The Afghans have been confronting war and instability for decades. How can this question be solved? This is a big question mark. Many attempts were made in the last five decades yet it did not yield any promising outcomes. An important aspect that has always provided for instability is an imbalance on the governmental level. This imbalance has been resenting the power structure of the society on the national level and neighbouring countries on the international level due to its tilt to one country or the other that in turn always resulted in chaos.
During the premiership of Sardar Daoud from 1953 to 1963, Afghan relations with Pakistan were at its lowest ebb due to the Pashtunistan issue of which Daoud was a staunch supporter. His policies greatly resented the policymakers in Islamabad. When he took charge of the new Republic in 1973 after a bloodless coup, it alarmed Islamabad. Thus, Pakistan started hosting anti-Daoud leaders: Ahmed Shah Masoud, Burhanuddin Rabbani, Gulbadin Hikmatyar, and Abdur-Rab Rauf Siyaf among others.
In the initial years of Daouds rule as president and prime minister, he was challenged by these leaders forces, backed by Pakistan. Furthermore, his pro-Communist policies startled the religious circle of the Afghan traditional society that too went against his position. This imbalance in his policies, both domestic and foreign, resulted in the overthrow of his government by the Saur Revolution in April 1978. If he had balance in his domestic and foreign policy, the situation could have been different and even thwarted the Soviet invasion, which happened due to the weak government of the Peoples Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA).
The short period of the PDPA government, too, could not deliver and failed to produce a consensus and convince the masses due to its tilt towards the Soviets and radical changes in the system that were resented by the masses. The balance in policies once again felt missed and this further indulged the country into a chaos that provided for the Soviet invasion in late December 1979.
A balanced approach from the Ghani-led unity government is needed to help build peace and stability in Afghanistan
The Soviet invasion gave birth to the installation of Babrak Karmal as president. He was too near to the Soviets yet the situation was changed due to an indirect confrontation of the two superpowers on Afghan soil. When the Soviets were negotiating for a withdrawal, they installed Najibullah as president in 1986, who remained in government till his resignation in April 1992. This time, the country was in an internal war in the name of Jihad against the Soviets while externally, both the governments, Babrak and Najib were pro-Communist. The lack of a balanced approach towards the regional countries was missing.
The fall of the Najibullah government led to the Mujahideens fragile government, which didnt even allow the prime minister, Gulbadin Hikmatyar, to enter Kabul. The factional fighting provided a ground to the Taliban to emerge in late 1994 and followed their sweeping victories over areas resulting in taking Kabul in September 1996. The Taliban government, although quite opposite to those of the Soviet-backed Babrak and Najib governments, too lacked balanced policies. If on one hand, Talibans strict policies resented the Afghan masses, on the other hand, their tilt towards Pakistan was alarming for other neighbouring and regional states, like Russia, Iran, and India, backing the Northern Alliance, an anti-Taliban faction. The Taliban administration failed to tailor a friendly approach towards the regional countries in general and the west in particular, which met with the collapse in post-9/11 developments.
The post-9/11 setting was different from the previous eras. The government was backed by the leading powers in general and the US in particular. The real in-charge was the US that reversed the previous policies by giving India and the Northern Alliance a major role in the Afghan arena that was not acceptable for Pakistan, thus, providing for imbalance. The question was not the Indian-Northern Alliance carte blanche yet it provided for the imbalance by putting policymakers in Islamabad in the dilemma that the Afghan soil will be used by anti-Pakistan elements; putting Pakistans security at risk. No state can take risks vis--vis its security-related matters at any cost. Throwing Pakistans security concerns in the backyard by the US provided for many issues inside Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Moreover, the post-9/11 Taliban insurgency gave a tough time to the US for years that resulted in a reversal from their previous approach towards the issue. The US approach was militaristic in the first eight years of engagement in Afghanistan on one hand and the imbalance in the role of regional countries in Afghanistan on the other. Furthermore, their approach was lacking any balance both inside and outside Afghanistan. Inside Afghanistan, they relied mostly on warlords and outside, they mostly relied on military approach and Indias role in Afghanistan. If they had created any balanced policies for Afghanistan vis--vis regional and neighbouring states, the situation in Afghanistan might have been different from the current one.
The US, after one and half decades, realised the point: the path to peace in Afghanistan goes through reconciliation that can be achieved through Pakistans cooperation. Certainly, Pakistans role in Afghanistan will not exclude other powers to play their constructive role in Afghanistan but will limit any threats animating from Afghanistan against the former by shaping a balanced picture. Even a hostile relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan is not in favour of any state. The prominent example is the peace process where Pakistan has played a key role, acknowledged by all the actors on both sides in the conflict.
Following Washingtons realisation of the Afghan imbroglio, their policies seem balanced: they dont blame the Taliban for terror acts without any proof as the Afghan leaders do. They acknowledge Pakistans backing of the peace process with the Taliban. The policymakers in Washington know albeit with some suspicion the Taliban are indigenous and cannot be excluded from the Afghan soil. Nonetheless, the Afghan leadership is reluctant to realise these ground realities that are placing the Afghan masses in trouble in the score of violence.
Furthermore, Kabul lacks a clear-cut policy for the peace process with the Taliban due to multiple factors: the political division and the rigid attitude of the leadership towards the Taliban. Secondly, they see the Taliban in quite different lenses: calling them Pakistans puppets. A ground realisation is the need of the hour in Kabul: acknowledge the Taliban as Afghans and indeed they are. They are not the Taliban of the 1990s, they are moderated and want to play a constructive role inside Afghanistan according to their claims. And if we go for a minus-Taliban Afghanistan, it will throw back the country into more bloodshed.
Two possible and reasonable ways can be adopted for the control of any insurgency: crushing them and negotiating with them. If the Afghan government can crush the insurgency, they should go for it but it doesnt seem possible because it was even not possible for the US. Therefore, the best way is a negotiating settlement rather than prolonging this decades-long war as the Afghans cant tolerate it further. A balanced approach from the Ghani-led unity government is needed to help build peace and stability in Afghanistan. Any propaganda tactics or bashing of any state or Taliban wont contribute to peace.
In essence, the US-backed Afghan government in the first place should draw the model from their backer, who paved the way for the conflict through negotiation, not by force. Secondly, they need a balanced approach towards its neighbours and regional countries that will help them resolve the Afghan imbroglio rather than complicating it. Although a balance in Kabuls approach doesnt seem to be in place, it needs to be. Tilt towards any regional state cannot provide security to Afghanistan. If something can make peace and stability possible, its a balanced approach at home and abroad towards the stakeholders. Further delay in the intra-Afghan talks is resulting in the suffering of the Afghan populace. The question is not of the Taliban exclusion or inclusion in the future set-up. The real question is of a balanced approach that will ensure the security of the Afghans by adopting a viable option.
Zafar Iqbal Yousafzai is an independent researcher and columnist. He tweets @yousafzaiZafar. Dr Rahat Iqbal is an Assistant Professor of International Relations, Muslim Youth University, Islamabad
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The anatomy of the Afghan imbroglio: A way forward - Daily Times
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