History is about to take a monumental turn in the rugged, desolate hills and dales of Afghanistan in the near future. The conglomerate of the sole super power and almost the entire world is facing in an imminent defeat at the hands of virtually nameless, faceless and address less resistance fighters who bear rather obscure identities of Al Qaeda and Taliban. The scale and the magnitude of this historic event would be so enormous that it will not only impact on the regional situation in west and south Asia but also across the length and breadth of whole globe. Its full ramifications may take decades to fulminate but surely every page of history written thereafter will carry the imprint of ‘made in Afghanistan’. The fact is that the world systems in vogue are bound to be shaken to their very roots shattering the status co and ushering in a new era of upheavals and reforms in the global society. It would be unwise for the international community to let this gigantic event pass without making an effort to give a positive direction to the historical forces unleashed in its wake.
It is important to understand the nature of conflict before we start exploring the ways and means to resolve it. The current conflict is global in nature even though its main battle ground has been set in Afghanistan-Pakistan region. Ever since the demise of the USSR, the western powers have been engaged in blocking the resurgence of Islam as a new socio-economic creed. There is ample evidence to suggest that the war on terrorism is actually couched in a perspective of wider range of fears and an obsession to dominate the world at a point of time in history when there would virtually be no resistance to the West and America’s over arching ambitions. The USSR had been defeated, China was still a fledgling global player and the Muslim world, which was to be the arena of the new game plan, lay divided between the ruler and the masses. This was deemed to be an ideal ‘window of opportunity’ to implement a four point agenda:-
a. To kill any form of resistance in its infancy.
b. To appropriate vast energy resources contained in the Muslim lands.
c. To provide a wider security shield to the state of Israel.
d. Finally, and more importantly, to mutilate the image of Islam so that the down trodden people of the world would not gravitate towards an alternative system of Islamic values. Quite clearly therefore the west is determined not to let a new world order evolve in the face of there own domination. It was no coincidence that this region was picked up for the grim battle that was to be waged against an emerging new world order, because it is here that the demand for the enforcement of Shriah in a democratic matrix could be realized to serve as a model for the rest of the world.
The bloody conflict in Afghanistan has been going on for over than 8 years. Taliban who appeared to have been defeated at the beginning of the war have since grown from strength to strength from 2003 onwards when the ISAF-NATO and US forces started inducting more troops to bring the countryside of Afghanistan under their sway. From operation ‘Anaconda’ in Shahi Kot (Paktia Province) to operation ‘Khanjer’ in the Helmand province after Obama’s first surge (21,000 additional troops). Taliban fighters have been scoring numerous victories in minor skirmishes and mid intensity encounters with the occupation forces. Today they stand admittedly unbeaten and supposedly unbeatable in the future. Their ranks have swelled and their morale is high. Obama’s speech of 1st December 2009 has sent strong signals of fatigue and exhaustion on part of the sole super power and consequently, started a rush towards recruitment in the Taliban ranks by enthusiastic young Afghans. The political environment of the country, on the other hand, has deteriorated further as a result of heavily manipulated victory of Karzai’s in the recent presidential elections. Karzai’s choice of cabinet is equally disastrous. He has filled his ministries with the same old warlords who are corrupt and inefficient, simply unable to defend against a Taliban onslaught whenever it comes; possibly towards the fall of 2010.An additional 30,000 American troops ordered to Afghanistan by Obama, ostensibly to shore up a tottering puppet regime are unlikely to be of any advantage. In all probability, the occupation forces will confine themselves to their garrisons; will seldom venture out to face the Taliban in the countryside. This strategy will only enhance the use of air power whose collateral damage is likely to further annoy the Afghan people. The Afghan Army is still below 90,000 level and is reportedly penetrated by pro Taliban elements.
Narco trade under the very nose of NATO and US forces goes on unabated. Last years raw opium production stood at 6,200 tons which accounts for 92% of world’s requirement. A substantial amount of billions of dollars earned through this trade is going out to the Taliban cadres whose good will is required by the governors and the warlords to stay in their positions. Taliban’s claim of their control over 80% of Afghan territory may be exaggerated but US Defense Secretary Robert Gates has publicly conceded that 11 provinces out of 32 are in control of the opposition forces. Given this scenario, one can conclude that the military solution to the Afghan imbroglio is out of the question. It now remains for the world community to find a political solution to meet the following requirements:-
a. Graceful withdrawal of the occupation forces from Afghanistan.
b. A workable system of governance in Afghanistan post withdrawal.
c. Continued interest and engagement in Afghanistan’s rehabilitation and reconstruction.
