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Back to the 90s

Afghanistan is on its way back to the 90s, when the then USSR withdrew under international pressure and internal economic mess.

Back then, Afghanistan was left in political disarray with a civil war looming. The US turned its back on the Afghans who had to live with violence at home or languish in miserable conditions abroad. We have now come full circle after twenty years.

The US has demonstrably been extremely irresponsible in leaving behind an unstable government in Afghanistan. Foreign nationals and many Afghans have already started fleeing the country amidst the Taliban’s advancement from all corners into the capital. Visibly demoralized and ill-trained, the Afghan security forces are on the retreat paving the way for the traditional warlords to fill the power vacuum. It is feared that the warlords, being sponsored from outside, would make it difficult for a central authority to prevail in the near future.

At the core of the Afghan imbroglio is the question of who should rule Afghanistan. The simple and straightforward answer presumably to this question is that Afghans should decide that. This would certainly be an ideal solution, but it is based on many ifs and buts. The Taliban want the US to withdraw its forces and stay neutral about the formation and nature of government in Afghanistan.

They are convinced that they have the right to rule Afghanistan for two reasons. One, the incumbent government of Ashraf Ghani, notwithstanding its democratic facade, is believed to have been installed by the US. They assert that the sitting government does not truly represent the values of a predominantly tribal and conservative society in Afghanistan. Two, the Taliban argue that since they were in charge of Afghanistan when the US had invaded in 2001, restoring them back to the throne is only a matter of principle.

The current Afghan government, despite being weak politically, has not completely lost its charm, especially for those who want Afghanistan as a modern democratic state with equal rights for women and minorities. It wants the Taliban to shun violence and embrace democracy as the way forward for a lasting peace in Afghanistan.

Besides these two conflicting positions on power dynamics, the strategic interests of players outside Afghanistan further complicate the situation. The presence of India in Afghanistan is viewed with suspicion in Pakistan. India’s deep involvement in Afghanistan in terms of building infrastructure, military and intelligence cooperation, and media control worries Pakistan. Strategically, Pakistan cannot allow India to use the land and people of Afghanistan for subversive activities in Balochistan and KP. It is inconceivable to expect Pakistan lending support to any initiative for peace and stability in Afghanistan at the cost of its own security.

By alienating the Taliban, Pakistan believes it will come under a rock and a hard place. It has already paid a heavy price for sharing intelligence and providing logistical support to the US. As part of strategic calculations, Pakistan continues to pretend ignorance and incompetence in some matters.

Given the divergence of interests, peace in Afghanistan has now become a difficult project to accomplish. The Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process is just window-dressing and a contradiction in terms. Is it not silly to think that after so much at stake, all the players will remain neutral? Because of its geographical proximity and porous border, Pakistan in particular cannot remain indifferent to the developments in Afghanistan.

Email: dr.zeb@szabist-isb.edu.pk

M Zeb Khan, "Back to the 90s," The News. 2021-07-13.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Political disarray , International pressure , Taliban , Violence , Democracy , President Ghani , Afghanistan , Baluchistan , USSR