Monday July 22, 2024

For peace in Afghanistan

By Saleem Safi
December 20, 2017

The road to a stable and prosperous Pakistan passes through Fata, Gilgit-Baltistan, Balochistan and Afghanistan. At present, this road is full of hurdles.

The internal fragile security dimensions and the external involvement in these regions present a direct threat to the peace and stability of Pakistan. Our indifference and apathy to the challenges faced by these regions is criminal. Our ratings-hungry media usually ignores these troubled regions while our vote-bank driven politics also fails to prioritise their problems.

Though we may ignore them, the greedy power politics of the regional and world powers have turned these areas into a hub of conspiracies. The enemies of Pakistan are using these regions as launching pads to play havoc with the country. They know that the socio-political stability and economic future of Pakistan directly depends on these regions.

In my quest to learn and understand these issues, I get to frequently visit Afghanistan – the troubled heart of Asia.

Recently, I was part of a delegation of senior journalists of Pakistan visiting Kabul. The visit was organised by Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES). During the one-week stay in Kabul, we had detailed meetings with Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, ministers, members of parliament, media persons and leaders of the Afghan civil society. We also met Pakistani diplomats at a dinner hosted by the Pakistan Embassy in Kabul.

If I love any country after Pakistan, it is Afghanistan and its people. I value Afghanistan not only because of my emotional attachment, but because of my firm belief that Afghanistan and Pakistan have a shared destiny. It is my conviction that peace in Pakistan is directly linked with peace in Afghanistan. This is a glaring reality that cannot be denied. Pakistan and Afghanistan are culturally linked, socially connected and geographically interdependent.

During my recent visit, I witnessed that 20,000-30,000 Afghans were at the border at the Torkham and Chaman crossing points on a daily basis. This is in addition to the innumerable people who use the other informal routes along the porous border. Similarly, hundreds of thousands of Afghans are still living all over Pakistan. How it is possible for Pakistan to not get affected by Afghanistan’s internal situation when more than one millions Afghans are living in Pakistan, more than 90 percent Afghans cross the border without an official visa, and when Quetta and Kandahar or Peshawar and Jalalabad are only a few hours away?

After my most recent trip to Kabul, I have returned with a heavy heart without much positive to share with my readers. I must admit that political stability and the security situation in Afghanistan are getting worse each passing day.

That does not mean that one sees war and bloodshed everywhere in Afghanistan. Unlike our perceptions, life in Afghanistan is normal. There are big plazas and shopping malls in Kabul and other big cities of Afghanistan. There’s hardly any country whose food is not available in Afghan restaurants. Unlike Pakistan, which could not play all matches of the PSL on home ground, Afghanistan managed to launch its own Cricket Super League and play all matches in Kabul. The Afghans love music and music concerts are regularly organised in Kabul. The music industry is not only providing entertainment to its own people but has also become a source of livelihood for the musicians of Peshawar and Quetta. Parliament is fully functional and the media is as vibrant as that of Pakistan.

However, while previously I would always witness some sort of improvement in life in Afghanistan, this time, I felt either regression or stagnation in Afghanistan‘s socio-economic, cultural and political activities. In addition, I also felt that the general sense of insecurity and fear of terrorism was at a high – highest since 9/11. I also sensed a change in the perception among common people regarding Pakistan. In the past, hatred towards Pakistan was harboured by a specific segment of Afghan society. This time, though, I found that common people were also blaming Pakistan for their miseries. No matter how extreme the differences may be among Afghan leaders, civil society and media, externally they are on the same page in their opposition to Pakistan.

The security situation too seems to be deteriorating, as is political instability – which can be seen in the fact that though the Afghan parliament completed its tenure two years ago, fresh elections could not be held for a new parliament. Rashid Dostum, the former warlord and the current vice president, went to Turkey but could not return to his own country. Similarly, extreme differences exist between President Ghani and his Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani. Though Abdullah Abdullah, the political rival of President Ghani, is part of the government, Anwar ul-Haq Ahady – formerly a strong supporter of Ghani – has launched a movement against the president. He has the support of many governors and ministers of Ghani’s cabinet.

Similarly, Ashraf Ghani and former president Hamid Karzai do not seem to be on the same page. If President Ghani is close to President Trump, former president Karzai is happy to be on the side of Russian President Putin. President Ghani has given a free hand to the Americans in eradicating the Taliban, but Karzai blames the Americans for Afghanistan’s instability. He is even demanding a Loya Jirga for the withdrawal of the foreign troops.

The rise of Isis is another major factor which is deteriorating the already fragile security situation in Afghanistan. Karzai and some Afghan ministers have blamed the US as the main sponsor of Isis. However, quoting drone attacks and Isis casualties as proof, President Ghani and his supporters deny the claims of the Karzai camp. Generally, it seems that every leader and scholar in Kabul is trying to establish his own identity, credentials and ideology.

The Western-backed Afghan government has not yet eradicated the Taliban but Isis has emerged as a strong group capable of causing disruption and terror. Similarly, the US and its allies have not yet withdrawn from the country but Russia and China have made a successful entry into Afghanistan’s internal politics. The proxies of regional powers have not been contained yet, but the proxies of the rest of the world powers have become active.

In spite of all this confusion and uncertainty, Afghanistan’s younger generation still cherishes hope for a peaceful future. Equipped with information technology, this generation has seen the outside world and those successful Afghans who have returned from the West. Inspired by the outside world, this generation hates war and loves art, music and cricket. They are looking for progress, prosperity and employment opportunities, and are fed up of corruption and war-lords. This generation played a decisive role in the election of President Ghani. They are not that pushed about the presence of foreign troops. They are afraid of the Taliban’s activities and would not want the resurrection of the Taliban or mujahideen era.

In a nutshell, on this visit to Kabul I witnessed confusion, political instability, a dwindling economy and a deteriorating security situation. This dangerous combination has the potential to spread instability in Afghanistan and across the border in Pakistan.

There are two ways to avert any catastrophe. First: Afghan leaders should sit together and sign a new social contract by mutual consent. That will help them resolve the protracted problem of instability. If the Afghan government and the Taliban resolve their differences, there no excuse or justification will be left for the presence of external forces in the country. This would also help end the interference of external powers.

Second, if the first option is not possible due to the presence of external powers’ proxies in the Afghanistan, then a solution will have to be imported. The best way then is for Pakistan, Afghanistan, China and Russia to mutually find a solution in which peace can return to Afghanistan without endangering American interests.

The writer works for Geo TV.