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August 1, 2019

After the exit


August 1, 2019

Yet another historic turn is about to take place in Afghanistan. The Afghan Taliban are set to declare their victory in 18 years of war as the US is about to sign an accord with them to withdraw coalition forces from Afghanistan in exchange for a commitment not to let Afghan territory be used again for international terrorism. What lies ahead – after the US exit from Afghanistan?

In politico-military terms, the Afghan Taliban have played their cards well. They have not only kept their military offensive, but have also negotiated on their own terms. Like in South Vietnam, the Americans seem to have almost left their allies in Kabul in a quandary. Bypassing the Ashraf Ghani regime, as the Taliban had insisted, the US is about to directly sign a deal with the Taliban in the current round of talks in Doha. Only after that will the Taliban be willing to talk to elements of the Kabul regime, besides other stakeholders for reconciliation and the future setup of Afghanistan.

Thanks to a broader understanding reached among the US, China, Russia and – most importantly – Pakistan, the Taliban had to agree for a political settlement after President Trump got impatient with the failure of his military commanders to deliver, and decided to bring an abrupt end to an “unending war”. It must be noted that Trump had impetuously wanted to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan before his bid for re-election. After exhausting all pressure tactics to browbeat Pakistan to ‘do more, he had to reach out to the country while bypassing his own administration. The time was ripe for a deal with Pakistan.

Now the real post-war challenges steer everyone in the face. The Taliban’s military victory has ironically put them in a very precarious situation after the expected abrupt exit of the US and its allies from Afghanistan. Our strategists were least clear whether it was good to keep the US in Afghanistan to take the burden of destruction it had caused or force its exit without paying for war reparations. According to a recent study by the Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs, the US has spent $5.9 trillion on its wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Pakistan since 2001. The war in Afghanistan alone has cost the US $975 billion, besides $1 trillion on veterans’ medical and disability payments. The annual US war cost in Afghanistan was $45 billion.

The cost of war for Afghanistan and its people was much higher: the daily economic cost was $60 million and 250 human casualties. It would take another 21 years, according to a study, to achieve the level of GDP that would have been attained if the country were not involved in the war. The total annual economic cost of war for Afghanistan, according to Professor Paul Collier and Professor Anke Hoeffler at Oxford University, was $21,856 annually or 105 percent of its GDP of $20,815. Therefore, Afghanistan would need $459 billion for its revival in the next two decades.

But who will pay the reparation of war and for reconstruction, if not the US and its Nato allies? The international community had taken responsibility for the transition of Afghanistan on the path of progress and democracy in 2001 at St Petersburg and recommitted to its transformation decade at Bonn in 2011.

As the war ends, it will be the responsibility of the international community, the US and its Nato allies in particular, to chart out a reconstruction and development master-plan for Afghanistan and pay for it for two decades. My fear is that if Afghanistan were abandoned again, as it happened after the Soviet exit, the consequences would be more horrendous for Afghanistan, its neighbouring states and the world at large. Only such an understanding and promise of reconstruction can keep the Taliban and other stakeholders on the path of reconciliation, participatory representative system and development.

The immediate challenge for the interlocutor is how to realize a viable and inclusive reconciliation among the extremely disparate and hostile elements in Afghanistan. The greatest danger is that whatever nation-building that has taken place under Western tutelage may not be again ruined as happened after the Geneva Accord of 1988 and the exit of the Soviet forces.

Even though, like the Najib regime, the Ghani government might become an imminent casualty, the established state structures must be kept in place with the inclusion of the Taliban and without excluding any stakeholder across all divides. Without a broad-based reconciliation and inclusive process of peaceful national unification, there can neither be peace nor development in Afghanistan. Both the exit of the US and allied forces and an undertaking for the reconstruction of Afghanistan should be pegged on an agreement on the future democratic and inclusive setup while ensuring equal rights to women and ethno-religious minorities.

The Afghanistan of today is much different from what the Taliban had left behind. It now has a very vibrant middle class, educated youth, professionals and various state structures. It can’t be run by an ameer the way the Taliban run their exclusive organization. They have to understand the dynamics of a modern state and reconcile to its imperatives. Otherwise, no nation-building can take place.

The next few months are very crucial and all the stakeholders must work together for a smooth transition and consolidation of peace and tranquillity in Afghanistan. These are crucial issues that Pakistan must keep in mind. When Prime Minister Khan invites the Taliban to Islamabad, he must take the Kabul government into confidence to set the ball rolling. Like the US, we also need an accord with the Afghan Taliban that they will not let anybody use Afghan territory against Pakistan.

The US and its allies must fulfil their responsibilities towards reconciliation, a pluralist, inclusive and democratic social contract and reconstruction of Afghanistan. Otherwise, Pakistan might have to reap the devastating collateral damage.

The writer is a senior journalist.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @ImtiazAlamSAFMA

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