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June 6, 2017



Terror revisits Kabul

The brutal killing of over 80 people and the maiming of more than 400 others in Kabul suicide attack last week has left many of us emotionally devastated. But the heart-wrenching cries of the victims’ families did not seem to move those who believe in the callous massacre of innocent people in the streets of Afghanistan.


They still seem to have a dogged determination to bring the entire country under their ruthless and absolute rule, which they enjoyed in the 1990s. Warring factions and the troops of the so-called civilised world would not let that happen. In the process, the heart of the Afghan soil would be infested with killings and destruction.

Afghanistan is, perhaps, the worst victim of regional machinations, international conspiracies, transnational jihadi violence and the senseless rivalries of global powers. From 1979 to 1989 and 1990 to 2000, the country suffered 1,225,000 and 33,325 fatalities, respectively. Operation Enduring Freedom liberated several thousands from the cage of life. Starting from the US invasion to the middle of last year, 111,442 people perished in the liberated country while 116,603 others were wounded during the same period. In the last 11 months, the strafing of cities, the decimation of people by drones, the blitzing of wedding ceremonies and funerals and the targeting of hapless citizens by holy warriors in suicide attacks and bombings have remained unabated.

The sole superpower has pumped over $800 billion into its longest war. But over 100,000 foreign troops could not turn the dream of stability into reality. The Taliban continue to hold sway in many rural areas of the country while urban centres are not immune to their sporadic bombings, ambushes and audacious suicide attacks.

Despite their finesse in war tactics, they have been unable to run over the war-torn state that they captured within no time during the 1990s. It is a clear message to the cloistered group of insurgents that the Afghan state – despite all its weaknesses – cannot be toppled easily. The ruling elite, who are sitting in the fortified palatial city of Kabul, should also realise that they are not capable of snuffing out this insurgency with the help B52 or the Mother of All Bombs. It will be better if the war-mongers of the Oval House realise this sooner than later.

This leaves all stakeholders with the option of engaging in talks. While all of them pretend to support the solution, they all have different agendas. It seems that peace does not serve their interests. The spectre of the Pakhtun domination of the Afghan state – in case of the restoration of peace – haunts the ruling elite of Kabul, which has deprived the country’s single largest ethnic entity of its due share in the army and the bureaucracy.

The Taliban, who ruled the country with an iron hand, fear that their influence will be reduced to a few provinces – something that neither they nor their backers are ready to accept. Washington, which has hundreds of military posts in more than 150 states of the world, will find no justification to stay in the strategically-important country that enables it to keep an eye on nuclear-armed Pakistan, an allegedly expansionist Iran, an irredentist Russia and the rising economic giant, China.

This situation has led to much speculation. Islamabad feels New Delhi wants to sandwich it by enhancing its presence in Kabul and shoring up support for Baloch separatists and TTP mercenaries. The largest democracy is not ready to believe that Islamabad has given up on the doctrine of strategic depth.

Given Washington’s lukewarm reaction towards the rise of Isis in Syria and its alleged half-hearted actions against the violent jihadi outfit, Moscow fears the rise of Isis under the patronage of its global rivals. This is something that has drawn Tehran, Beijing and Moscow closer. The presence of violent jihadi groups, especially Isis, on Afghan soil also serves the interests of Arab monarchs who believe this could work as a check on Tehran, which they claim allegedly used Afghan Shia fighters in the Syrian Civil War.

It is interesting to note that when Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar sought a direct channel of communication with the Americans, he was arrested in Pakistan. Later, Washington adopted a contradictory policy to end Afghan insurgency. It asked Pakistan to come down hard on the Quetta Shura and dismantle the Haqqani Network on the one hand and facilitate the establishment of the Doha office of the Taliban on the other.

Pakistan reluctantly supported this initiative, going out of its way to arrange secret talks between the Taliban and other stakeholders. However, the news about Mullah Omar’s death by the Afghan intelligence in 2015 infuriated Islamabad, instantly thwarting all chances of talks. The killing of Mullah Akhtar Mansour further stoked speculations in the minds of Pakistan’s policymakers about the intentions of Washington and Kabul about the Afghan peace process.

It is time to bury the past and bring all stakeholders to the negotiation table. If Islamabad has any influence at all over Afghan Taliban, it should ask the militant outfit to renounce violence and take part in elections – just as their ideological gurus do in Pakistan. Washington must hold out the assurance of a complete withdrawal to the Afghan Taliban while the Kabul administration should accord the Pakhtuns their due share in the army, bureaucracy and other state institutions. India and China should also come up with economic packages to help the Afghans stand on their feet.

Geographical locations are difficult to change. Pakistan, Afghanistan, Russia, China, India and Iran must realise this bitter fact. All of them are facing some sort of terrorist threat. If Washington and the West do not express a desire to see permanent stability in the war-torn country, then Saarc, SCO and regional powers should brainstorm and come up with a durable solution to the Afghan imbroglio. To prevent a Kabul-like massacre, we must do this sooner than later.

The writer is a Karachi-based freelance journalist.

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