Leaving Afghanistan to the Afghans

Afghanistan is once again at a critical juncture with the foreign forces transferring the responsibility of securing the country to the Afghan security forces and ultimately withdrawing by the end of next year.

The big question for the Afghans, its neighbours, such as Pakistan and others, and the international community is that will the Afghan factions and their leaders rise to the occasion and steer the country out of the looming dangers of a deadlier civil war? Let us examine in some detail whether this will happen and what may make it happen.

Two competing views have prevailed for a long time and haven't received any serious thought, yet. First, leave Afghanistan to the Afghans and they settle their problems around a conference table or over flowing cups of tea in some peaceful place, if there is any left anymore.

The underlying assumption of this point is that Afghans are manipulated by external powers, as pawns, and when left to themselves, they would talk nothing but peace. Yes, others have intervened in Afghanistan for decades and have exploited differences and power struggles among the Afghan groups.

The reality is, however, bitterly different. It will take too much time to separate the Afghan political and security environment from the external influence. Why?

This brings us to the second view. Afghans, if left to themselves, will not sit around the table but fight, fight for power. This is a pessimistic view but quite realistic given the prevailing conditions of the region and Afghanistan itself.

What is the bothersome reality? It is 33 years of long cycles of war, with two superpowers invading the country and every regional neighbour of Afghanistan siding with one ethnic faction or the other.

Second, Afghanistan is a broken society, a broken country and a weak state.

It is being reconstructed under international supervision and with tremendous support from the international community.

This is another question though: to what extent will the post-American war world or Washington itself will be interested in sustaining the costly state-building project in Afghanistan?

What should worry the Afghans and their neighbours is that, as the foreign forces leave the country next year, state-building remains fragile and the Taleban insurgency is getting stronger, bolder and more motivated.

Let us not forget there is progress in Afghanistan, the state is somewhat functional, it has political institutions and security forces, though weak, and international sympathy.

Today, it has a better economy, better infrastructure and greater confidence in itself than at the time of the previous regime. But that is not enough to ensure peace and stability.

Contrary to journalist scholarship, that argues that Afghans are born to fight and die, the rational part of human essence suggests love for living and living a good life; defined mainly in cultural sense, this is a universal urge.

Afghans would like to live but live with honour, freedom and dignity — some of the human values that have been denied to them for a very long time, and thus
the conflict.

Peace and reconciliation in conflictive environments like Afghanistan are possible but they require broad and sustained international assistance in every area of national life.

The first thing is that the international community help bring the Afghan Taleban and the Kabul rulers to the negotiating table.

Kabul needs to be told that military victory, or divide the Taleban and rule policy may not bring peace. The foundation of peace in Afghanistan must rest on Afghan reconciliation — negotiations and accommodation among the Afghan groups.

Talks between the Taleban and Kabul, now suspended, are the key element, but there is another very important dimension to it — ethnic reconciliation between the Pashtun Taleban and northern minorities.

This must be an Afghan-owned process supported by all powers to one end — a peaceful and stable Afghanistan.

 The Express Tribune


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