The US is fast losing the war in Afghanistan – if it has not already lost. It is, by all means, just a matter of time before Donald Trump makes an announcement to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan.
The nation-building of the Afghans has proved too daunting a task for the Americans. For some reason, the Americans stretched the scope of a purely punitive mission that followed 9/11 and turned it into a large-scale institutional reconstruction effort which has both consumed the entire funds of the Marshall Plan for all of Europe and cost the US more than 7,000 lives.
It has been 15 years and the war still goes on with no traces of victory, neither in the near future nor for the next 100 years. Afghanistan is a true graveyard of superpowers. The humiliation faced in Afghanistan by the British in 1841, the USSR in 1989 and the US after 2001 shows that the Afghans have completed a hat-trick with three superpowers in three consecutive centuries.
We have paid heavily for all these successes of the Afghans in one way or the other. In the 19th century, no one survived from among the 12,000 Indian camp followers who were accompanying 4,500 British troops. For the USSR’s defeat in the 20th century, we lost thousands of citizens who fought by the side of the Afghan mujahideen. As far as the recent defeat of the US is concerned, we have been forced to ‘sacrifice’ more than 50,000 of our people as a blowback to our policy of running with the hare and hunting with the hounds.
Now what? We are almost sure that the US is going to withdraw from Afghanistan. It is also likely that the Kabul government – known for corruption and incompetence – is going to crumble down. There is also a likelihood that the Taliban are going to rule most of Afghanistan, if not all.
We have two possible post-US scenarios. The first – which is the US’s best bet – involves the formation of a unity government with the Taliban in its fold under a power-sharing formula and a guarantee that Afghan soil will not be used to endanger US security. The second scenario is that the US might be forced to abandon Afghanistan, with its fate left to the infighting of different warring factions – the Taliban being the most formidable one.
There is no denying the fact that Pakistan’s role will be significant in determining which one of the two scenarios will actually be realised. It would therefore be appropriate to assess the pros and cons of both options, from a Pakistani perspective.
First, we must consider the unity government. The prospects of peace, democracy, stability and self-rule by the Afghans appear to be the lure of this option. But lesser leverage, the greater influence of India and the baggage of the Karzai-Ghani era may negatively affect Pakistan’s interest.
Second, a lawless Afghanistan with major areas under the Taliban control. A secure western border, the decimation of the TTP, greater leeway in Afghan affairs, the reduction in tensions along the Durand Line and friendly Muslim neighbourhood are some of the positives. But the predictable inability of the Taliban to establish rule all over Afghan territory indicates the pitfalls: perpetual disorder, bloodshed, Balkanisation and obscurantism.
While the first three dangers relate to the Afghans, the fourth one – obscurantism – has an inbuilt capacity of spilling over to Pakistan, undermining its continued struggle for a democratic and modern state.
There is no doubt that it will be a tough decision. But it will be a decision that will have far-reaching consequences for our future as a nation and a state.
The best decision can only be taken if the civilian bosses take the lead, for the first time in our history, with valuable input from the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, the Foreign Office and the relevant parliamentary committees and independent experts.
The writer is a former diplomat and currently practises law.