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M Zeb Khan
June 9, 2016



Agreement on disagreement

Agreement on disagreement

At the core of the Afghan imbroglio is the question of who should rule Afghanistan. The answer to this question is as mysterious as it is certain. The simple and straightforward answer is that the Afghans should decide who gets to rule them.

This would certainly be an ideal solution but it is based on many ifs and buts. The Taliban want the US to withdraw its forces and stay neutral about the formation and nature of government in Afghanistan. They are convinced that they have the right to rule Afghanistan for two reasons.

One, the incumbent government of Ashraf Ghani, notwithstanding its democratic façade, is believed to have been actually installed by the US and is, therefore, illegitimate. It does not truly represent the values of a predominantly tribal and conservative society in Afghanistan.

Two, the Taliban assert that they were in charge of Afghanistan when the US invaded and dislodged their government in 2001 and restoring them back to the throne is a matter of principle.

The US wants a modern secular government in Afghanistan, one that protects and promotes the US’s strategic and economic interests in the region and gives it a face-saving for exit from Afghanistan. The Americans cannot afford to go back to square one after investing billions of dollars in the war in Afghanistan.

Before any investment decision, one surely tends to think about the safety of investment (SoI) and return on investment (RoI). Although the US has almost lost the war in Afghanistan, it would never allow a Taliban-led government which would be construed as its worst defeat after the Vietnam War.

The much underestimated Indian factor in bringing lasting peace in Afghanistan has largely been ignored. The presence of India in Afghanistan is viewed with suspicion in Pakistan. India wants to encircle Pakistan from all sides. India’s deep involvement in Afghanistan in terms of building infrastructure, military and intelligence cooperation and media control has led to a worried Pakistani state.

Strategically, Pakistan cannot allow India to use the land and people of Afghanistan for subversive activities in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. It is inconceivable to expect us to lend support to any initiative for peace and stability in Afghanistan at the cost of our own security.

What are the cards the players play with and who has so far outsmarted all others?

The Taliban, despite all odds, seem to be sitting in the driving seat. They derive their strength from religion-based ideology and guerrilla war strategy. They have not only withstood years of sustained attacks by the US-led allied forces but have also entrenched their hold over time.

Although they have lost some key leaders, most recently Mullah Mansour, the movement is intact as is its organisational structure. Peace in Afghanistan, therefore, will remain elusive without the Taliban on board.

The US plays with three different cards to achieve its objectives. It extends military, political, and economic support to the incumbent Afghan government with the hope that the people of Afghanistan would ultimately renounce the Taliban. Second, the US tightens the screw on Pakistan now and then in order to deter it from supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan. And most importantly, it continues to pursue the top leadership of the Taliban in Pakistan to create an atmosphere of distrust between Pakistan and the Afghan Taliban.

India and the Afghan government have now jointly started subversive activities. The recent arrest of Indian and Afghan intelligence agents makes it clear that India’s growing relations with Afghanistan are aimed at destabilising Pakistan. It is in this context that the CPEC means something more than just an economic corridor.

On its part, India tries to kill two birds with one stone. Creating and sustaining instability in Pakistan is part of India’s strategic plans.

To counter India in Afghanistan, Pakistan continues to resist any temptation to put pressure on the Afghan Taliban. By alienating the Taliban, Pakistan believes it will be in a difficult position. It has already paid a heavy price for sharing intelligence and providing logistical support to the US. As part of its strategic calculations, Pakistan continues to pretend ignorance and incompetence in matters deemed dangerous for the Taliban.

Given the divergence of interests and deep involvement of India, peace in Afghanistan has now become a difficult project to accomplish. The Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process is just a window-dressing and a contradiction in terms. Is it not naive to think that with so much at stake, all the players will remain neutral?

Because of its geographical proximity and porous border, Pakistan in particular cannot remain indifferent to developments in Afghanistan. The US needs to address Pakistan’s critical concerns to bring peace to Afghanistan rather than complicating the situation by bringing India into the gambit.

The writer teaches at the Sarhad University. Email: [email protected]