So far these objectives have not been crystallized. The countries which are to be effected most severely as a result of the US defeat i.e. the regional countries and the Muslim world are completely marginalized and seem not to be involved in any kind of peace process which must begin before the events run out of control.
Before we delve in the exercise of finding avenues to peace there are certain realistic factors which have to be taken into consideration.
On taking over administration of America Obama outlined his Afghan policy and made a contact group of four countries i.e. Russia, China, Iran and India. He conveniently forgot to include Pakistan and Saudi Arabia without whose participation; peace in Afghanistan will remain illusionary. China and Russia are important but peripheral to any serious attempt at Afghan reconciliation. Iran’s influence is limited to the Shiite communities who do not exercise any sizeable politico-cultural influence. India, in spite of its 1.2 billion dollar investment in Afghanistan remains very much alien to the main stream Afghan society. India’s clout can work only with a few hundred influential individuals in the present regime but not with any of the social or political cadres. Taliban particularly would be averse to any kind of Indian involvement. Afghan nation will never forget that India was an ally of the USSR when the latter invaded and played havoc with Afghanistan. Now they are piggy backing US against the will of the Afghan nation. Beside it is no secret that India and Israel are the two sides of the same coin insofar as the anti Islamic policies are concern.
Afghan society comprises 58 % Pashtuns (the main supporters of Taliban movement), 22% Tajiks, 8% Uzbiks, 7% Hazaras (mostly Shiite) and 5% others who include Kirghis, Baloch, Aimak, Arabs etc. Quite obviously Pushtoons due to their sheer numerical majority will hold a whip hand in any future Afghan political setting. Presently, they feel left out and discriminated against. Even though Afghan national sentiment is remarkably cohesive, the ethnic division continues to vitiate the socio political scene. Afghan history is a testimony that a strong willed ruler with loose system of governance is the only recipe for a lasting peace. The future therefore points to a dominant role for the Taliban who have in the past shown strength f character, sterling political will and adherence to legal justice in accordance with the Shriah laws. Despite their several mistakes with regard to treatment of women and use of force in shaping the cultural behavior they still remain very much relevant to the Afghan society. According to one estimate 70% of the nation is waiting for Taliban to return to power albeit with reformed code of conduct.
Al Qaeeda is no longer just a monolithic organization. It has rather converted itself into global franchise. Its cadres have been relocated and there is only a small presence of Al Qaeeda in Afghanistan now. The Western claim that its leadership is hiding in parts of Pakistan is ridiculous and meant only to pressurize Pakistan into ‘doing more’. Most of the field operators of Al Qaeeda have moved out towards new battle grounds in the Middle-East and Africa as they have already succeeded in bleeding and debilitating the American might in the Afghan Theatre of War.
President Obama has at least opened the door for negotiations by announcing a dateline for commencement of withdrawal from Afghanistan. Nonetheless, it’s about time that the other affectees of Afghan conflict rally to find a solution before the time runs out. OIC could be an effective forum if it were to close its ranks and not be content only with taking the queue from America. Its independent stance will open a vista of possibilities if its efforts were to be combined with a powerful delegation of Ulema’s (Religious Scholars) from the Islamic countries. Needless to say that Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Iran have to take the lead role in this regard.
A visible paradigm shift in America’s policy would be a basic prerequisite for initiation of any meaningful dialogue to resolve the conflict. Once the change of heart becomes verifiably evident and the die is cast, other matters can fall in place rater quickly. But if ambivalence continues to show in their stance the Afghan Imbroglio could stretch out for years to come. Some of the imperative to precede the start of the dialogue would be
a. US declaration of the final date of evacuation of Afghanistan.
b. Removal of terrorist label from the resistance movement.
c. Unconditional release of all prisoners inside Afghanistan or outside unconditionally.
While finding a solution following points must be borne in mind:-
a. It is an ideological conflict and any attempt to find a diversionary approach will not succeed.
b. A brokered coalition government in Afghanistan will have a short life span.
c. An imposed solution will be counter productive just like the Bonn dispensation which turned out into disaster. It has to be a purely Afghan solution arrived at on afghan soil.
d. Any effort to find accommodation for marginal interests or create an America’s proxy power will fail to achieve results.
Finally it must be remembered that Afghans are a fiercely independent people and that they will never compromise on their freedom, faith and honor. But if a settlement takes place on fair and equitable terms they can be easily assimilated into the global community. They are capable of progressing and developing rater quickly if left to their own.