In the mid 1980s when the Cold War was at its peak and things had heated up in Afghanistan, the former Soviet statesman Mikhail Gorbachev described Afghanistan as a country that had turned into a bleeding wound. Unfortunately, apart from some brief intervals, the unlucky country hasn’t seen peace in the true sense of the word throughout the last four decades. Almost all the so-called players in the Afghan situation have so shamelessly played double games at the cost of Afghan blood that it isn’t easy for Afghans to distinguish friends from foes and there is hardly any distinction in this regard among Muslims and non-Muslims. This hapless country seems to have been almost kissed to death by its so-called friends.
Afghans also bear responsibility for naively embracing the narrative of “Jihad” woven by the big power rivalry for dominating the heart of Eurasia. They have been, to a great extent, victims of their underdeveloped socio-state formation and strategic location. But the big powers and regional hegemonic adventurists have also left no stone unturned to keep shedding Afghan blood. They seem to be determined to fight it out until the last Afghan. One good example of this double speak was the Moscow consultation this week, where the prospects for Afghan peace were discussed in the complete absence of Afghans. Interestingly all the three participants in the consultation, Russia, China and Pakistan have never been tired of speaking about the need for an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process, but they had no qualms in ignoring Afghans in discussing the solution to the armed conflict imposed on Afghanistan. It was like staging Shakespeare’s Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark.
The penchant of Pakistani security establishment for taking turns in teaming up with USA and Russia for “eliminating terrorism” is an irony of Himalayan proportions. In the 1980s Pakistan fought a Western sponsored, full-fledged, undeclared war dubbed as Jihad to throw the “infidel Russians” out of Afghanistan for stopping their purported march towards warm waters. Interestingly Mr. Zbigniew Brzizinski, the National Security Advisor to the then US President, Jimmy Carter, had to come all the way here for declaring “Jihad” against the godless Russians. Off course the pious Muslim clergy from Pakistan and Arab countries was readily available for vehemently supporting this “divine mission” that soon turned out to be the biggest covert operation of US intelligence in another country.
After 9/11 Pakistan was supposed to have taken a u-turn that subsequently proved to be a double u-turn as Pakistan supported the US war against Taliban alongside supporting Taliban in regrouping to fight against the US forces in Afghanistan. It is unbelievable that the US did not know about this double game, but by shifting focus to Iraq from Afghanistan before the elimination of extremism and terrorism they themselves revealed their non-serious attitude towards the so called War On Terror. Double games were permissible for mutual convenience.
Now the Russians have shown interest in the Taliban, the hard core Jihadists, for stopping the expansion of the so-called Islamic State (IS). It is like banking on Mussolini to stop Hitler. It’s particularly so when Taliban, IS and all other terror outfits are fighting to decimate state structures in Afghanistan. It seems that no lesson has been learnt from the liquidation of the state in Afghanistan in the 1990s and subsequently in Iraq and Libya. There is another aspect to the problem. If the experience of the 1990s is anything to go by it is pretty evident that the terror syndicate is one big indivisible body. It was in Taliban’s dominated Afghanistan that OBL and his Al Qaida, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), Chechens and numerous Pakistani terrorists networks were based. Even now, the Taliban have taken with them, from Pakistan, all the international terrorists into Afghanistan for fighting against the Afghan republic. It is a myth that Afghan Taliban do not cooperate with international terror outfits. The Russians are out to use the Taliban for inflicting a defeat on the US in Afghanistan to take revenge of their own defeat at the hands of the US supported Afghan mujahideen in the 1980s. It goes without saying that the US had decided to bleed the erstwhile Soviet Union for teaching a lesson to her for helping Vietnamese in their fight against the US. The irony is that Pakistan, as handler of former Afghan Mujahideen and now Taliban, remains available for all sides to fight their wars in Afghanistan in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The people of Pakistan had to pay a very heavy price for this insane policy as the terrorist sanctuaries in Pakistan resulted in the cancerous growth of terrorism in Pakistan, killing and maiming thousands of innocent people, particularly Pashtuns. Never approved by the parliament or the civilian government this adventurist policy has remained the baby of the country’s security agencies. Calling it a state policy is a misnomer.
In 2014 a historic opportunity for normalisation of relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan emerged during Dr. Ashraf Ghani’s Pakistan visit. The Afghan President offered almost a blank slate to Pakistan. According to him, except the sovereignty of Afghanistan, every thing else was negotiable. He was prepared to address every genuine concern of Pakistan including the extent of Indian influence in Afghanistan. Led by PM Nawaz Sharif Pakistani team couldn’t say no. 48 MOUs were signed covering strategic, political and economic aspects of relations between the two countries. Pakistan promised to bring Taliban to the negotiating table and also pledged to fight a coordinated war along side Afghanistan against the irreconcilables. But when it came to implementation it became evident that Pakistani mentors of Taliban just wanted to gain time for Taliban to make inroads through war. At times it is claimed that Pakistan doesn’t have enough influence on Taliban. Strangely enough, Pakistan has enough influence on Taliban to stop them from negotiating at their own but she pretends to be unable to bring them to the negotiating table.
Interests and policies of the big powers will keep changing in the future as they have changed in the past but Pakistan and Afghanistan have to find ways and means for peaceful coexistence as neighbors. The present escalation and impasse is dangerous for both. There is a dire need for a fresh peace initiative.