt and Road Initiative-related projects. Moreover, it wants to keep extremist tendencies away from its border areas as these could destabilize its already ethnically disturbed province of Xinxiang. Thus, peace in Afghanistan is as imperative for China as it is for Afghanistan.
Pakistan: having a 2200-kilometer porous border with Afghanistan, Pakistan has always been apprehensive of its security and the role of India in using Afghanistan against it. At present, Pakistan has two broader interests: to stop cross-border terrorism as it wants to mainstream its border areas, the erstwhile FATA. Secondly, to keep India out of Afghanistan as it has been using it to create insurgency in erstwhile FATA and Baluchistan. Hence, Pakistan’s interests are aligned with a peaceful Afghanistan.
Russia: Russia, once a bringer of catastrophes on Afghan soil, now, does not have any hegemonic design to. It wants to protect its backyard from extremism and terrorism to get maximum advantage of the new Central Asian great game. Hence, peace in Afghanistan will also serve Russian’s interests.
The USA: the USA signed the deal with the Taliban not to bring peace in the country but to get a safe passage for its forces and to secure some domestic electoral interests. Without a deal, the withdrawal would have been considered as a debacle of the US military, which would have also depleted its global standing as a superpower. The USA has still many unfulfilled strategic objectives in Afghanistan and without achieving them, it will not leave. Washington sees China’s rise as a threat to its existence and will not spare any effort in containing it. Afghanistan is its base station from where it will derail Belt and Road projects by creating insurgency in the region. The emergence of ISIK can be seen in this perspective as it has been gaining considerable ground in Afghanistan. The USA can also use Afghani soil to hire and train fighters for the East Turkmenistan Islamic Movement to create insurgency in Xinjiang. The withdrawal of forces does not mean that peace would again come to the country. It is a part of the US new retrenchment strategy which aimed to reduce unnecessary military spending abroad. The US strategic interests in Afghanistan are the same as they were when it invaded the country in 2001. By the recent peace deal, it has just changed its tactics to secure those interests more efficiently and cost-effectively and ISIK is its practical manifestation.
India: It has many strategic interests in Afghanistan but pivotal is the encirclement of Pakistan. It has been using Afghan soil to create insurgency in FATA, Baluchistan, and Karachi by providing financial, technical, and logistic support to TTP, BLA, BLF, and many other terrorist organizations. Moreover, India being a strategic US ally, has also gone a step further in containing China in the region. The recent Sino-Indian standoff in Doklam is being seen by many strategic analysts as a part of a broader US strategy to contain China. Hence, Indians’ interests are aligned with those of the USA which can only be served by insurgency that could engulf Afghanistan in particular, and Pakistan and China as well.
Afghanistan’s internal power dynamics will also shape the future of the country. The Taliban are already losing the support of some of the radical factions opposed to a deal with the USA. This vacuum could be filled by Islamic State. Abu Hamza al-Qureshi, IS spokesperson, has already declared the Taliban apostates for signing the deal with the crusaders.
In the intra-Afghan dialogue, the thorniest issue would be the nature of the state and the constitution. President Ashraf Ghani, along with his northern allies, has already started seeking international support to make the end state a republic. The biggest challenge for the Taliban would be to extend an iota of concession to this demand. Even if compelled to accept a moderate constitution, they will still lose the support of a broad faction of their ideological warriors. In this case, ISIK will fill the space and an endless cascade of violence would be the future of Afghanistan.
To bring normalcy in Afghanistan is not as easy as it looks. The conflicting interests of the major stakeholders are real impediments. China, Pakistan, and Russia are on one page since their interests are entwined with peace in Afghanistan. While on the other hand, India and the USA are on the devil’s side as their interests lie in sabotaging BRI and CPEC, which can only be done by creating and flaring insurgency in both China and Pakistan using Afghan soil.
Moreover, seeking too many concessions from the Taliban would also be a grave mistake as they have their compulsions. Otherwise, if they lose ground to ISIK, not only the future of Afghanistan but of the whole region would suffer.
The writer is pursuing MPhil in international relations from Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.
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