Looming Scenario for Afghanistan Post Doha Peace Deal
The tentative peace deal signed on 29th February 2020 between USA and Afghan Taliban after almost two decades of war hinged on successful execution of four main points i.e. United States to gradually withdraw its troops from the country over the next 14 months(5600 within 135 days) and for the Taliban and the Afghan government (which was not a party to the deal) to open direct talks preceded by release of 5000 Taliban prisoners by Afghan Government and 1000 prisoners’ release by Taliban by 10th March. The Taliban further promised in the deal to prevent terrorist groups, such as al Qaeda or the Islamic State (also known as ISIS), from operating in territory they control and to stop hostilities against USA and allies. The deal was greatly hailed by USA (as a political/diplomatic success), by Taliban (as a victory) and by Pakistan as an enabler and on vindication of its long held stance. However, other regional and extra-regional stakeholders either remained silent and some ultra skeptical like India that took it as its defeat because her use of Afghan soil for almost 20 years for launching proxies inside Pakistan would become problematic and more challenging post USA withdrawal and her dream of getting firm hold in Afghanistan would be near impossible with return of Taliban. Hence the jubilation was short lived and while the ink on the signed paper had not dried, the Taliban allegedly attacked some government targets as Ashraf Ghani refused to release the prisoners (later toned down after swearing in as controversial president and challenged by Abdullah Abdullah as another Afghan president simultaneously). The violation of signed deal by purportedly Taliban or ISIS was not only by Afghan establishment but also resulted in air strikes by US thus jeopardizing the prospects of envisaged success of signed deal.
Although the timings of signing of this peace deal under the rationale of war weariness by all involved actors provides good political mileage to POTUS Trump just in time before US presidential elections enabling him to claim delivery on his promise about disengaging from all endless wars and bringing boys back home ; however, the difference of opinion with American deep state with respect to the unachieved strategic objectives in the region especially with regards to nuclear Pakistan, potential nuclear Iran and fast tracked completion of CPEC as most critical part of BRI made the prospects of smooth success of peace deal uncertain from the very beginning. Afghan peace talks that factually started in 2010 were already following a pattern set by the negotiations that ended American involvement in Vietnam. In 1968, North Vietnam and the United States concluded a preliminary, procedural agreement that permitted the government of South Vietnam to join the talks. Five more years were needed to produce a substantive peace accord. That agreement fell apart two years after the last American forces left. The Afghan conundrum is far more complex than Vietnam fiasco keeping in mind the duration of the conflict, nature of the war zone, geography, characteristics and history of the insurgents, internal tribal dynamics and power politics, involvement of a number of regional and extra-regional actors and consequent dozens of belligerent proxies, shifting loyalties, war-profiteers in USA, NATO countries, Afghanistan and its neighbours, ethnic and political polarisation and above all the new great game being played in the same old arena now by three main global players instead of two. It is a given that ultimately the success of any peace efforts will be Afghans own responsibility as only they can resolve their differences; firstly between the installed or sitting government i.e. Ashraf Ghani and Abdulla Abdullah and secondly between government and Taliban with focus on main issues including cessation of hostilities, disarming, agreeing on a power sharing formula, merger of warring government forces and Taliban fighters, rebuild modus operandi, available and needed financial support, improvement in law and order situation, food security, narcotics and smuggling control, getting rid of foreign terrorists footprints, agreeing to rid Afghan human resource being used as mercenaries and proxies for foreign forces etc. Since there are neither any UN peacekeeping forces nor other institutional support available in Afghanistan to assist in finding answers to the above mentioned big questions, therefore at least USA and allies will have to remain engaged in Afghanistan for quite some time to help and improve chances of success of peace efforts and terminate an endless war; failing which Afghanistan is prone to remain a bleeding wound spreading its germs far beyond CASA region.
The presence of formidable and most expensive five American military bases in Afghanistan with more than 8400 American troops in the next 14 months along with allied forces are likely to help US military planners to keep contingency plans in place to keep Afghanistan from falling back in to 90s like circumstances though; nevertheless, it will be US and allies missing political and economic support that will in fact badly impact stability and partial rebuild of Afghanistan as a normal state. The internal, external and regional spoilers who have thrived on American embroilment in its longest war are likely to augment their despicable efforts to keep US stuck in the Afghan muck; and therefore America will have to fully and meaningfully cooperate with Pakistan to thwart such efforts, its flawed Indo-Pacific rebalancing policy notwithstanding. Besides USA, Pakistan will also be better placed by keeping other main stake holders like China, Russia, Iran, Central Asian Republics, Turkey, KSA, Qatar, UAE and friendly NATO countries involved in its efforts to make Doha peace deal a success. For Pakistan, sending back Afghan refugees residing in Pakistan for over 40 years, effective sealing and monitoring Pak-Afghan borders to eliminate human, drugs and other types of smuggling and elimination of Indian clandestine footprints along with its proxies on both side of the borders must remain a priority. In this matter, Pakistan has a lot to learn from Central Asian Republics neighbouring Afghanistan as to how they keep Afghans and their allied problems away from their lands and instead push out their undesirable elements in to Afghanistan. Another factor that needs to be seriously considered by Pakistan policy makers is as to how India succeeded in spreading its cultural and economic influence in Afghanistan, Iran and Central Asian Republics bypassing and undermining Pakistan and thereby backstabbing Pakistan from Afghan soil. Recent genocide of Muslims in IOK and in other states of India has badly exposed Modi and RSS’ anti- Muslim fascist agenda duly condemned by Iranian leadership, which must be leveraged by Pakistan. The failure to bring peace in Afghanistan is not an option for any party as relapse into either 90s like situation and another civil war in Afghanistan or its division on ethnic lines will have far reaching ramifications for all the actors and spoilers in Afghanistan. Afghans in the helms of affairs need to rise above self interests, stop ritual of blame game and seriously engage in dialogue with Taliban and other international helping hands to bring normalcy for the good of Afghan people. A piece of advice for Afghan incumbent government with well established nexus with India, “Continuing to play the victim is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Blaming others for your situation in life will indeed make you a victim but the perpetrator will be your own self, not life or those around you.”~
17th March 2020
· Saleem Qamar Butt, SI (M), (R) is a senior Army officer with rich experience in International relations, military diplomacy and analysis of geo-political and strategic security issues. (Website: www.sqbutt.com )