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June 24, 2021

Afghanistan’s prospects

 
June 24, 2021

As US troops continue a rapid withdrawal from Afghanistan, Taliban forces have already shown the degree of their strength, launching successive operations in the north of the country. They have taken over a significant part of the Kunduz province, effectively cutting off Afghanistan's links with Tajikistan. This is an important trading route for the country. There is also apprehension that the American pullout could take place well before the date set, and this could result in chaos in Afghanistan. The Taliban and Afghan government are still at odds with each other refusing to meet and discuss the situation. The US has called President Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, the head of Afghanistan's Peace Commission to hold discussions in Washington. But the question is whether there is much that these persons can do and whether the rift that Afghanistan is to become an Islamic Republic, as Mr Ghani seeks or an Islamic Emirate as the Taliban wish.

Caught in the middle of all this inevitably is Pakistan. For Pakistan, the main concern is regarding havens for terrorists in border areas. The PM has categorically said that the Taliban cannot win over the whole of the country, and they must agree to some power-sharing formula rather than aiming to be the sole arbiters of power in Afghanistan. Apart from the devastation in Afghanistan, Pakistan itself has lost over 70,000 people and suffered economic losses exceeding $150 billion. Pakistan still hosts over three million Afghan refugees, and there is a strong likelihood of more refugees gathering at the borders as the fighting intensifies. The country has also said unequivocally and clearly that it will not allow US bases in the country. In an oped piece in The Washington Post, Prime Minister Imran Khan has said that while Pakistan partners America in seeking peace and stability in Afghanistan, as well as economic growth for its people, it will not support bases which can be used to hit Afghanistan on its own soil. This is good sense. In the past we have paid a heavy price whenever we offered such services to the US, be it during the dictatorships of Generals Ayub Khan and Ziaul Haq, or under General Musharraf. Pakistan should continue to push for peace in Afghanistan without siding with any of the warring factions. However, the problem arises of how the growing force of Daesh and the Taliban can be controlled in Afghanistan and kept under check. Recent comments (or the lack of) regarding Osama bin Laden add to some complexity, although Pakistan has clarified it does not support terrorism of any kind, against anyone.

A pragmatic solution has to be found. This can only come through dialogue. The Taliban have said they are willing to negotiate but it is unclear with whom they will negotiate. The Afghan government is already feeling the pressure of the situation. President Joe Biden has been asked to meet with top Afghan leaders, as well as other figures involved in the conflict. He has not yet held direct talks with Imran Khan, although Pakistan stands on the borders of Afghanistan and will suffer from any growth in militancy in that region. A joint role has to be played by all parties, and all influence used to ensure Afghanistan can indeed find the peace it so desperately seeks and the stability that is required to give its people a sense of normalcy and a return towards ordinary life.