The snowballing crisis in Afghanistan triggered by allegations of massive rigging in the run-off stage of the elections, seems to have been checked in its tracks at least for now by the intensive persuasive efforts of US Secretary of State John Kerry.
Both the candidates – to the relief of the US administration, stakeholders in the democratic transition of Afghanistan and peace in the region – have agreed to UN audit of all the polled votes.
The scheduled inauguration of the new president on August 2 has also been deferred till the completion of the recounting of votes. Whether they ungrudgingly accept the final results authenticated by the UN auditors or not remains to be seen. However, there are strong portents to suggest a positive outcome of the new initiative.
Both the contesting candidates are essentially pro-west, committed to signing the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) which would allow US to keep its non-combatant troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014 and are also conscious of the fact that rebuilding Afghanistan is not possible without economic assistance from US and its western allies.
The US, which is poised to end its military campaign in Afghanistan by the end of 2014, is working to ensure that Afghanistan like Iraq does not plunge into an unending anarchy and conflict when US-Nato forces leave and there is a democratically elected government in Afghanistan that can take the responsibility of ensuring peace by taking the intra-Afghan reconciliation process to its logical end and rebuilding the country.
Peaceful democratic transition in Afghanistan, in the prevailing circumstances, is undoubtedly a pivot to achieving all other objectives related to resolving the Afghan conundrum.
Though the Taliban boycotted the elections, refused entering into any dialogue with the government installed as a result of these elections, strongly repudiated the signing of the BSA with the US and have upped the ante recently, yet the democratically elected Afghan government enjoying legitimacy and trust of the people, would be the best bet to start a process of intra-Afghan reconciliation.
Mullah Omar did hint about intra-Afghan dialogue after the occupying forces leave and also spelled out his future vision of Afghanistan in his Eid message last year: “When the occupation ends, reaching an understanding with the Afghans will not be a hard task because by adhering to and having common principles and culture, the Afghans understood each other better. But the invaders and their allies are creating obstacles in the way of resolving problems by making various pretexts”.
The Taliban also contended that their dialogue with the US, including the Doha talks, was only aimed at negotiating the withdrawal of occupying forces. The contacts between the US and the Taliban have only helped in the swap of a few prisoners recently. They are still maintaining this stance.
The message by Mullah Omar, however, contained two very encouraging indicators. The acknowledgement of the necessity for modern education along with religious teachings was a revolutionary change in their attitude towards scientific and modern learning. The other development that reflected some element of flexibility in their stance regarding governance was their willingness to have an inclusive government. However they remained uncompromising on the establishment of an Islamic government in the country.
The message made this abundantly clear in these words: “I once again reiterate that we do not think of monopolising power. Those who truly love Islam and the country and have commitment to both, whoever they may be or whichever ethnicity or geographical location they hail from. This homeland is theirs”
With the US committed to pulling out all troops – both combatants and non-combatants – by the end of 2015 as per the revised schedule announced by Obama recently and the Taliban refusing to engage in dialogue with her regarding future of Afghanistan, it would probably be left to the Afghans themselves, assisted by the neighbours and countries of the region, especially Pakistan to find their way out of the labyrinth. As they say there’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip, nothing can be said with certainty as to the success of these endeavours, but with the US making an exit a major stumbling bloc in the way of intra-Afghan dialogue would be removed.
Pakistan has a huge stake in peace in Afghanistan as it is absolutely vital for tackling the phenomenon of terrorism and religious extremism in the country, as well as to unleash an era of shared regional prosperity through the completion of trans-regional projects like CASA-1000 and Tapi, as visualised in the new narrative drawn up by the present government on Afghanistan as well as in regards to building regional linkages.
Due to their geographical proximity, centuries old cultural, religious and economic links, the destinies of Pakistan and Afghanistan are inextricably intertwined. They need each other to overcome the challenges the face.
It is noteworthy that, notwithstanding occasional anti-Pakistan bursts by Karzai, relations between the two countries have been steadily improving during the last six years, after the end of the dictatorial rule in Pakistan. The two countries inked the much delayed and much awaited Pak-Afghan Transit Trade Agreement in 2011.
The present government has made several positive overtures towards Kabul including the release of Taliban leaders detained in Pakistan to facilitate the process of reconciliation in Afghanistan, a policy that endeared it to the Afghan leaders and which was acknowledged even by Karzai at the 8th trilateral summit held in Ankara, where he also promised not to allow Pakistani militants based in Afghanistan to attack Pakistan territory.
Pakistan also fulfilled its commitment to manage the Pak-Afghan border during the first phase of elections which also received due recognition by the trilateral meeting between General Raheel Sharif, the Isaf commander in Afghanistan and the Afghan military chief when the former visited Afghanistan early last month.
Another positive development is that both presidential hopefuls have expressed their willingness to work with Pakistan for promotion of peace and strengthening of bilateral relations. With these developments and with its considerable influence with the Afghan Taliban, Pakistan is in a unique position to nudge the process of reconciliation in Afghanistan. And that point is not lost on the Afghan leadership.
The writer is a freelance contributor. Email: email@example.comMalik Muhammad Ashraf, "Hope in Afghanistan," The News. 2014-07-19.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Pakistan foreign relations-Afghanistan , International relations , Political relations , NATO forces , Elections-Afghanistan , Extremism , Democracy , Taliban , President Obama , Mullah Omar , John Kerry , President Karzai , Afghanistan , United States , BSA , NATO