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Will Afghanistan see peace?

Talk of peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan is not a new phenomenon; it has been there in one shape or another since the day Soviet troops marched into that country. When they were forced to leave, many permutations and combinations for formation of a broad-based government were discussed at length but nothing concrete could materialise.

The Soviets had to leave Afghanistan in a vacuum and, as a consequence, the country went through a deep crisis which wrought more destruction there than the Soviets caused, thereby turning Kabul into a city of ruins.

Then in marched the one and only superpower remaining on the world stage, the United States, with the aim of imposing a system of its choice. But in the process it has become trapped in an unending war forcing it – against its wishes – like the Soviets, to conclude that the time has come for it to leave the country.

The US realised the strength and resilience of the force against which it was pitted and which was forcing it to depart only after fighting against it tooth and nail for many long years with the latest technology that it already possessed or even invented during the bitter struggle. Now to save the government that it installed in Kabul from complete collapse it has started the process of reconciliation with the Taliban.

President Obama has already announced the beginning of the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan in 2014. Since then efforts have been afoot to convince President Karzai to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with Washington under which the US could leave behind around 10,000-14,000 troops in seven (some sources say nine) American bases to ensure continuity of the political system that the Americans have installed in the country.

A major sticking point in the proposed agreement is the stipulation that the US troops would have complete legal immunity from Afghan laws for each and every action. President Karzai’s reluctance to sign the BSA is well-known. Secretary John Kerry and Secretary Chuck Hagel recently made last-ditch efforts to convince him but these have not come to fruition.

Frustrated by the American designs and their one-sided way of finding solutions to the problems in his country, President Karzai has made signing of the BSA conditional to the US and Pakistan supporting the process of peace and reconciliation in letter and spirit by using their influence on the Taliban to begin talks with his government for the future dispensation, in anticipation of the foreign forces leaving Afghanistan as promised.

Whether he signs the BSA or not and whether fighting continues in the absence of some kind of arrangement for post-2014 Afghanistan remains to be seen.

The Taliban’s stance of not talking to President Karzai while American forces remain in Afghanistan was understandable but the situation seems to be changing fast with the US seriously considering the zero option. While President Karzai’s firm stand on not signing the BSA unless his conditions are met has put the American plan of stationing residuary force in his country in jeopardy, at the same time it has earned a respectable place for him vis-a-vis his opponents.

A two-day international conference for discussing this important issue was recently organised by the Centre for Discussions and Solutions (CDS), a think tank established by the late Qazi Hussain Ahmad in 2011 in Islamabad. The conference was attended by a broad spectrum of people including political leaders, retired generals, senior civil and military officials, writers, intellectuals, scholars and students of various universities.

The organiser of the conference, Asif Luqman Qazi, executive director CDS and son of the late Qazi Sahib distinguished himself by bringing together a large number of political heavyweights both from Afghanistan and Pakistan under the same roof to discuss the situation in Afghanistan and the possibility of success of the process for peace and reconciliation in that country.

Leaders of all major political parties in Pakistan, except the PPP which was conspicuous by its absence, addressed the conference. Although the politicians viewed the problem in Afghanistan from the perspective of their respective political parties but they were all on the same page as far as return of peace to that country was concerned. The speaker of the National Assembly was the chief guest and the governor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa presided over the concluding sessions.

The Afghan side was also well-represented and included members of the High Peace Council, the former prime minister, the former governor of Nangarhar, former mujahideen commanders and representatives of think tanks and the civil society.

All speakers at the conference were unanimous in the view that continuation of war would have serious ramifications not only for Afghanistan but also its neighbours, especially Pakistan, the region and the world at large. They felt it was imperative to bring the two warring sides in Afghanistan (the government and the Taliban) to the negotiating table to prevent further bloodshed and to work out a future course of action for taking charge of the country on the departure of foreign forces. To this end they have to initiate the dialogue process immediately or else it would be too late.

Therefore, giving peace and reconciliation a chance was the need of the hour, they stressed. Pakistan’s role was pivotal to the realisation of this goal through the process of peace and reconciliation.

Afghan speakers tried to allay Pakistan’s apprehensions about Indian influence in Afghanistan stating that 80 percent of the people in the government in Afghanistan had taken refuge in Pakistan at one time or the other. They were obliged to Pakistan and considered it their second home. They would never permit anyone, including India, to harm Pakistan.

What was needed to assuage such apprehensions was to stress the fact that Afghanistan is a sovereign country like Pakistan and has the right to pursue policies that suit its national interests but which are, at the same time, not harmful to Pakistan. The Afghans could give all assurances that this would never happen in the future, in the same way that it did not happen in the past even during wars between India and Pakistan.

In view of the fact that Washington’s relations with Kabul have deteriorated sharply over President Karzai’s refusal to sign the BSA and financial aid for civilian assistance by the US had been reduced to half in fiscal year 2014 it was the right time for the two sides to enter into serious negotiations and agree upon the future dispensation so that the nation is saved from another catastrophe in the days ahead.

The writer is a former ambassador. Email: waziruk@hotmail.com

Ayaz Wazir, "Will Afghanistan see peace?," The News. 2014-02-07.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , International relations , Political relations , Political parties , Taliban , President Obama , John Kerry , President Karzai , Qazi Hussain Ahmad , Afghanistan , United States , Kabul , PPP