By Rustam Shah Mohmand
Coronavirus has spread its tentacles across the globe. The
phenomenal speed with which the pandemic has spread has caught scientists by
The disease has affected lives, business, trade, productivity and travel. National incomes have been impacted, besides the invisible cost to education, health and the GDP of all countries. The virus has upended the world like never before in recent history. The United States is not immune to the harmful implications of the deadly virus. It is going to invest an astounding amount in dealing with the effects of the pandemic. Such an expenditure in trillions of dollars will cause severe economic problems. Will the US then be in a position to continue providing more than 6 billion dollars annually to Afghanistan to keep its fragile government running?
This inability to keep a government afloat by not being able to deliver the needed resources presents yet a new challenge to the US and Afghan government.
A post-pandemic world order will substantially change the political landscape of the whole world. A reappraisal of policy on Afghanistan is just one of the many fallouts of a changing world order.
The US will confront new emerging realities by deciding to withdraw its forces or most of them. More importantly, it will make its intention clear to the Kabul government. It can no longer afford to support the country financially to the extent that it used to for the last several years.This will inject an element of urgency into the ongoing peace process. Under pressure from Washington, Ashraf Ghani will have to embrace ground realities and give up his attitude of belligerence now that the situation has changed.
This will present an opportunity to the US to begin a slow transformation that is premised on the mainstreaming of the Taliban on the one hand and ensuring that the transition towards a multi-ethnic, broad-based government takes place smoothly on the other. This will also pose many challenges.
But a world that is threatened by a powerful pandemic and a
frightening economic slowdown will mandate countries to adopt more pragmatic,
down to earth policies in breaking the stalemates in dispute resolution.
Not just the US and Afghan government, but the Taliban too will have to show more flexibility. The group will be an important and dominant component of any new dispensation, but such a situation will demand the Taliban show more tolerance and more accommodation to other groups or factions. Taliban will have to announce a general amnesty for all, across the board, except those against whom there are documented evidence of having initiated, committed or abetted in war crimes or crimes against humanity. The announcement of general amnesty will generate a new spirit of forgive and forget, and foster more cooperation and help in reducing the trust deficit. It will create new dynamics for a new beginning.
The path towards this scenario emerging will be difficult to negotiate because the pro status quo forces will desperately try to hang on to their powers, resources and political clout. The US role will be crucial in helping to create conditions that are conducive to a grand reconciliation. Once the US makes its position clear on a number of issues relating to a sustainable transition, the groups and factions opposing the mainstreaming of the Taliban will get a clear message. They will come around to accepting the new arrangement for a host of reasons—to save their positions, to find some relevance in the new system and to present a new face to the public. In the political culture of this region, that will not be difficult.
The prisoner swap that is likely to happen soon will set the ball rolling for an accelerated mainstreaming of Taliban. Much will depend on how the three main stake holders—the US, the Kabul government and the Taliban play their cards. But other factions and leaders — Sayyaf, Dostum, Ismail Khan, Din Mohammad etc cannot be ignored. They will have to be part of the deal.
The pandemic has brought widespread suffering and misery to the whole world. Alarmed by the prospect of more such disasters to strike in the future, leaders must get their act together and endeavour to find lasting solutions to the myriad problems that divide nations. Afghanistan’s war was as unnecessary as it was brutal. The country is on the verge of chaos if a quick solution is not found to the question of a reconciliation. Failure is not an option. People want peace desperately in a country where unemployment has reached more than 45 per cent; where more than forty thousand people take the risk and leave the country every month, where opium production has reached 9,000 tons a year and where clean drinking water is available only to a handful of people. It is a country that is water stressed and has millions of poor who live below the poverty line. The number of heroin addicts has crossed two million and is counting.
These realities should force the leaders to urgently seek a solution to the long conflict. The fatigue syndrome and the pandemic provide an opportunity. Let this not be wasted.
(Rustam Shah Mohmand is a specialist of Afghanistan and Central Asian Affairs. He has served as Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan and also held position of Chief Commissioner Refugees for a decade.)