Monday July 22, 2024

Ignoring instability

By Saleem Safi
November 10, 2018

Pakistan and Afghanistan are not only geographically closely linked but are also socially, economically and strategically interdependent. Pakistan has neither been able to safeguard itself from the fallouts of instability in Afghanistan nor been able to stay aloof. Today, millions of Afghans live in Pakistan and thousands cross the Pak-Afghan border on a daily basis.

Unfortunately, though, Pakistan has become a much-talked about subject in Afghanistan and the majority of the Afghans blame Pakistan for their internal situation. Even the US and its allies try to pass the buck of their failure on to Pakistan.

However, the Pakistani leadership seems indifferent and unmindful towards the situation across the western border, and is instead busy in sowing seeds of hatred inside Pakistan by promoting a culture of abuse against political opponents.

Afghanistan is on a path of unprecedented disaster with little hope of averting anarchy. The Taliban’s resistance is increasing and suicide attacks have become an almost daily exercise. The grip of the Afghan government is also becoming weaker with each passing day, and the battle ground has extended from south and east towards the west and north of Afghanistan.

The trust deficit between Afghanistan and the US has increased and proxy wars are in full swing. The recent deadly attacks by the Taliban in the heavily-guarded facility in Kandahar show how far the country is from stability. Two days before the parliamentary election in Afghanistan, the Taliban, disguised as security guards, killed Kandahar Police Chief Abdul Razzaq Achakzai and the provincial chief of intelligence Amin Hassan Khel and severally injured Kandahar Governor Zalmai Wesa. US General Scott Miller was also present but survived mysteriously. This attack was alarming in the sense that, for the first time, the Taliban attacked at a time when a top American commander was present in the facility. Had he been killed too, what would have been the repercussions?

Though Abdul Razzaq was a police chief, he was seen as the strongest person in southern Afghanistan. Razzaq was considered staunchly anti-Taliban – and also seen as being opposed to Pakistan. His father, a former mujahid commander, was killed by the Taliban. Razzaq himself escaped from the captivity of the Taliban.

When Hamid Karzai came into power, Razzaq was initially appointed in Spin-Boldak and then posted as head of the Kandahar police. He held that position for many years and survived more than a dozen assassination attempts. Although he was accused of harsh and brutal treatment of his opponents and of keeping private jails, it is a fact that he played a decisive role in the protection of Kandahar from the Taliban. He was also seen as a hardliner opponent of Pakistan and a blue-eyed boy of India and the US. His power could be gauged from the fact that when President Ashraf Ghani decided to remove him from the post, he refused to listen and ultimately Ghani had to back off.

The killing of such a daring commander in the office of the governor and in the presence of his intelligence chief and a US commander shows how precarious and unstable the situation in the country is.

The tragedy is that the Afghan government is facing internal disturbance and dispersion and the US has no clear plans. The Taliban’s offensive and deadly attacks are creating an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty. However, in spite of all their strength of attack, it is also a glaring fact that the Taliban cannot manage to occupy a single city in Afghanistan. US airpower will never let them and the rest of the world will never accept their rule.

It is also a fact that the Taliban do not have any problem with the continuous war, and their morale is high. In fact, the continuation of war in Afghanistan is a source of their strength and a guarantee of their survival. But they have realised the fact that they cannot become masters of Afghanistan through war. The Taliban are indeed negotiating with the US but do not seem to be in the mood to give any reasonable space to the Afghan government. Over the last 17 years, the Afghan government has been trying to negotiate with the Taliban, who have refused to talk – calling the Afghan government a puppet. During that period, the Americans were also not amenable to direct negotiations with the Taliban.

But now, on Pakistan’s demand, the US has agreed on negotiations with the Taliban and the US Special Representative for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, has had talks with the Taliban. But here they committed a big blunder by sidelining the Afghan Government and Pakistan. The Afghan government feels that the direct negotiations between the US and the Taliban are diminishing its credibility and standing. Pakistan too is highly suspicious of the negotiations.

The Afghan government and the US are asking Pakistan to pressurise the Taliban for a deal. But the million dollar question is: how can Pakistan annoy or force the Taliban when it is the US itself that entered into negotiations with the Taliban.

The harsh reality is that no party in the Afghan war theatre has any clear road map for the resolution of the problem. The US seems to be in a hurry and wants a quick solution to save face and avert being blamed for failure and defeat. Which is why it pressurises Pakistan to do more. At the same time, Washington does not pay heed to the Taliban’s basic demand of the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan. It asks Pakistan for cooperation but does not address Islamabad’s concerns of limiting and restricting Indian role in Afghanistan.

Similarly, the Afghan government wants a solution to the issue but is also angry and apprehensive about the direct negotiations between the US and the Taliban. Unlike the Karzai government, Ashraf Ghani has given permission to US forces for aerial attacks and other operations but it also wants to be in the driving seat of negotiations with the Taliban.

Pakistan’s policymakers had been teaching us that the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan was the root cause of the instability in the country – but now our Foreign Office spokesperson says that US forces should not withdraw before resolving the conflict.

Similarly, all these neighbouring countries cannot foresee the US being successful in Afghanistan. However, they are also afraid of the fallout of troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. If such confusion remains, what will be the outcome?

The situation across our western border is getting worse and we should be mindful of its repercussions. Unfortunately, it seems we continue to follow an ostrich-like policy and forget the fact that Pakistan will face the worst repercussions of Afghan instability. If the US withdraws, it will not affect its interests to much extent except perhaps the taint of defeat. China, Iran and the Central Asian countries will also manage to safeguard themselves. But Pakistan will be a real victim of Afghanistan’s economic, social, political and strategic destruction.

This demands that Pakistan, through vibrant and dynamic diplomacy, should try to find a political solution to the Afghanistan problem along with Russia, China and Iran. But our current diplomacy and indifferent approach towards the imminent threat knocking at our door is very disappointing. One can only pray that both Pakistan and Afghanistan are protected.

The writer works for Geo TV.

Email: saleem.safi@janggroup.