Looking Back

Shaping the Afghan Scenario

Prashun Majumdar

While analyzing the after effects of a chaotic war, it is always useful to recall some history. In, February 1989, as the defeated Soviet troops were leaving Afghanistan, some of Kashmiri jehadists were already in Pakistan receiving training to launch war against India. In April 1992, after three years of Civil War, the Taliban with the backing of USA and Pakistan succeeded in bringing down the Soviet-backed Najibullah government in Kabul while Kashmir became a valley of death as Kashmiri militants and Indian Security Forces intensified their armed campaigns. Many ordinary Kashmiris died in cross fire and they are still dying.

The news of President Obama extricating the American combat troops from war-torn Afghanistan by the end of 2014 has been reluctantly accepted in the subcontinent with a strange sense of Deja vu. One couldn't help but wonder and be apprehensive about whether the end of foreign intervention in the turbulent Af-Pak region will aggravate the insurgency scenario in Kashmir.

Going back again into the hard realities of history, to the time when the Soviet Army left through the Afghan-Uzbek bridge, it becomes apparent that there are striking similarities between the two fateful situations. In both the cases, a superpower withdrew its army in exhaustion after a ruthless invasion, leaving behind a weak regime to survive on its own while fundamentalist anarchic forces with external backing threatened to dislodge it. The superpower then looked back and reminisced about the great 'might-have-beens'. But in the end, all it got was a financial burden, a tired army, angry public sentiments back home and a stalemate; all evidences to a costly and, ultimately, pointless war.

In the present scheme of things, history is on the verge of repeating itself. However, the need to alter the course of history starts from here. The last time a superpower left Afghanistan, it resulted in the emergence of Taliban and increased insurgency in Kashmir. To counter the Taliban factor this time, the three major players who have a say in Afghanistan—the United States, Pakistan and India seem to be readjusting their foreign policy.

In December 2008, days after being elected, the United States President Barack Obama recognized the importance of looking at Afghanistan with a wider lens rather than in seclusion. "We can't continue to look at Afghanistan in isolation. We have to see it as a part of a regional problem that includes Pakistan, includes India, includes Kashmir, includes Iran", he had asserted. Since then, not much has changed. Obama has been re-elected for a second term but the United States' relationship with Afghan President Hamid Karzai can be termed as frosty at best. Many Afghans think American withdrawal at this juncture amounts to treachery. Then America has no option but to leave the theatre before it is too late. After all they have learnt lessons from Vietnam.

In Pakistan, the newly elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has indicated that his government will fully cooperate with the United States in facilitating the pullout of NATO forces. However, the Afghans are wary of Sharif and rightly so, as during his previous tenure in 1999 he had openly supported the Taliban and is viewed in Afghanistan as a religious fundamentalist. But for peace, Pakistan, which has been an ally with overbearing attitudes, needs to look at Afghanistan as an equal neighbor and not just as an asset to further its geopolitical ambitions.

During the past year, India has remained a mute bystander to the events unfolding in Afghanistan. To keep a check on the geographical extent of Taliban's re-emergence which will have a direct bearing on its own national security, India must wake up from its reverie on Afghan policy. What keeps working in India's favor is the abundance of trust and goodwill among the Afghans for India. Recent reports suggest that Karzai may seek military assistance from India. In addition to offering unconditional support to the Afghan President, New Delhi’s rejection of the rule of Taliban as a potential political option is likely to continue even if it means finding new allies. In February this year, a trilateral dialogue was held in Moscow involving India, China and Russia which was prompted by the growing fear of the Taliban's return to power in Afghanistan. But India-China-Russia axis is a non-starter.

The situation is further complicated due to the fragmentation of political forces in domestic Afghan politics and the recent Chinese investment in extraction of oil in the Amu Darya Basin in Central Asia. Karzai's coalition with non-Pashtun groups have resulted in a situation where those people who had not tasted power and were socially deprived have emerged in the political spectrum and would not give in easily to the Taliban. The Chinese investment has made the United States and the West wary of the might of the emerging Asian giant in Central Asia.

For the Afghan community, a violent anarchy and civil war after the endgame would be truly apocalyptic. A negotiation with the rabid medieval Taliban sans AI-Qaeda seems inevitable for maintaining peace. The Afghans look back in anger and confusion at the past bloody decade. Whether peace will return to Afghanistan is open to question. If a solution encompassing all parties evades the ground reality, bullets and shells will continue to fly, resulting in only one outcome—more bloodshead in the sub-continent.

Vol. 46, No. 9, Sep 8 - 14, 2013

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