Lt Gen (r) Naeem Khalid Lodhi
Dark clouds wrapped around this region had menacingly thundered, poured acid rain and evaporated the dreams of welfare and happiness of the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan for more than two decades. But the recent developments in the shape of American desire to leave Afghanistan and the subsequent talks and parleys between US and Afghan Taliban indicate that a profound change in the environment may emerge within the next few months. This is great news for most of the people of the region. However we need to understand that a war that ensued for seventeen long years in the rugged terrain of Afghanistan, deeply shook nearly all the neighbouring countries – most effected being Pakistan – cannot be expected to abruptly be decided by few days of table talks.
What could be the possible outcomes of these new endeavours is anybody’s guess. However if we keep in mind the basic interests of various stakeholders, it may become easy to untie the entangled knot and discern the direction of various stakeholders. Let us get to the brass tacks. What are the American interests in the region? Circumvent China, prevent Russian ingress in Afghanistan and towards Indian Ocean through Pakistan, keep an eye on nuclear developments in Iran, and to an extent in Pakistan also. These objectives can only be realised if instability and chaotic situation perpetuates in Afghanistan. For helping them to achieve all this, they have strong partners in the shape of India, the Unity Government, drug barons of Afghanistan, some warlords and gun runners that operate better under unstable political environment. Long term instability can also be created by elements of Daesh, ISIL and contractors like Blackwater etc. To offset the US designs, at the forefront are the Afghan Taliban, people of Afghanistan, Russia, China, Iran, some CARs and of course Pakistan. The latter group would benefit from peaceful Afghanistan that is well integrated in the economic activities of the region. And CPEC may be a key to future prosperity of this region, but for that Afghanistan must provide a peaceful passage for CARs and Russia.
If our above mentioned basics facts are correct, there is hardly any crystal gazing required to arrive at logical conclusions. Add to this the ground situation in Afghanistan and the most likely scenario starts emerging automatically. The US is leaving Afghanistan not out of choice but due to heavy politico economic losses along with an unenviable military situation. But in the last seventeen years they have cultivated enough spoilers in the region that can work for them for quite some time, but against a strong resistance and resolve of a group of positive entities, as already mentioned.
So the American objectives of starting talks with the Taliban are twofold; one to secure their peaceful exit for which they require goodwill of Afghan Taliban and Pakistan’s support ; and secondly to leave Afghanistan in turmoil with the help of entities mentioned above to ensure achievement of interests, that were being pursued earlier. Had they actually worked for peace in Afghanistan, less than a trillion dollars spent on education, eradication of poppy cultivation, developing infrastructure and resettling of refugees, would have been enough. On the contrary it was ensured that Afghanistan remained underdeveloped, fractured, bubbling with narcotics, divided and isolated.
Thus it is only change of posture by US, exploring alternative strategies, in pursuance of the same old interests. But it is going to be dialectic of wills as those who want to change status quo (controlled turmoil), the peace seekers, are also in good numbers and quite strong if they act in unison. The latest meeting of Taliban with other important Afghan factions in Russia gives them political strength to carry on with hard bargaining in Doha, 25th Feb.
Pakistan should not keep playing as a second fiddle in this evolving situation, being a facilitator only. We have legitimate and important interests in peaceful Afghanistan. But we must expand the talks to help establishing peace in the region. We succeeded in convincing Taliban for table talks, we should in our right ask the US to encourage their close ally India to stop atrocities in occupied Kashmir and resume the broken dialogues.
We must not get duped by the newly found love by Americans, when they suddenly start appreciating our efforts that is just a continuation of their blow hot blow cold strategy. Pakistan should stay focused on her own interests in the region and should remain transactional for the time being. Long term strategic relationships can wait for better times when mutual trust gets reinstated
It would be a miracle, if the present rounds of talks between Taliban and the US result in enduring peace. Peace can only be ensured by leaving Afghans to their own machinations with the support of regional powers, and it would be ridiculous if Pakistan once again keeps providing services free of cost, this time not dollars but a reciprocal service must be asked.
(The writer is former Lt. Gen of Pak Army and has held various commands during his military career. For his services he has been conferred the award of Hilal-e-Imtiaz (M). He has also served as the Defence Secretary. He is currently an Advisor at the Centre for Strategic and Contemporary Research (CSCR). firstname.lastname@example.org