If one were to keep count of all the talks so far held to bring peace in Afghanistan, it might exceed the weight of intentions, to actually end the war. If history is any guide, most wars have ended in a political settlement. Wars are allowed to breakout to weaken the will of the enemy and bring them to the terms of the stronger party. With the Taliban that rule does not seem to have worked out. This justifies the demand of the US and the Afghan government to see all logistic and military support to the Taliban stopped. That said, the Afghan unity government, during the Kabul Peace Dialogue, last month has invited the Taliban to assimilate into the Afghan political process. But the Taliban do not want to talk to the Afghan government. The perception of the unity government is that of a puppet regime, whose strings are attached to the US. The Taliban would rather go straight, than through ‘dummies’ for any discussion. The US, on the other hand, is not open to talk to the Taliban. Whether puppet or real, the US wants the Kabul government recognised as a legitimate power. If the US decides to talk to the Taliban, minus the Kabul government, it would be akin to holding up a placard with a warning: ‘beware’, we are not sure, if those in the saddle are able to steer the country to safety. The US is not ready for any such death kiss, especially when it has lost the Syrian war to Russia, while the invasion in Iraq has already been proved a gross violation of judgment, trust and international laws. In a context where the main contenders of war are not agreeable to talk to one another, will all these talks, dialogues, conferences and moots make a difference?
Talking is better than guesswork. But when repeated dialogues refuse to deliver, it can only be interpreted as an act of insanity of doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. If the desired result is peace, and the goal is to make the Afghan political process more inclusive, reverting to basics could be the most viable option. And the basics are, to convince the regional players to first stop supplying arms to any militant group including the Taliban. Way back in July 1999, when Tashkent hosted its first conference on peace in Afghanistan, the declaration featured the parties attending the conference—-China, Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, plus the US and Russia—-agreeing to deprive military support to any Afghan party. That never happened. As soon as the conference ended, the Taliban mounted military offensive. For any regional collaboration on peace, uniformity of purpose is the key. If Russia follows one line, and China eyes another objective, while Pakistan and Iran digs for other strategic alternatives, peace would be used as a camouflage to hide the original plan of the actors derived from their respective position on the regional map. The US has accused Russia of working behind the scenes with the Taliban. Countering the blame, the Russian Embassy in Kabul responded saying, “Those who are really responsible for the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan are trying to put the burden of guilt for their failure on Russia and damage the Russian-Afghan relations.” It goes without mentioning that Pakistan is blamed for the same, and, unlike Russia, is punished for the US mess, as well.
The Syrian war plunged to abyss, because the rebels have been getting an inexhaustible supply of arms, and ammunition. With the result that the world has another spectre to deal with, the Islamic State (IS). It has destroyed Syria, Iraq, and now it’s ready to descend Afghanistan into more chaos.
Another basic that needs revisiting is reminding the US about its initial objective, to leave Afghanistan as soon as the Al-Qaeda was hauled up to justice and the Taliban government was replaced. Fifteen years down the road, with terrorism multiplied in geometric proportions, the US is nowhere close to retreat. Can we find out if the US wants to leave Afghanistan or desires to stay in the cockpit? It should not be an issue sitting with the Taliban, if the US still wants to leave Afghanistan. Of what use is the legitimacy of a government, if it cannot enforce law and order. In any case, there are not many takers of the legitimacy of the Afghan government in the international world, leave alone in Afghanistan, because of the US presence. The Tashkent conference echoed Afghan-led and Afghan-owned solution to the Afghan war. Fair enough, but the question arises, when the US is spending $ 45 billion on the war in Afghanistan only in 2018, more than twice Afghanistan’s estimated GDP of $ 19.5 billion, who owns the handle on the war. In what sense, can the decisions about the war be Afghan-led and Afghan-owned. There is so much suspicion about the US intention in Afghanistan that every effort of the US is seen building up behind some sort of smokescreen to manage its position in South Asia. Will Russia let the US manage things as it wants? Especially when Russia has asserted its position as another world leader in the matrix of this complex political and economic warfare raging from Syria to Afghanistan.
Afghanistan, after Syria, may as well be the place where Russia would like to cut US to its size. The Russian chapter in the western political book could be rife with suspicion, but between the lines of the text the message is loud and clear; that, in the Asian peninsula, US is not the only contender of power. Russia is on the lead, and would not allow the US take hold of the Indian Ocean to undermine China’s Belt and Road initiative, and to bridle Russian interest. It is the Indian Ocean that would define the power to be in the world and consequently Afghanistan’s fate. Until this game of power is on, the Tashkent Declaration about Afghan peace process would just be another skeleton to be buried in the graveyard of proxies that Afghanistan has become.
The writer is a freelance journalist based in Lahore.