111 510 510 libonline@riphah.edu.pk Contact

Dancing with the devil

“The war on terror cannot be fought and is not to be fought in Afghan villages or homes or country. If there is a war on terror, then it has to be taken to the sanctuaries where they shape up, where they get trained, where they get nurtured”.

These are the good words of the current Afghan President Hamid Karzai, spoken during a recent interview with the French newspaper Le Monde. As his term approaches its end, it seems Karzai is becoming bolder by the moment, blatantly pointing fingers at Pakistan and accusing the United States of using threats to pressurise him to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) while also engaging in psychological warfare.

“Mr Dobbins who I know for ten years now, a very capable US diplomat, a very capable person. He basically said that if there is no BSA, there will be no peace and now you can interpret this many ways… A psychological war on our economy, on encouraging businesses to leave Afghanistan, on encouraging money to leave Afghanistan, on frightening the Afghan people of the consequences of 2014 if they are not here, this is all… psychological warfare.”

The interview makes for a riveting read, and underscores the seriousness of the problems that exists between Kabul and Washington. Karzai’s accusations continue: “certain forces in the west wanted not talks between the High Peace Council and the Taliban but talks between the Taliban and others in the name of ethnic groups in Afghanistan, so they were trying to ethnicise the conflict and then arrange talks between warlords and ethnic groups. This is proven and it failed because the Afghan people reacted to it strongly.”

Whatever one makes of the invasion of Afghanistan, the truth is that in its current state, the country cannot survive without American aid. It will obviously continue to exist as a state, but if things can get worse than they already are, they surely will. Karzai admits as much: “We will not cease to be a nation if that were to happen. It will be harder for us, it will be more difficult for us but we will continue to live our lives.”

The real danger of this aid withdrawal will be the collapse of the Afghan National Army, which is a major recipient. This will open up the entire arena to the countless number of militias and gangs that exist in the country.

If the American and Nato forces leave now, a collapse is imminent in Afghanistan, spelling disaster for the entire region. There have been a slew of meetings involving Russia, China, Iran and Pakistan, not to mention the third round of the Afghan-Pakistan-China trilateral, and a visit to Islamabad by Russia’s special envoy on Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov. Clearly, the regional players are aware of what’s on the cards and are preparing for the worst.

According to the US Special Representative on Pakistan and Afghanistan, James Dobbin, China, Russia and Pakistan have encouraged Karzai to sign the BSA. Testifying recently before a US Senate committee, the envoy said: “Several of these leaders are no fans of an American military presence in Central Asia, but all recognise that without continued international military and economic support Afghanistan risks falls back into civil war.

And he’s right. If Afghanistan slips back into civil war, or a state of collapse, in the words of James Dobbin it “would lead to a rise in extremist groups, outflow of refugees and disruptions of commerce that would threaten the region as a whole”.

While these countries worry, Karzai’s busy trying to woo India. During a recent visit to Delhi, the Afghan president tried his best to assure Indian businessmen that Afghanistan is open for business, and ripe for profits. But the question on every investor’s mind is security. Ravi Uppal, the chief executive officer of Jindal Steel and Power Limited, said in an interview last month: “ If they (the US) are going to pull out, what are Afghanistan’s assurances that our investment is protected?”

A fair question and worry, voiced by regional countries and international businesses alike, but the truth is that if Karzai does sign the BSA it’s not a straight road to Rome. According to experts, the current level of US aid cannot last for long, and that time period should be used to do what the US has so far been unable to do – get the Taliban on board.

President Karzai says: “we want to talk to the Taliban. My advice to our brothers, the Taliban, is that they have a country; their country is Afghanistan and they are free to come here to talk to us.”

And this is where Pakistan can play a major role. During his first visit to Kabul since taking office, PM Nawaz Sharif said in Kabul: “Pakistan would continue to extend all possible facilitation for the afghan peace process”. The release of Mullah Baradar was exactly that. After a recent meeting, President Karzai said: “we had certain understandings reached when he (PM Nawaz Sharif) visited Kabul…I am hoping those will be implemented together with us and with the help of the Americans”.

What these understandings are, nobody knows. But if one is to believe the grapevine, Pakistan has signalled a shift away from those two dreaded words: strategic depth. It is no longer pushing for a Taliban takeover (although they may well manage it without any help), and Pakistan’s closest ally, China, is also in no mood.

It’s all on Karzai now. If he signs the BSA, he has a small window to get his house in order. If he doesn’t sign it, and the ANA is unable to secure the upcoming elections, Afghanistan’s going to boot.

The writer is a media consultant and trainer.  He tweets @aasimzkhan, Email: aasimzk@gmail.com

Aasim Zafar Khan, "Dancing with the devil," The News. 2013-12-21.
Keywords: Political science , Political relations , Political process , International issues , International relations , Armed forces , Security policy , Peace council , Military-Afghanistan , Elections , Terrorism , Taliban , PM Nawaz Sharif , President Karzai , Zamir Kabulov , Afghanistan , United States , Pakistan , Washington , Islamabad , Russia , China , Kabul , BSA