As I write this piece, the Taliban have already initiated their spring offensive against ISIS and the Afghan Security Forces (ASF), but the important aspect that needs a comprehensive understanding is that today, they are doing this with a subtle nod from Uncle Sam and associates. The peace link has been established since last year, and the Taliban, which currently controls 60 percent or more land in Afghanistan, has enough legitimacy as well as justification for the establishment of their conservative government in Kabul.

It is unfortunate that the people of Afghanistan have been used by regional and hegemonic powers for advancing their own power agendas in the region, yet they barely have a say in construction of a new and improved system within Afghanistan. Ghani has lost the plot and other power groups, like the one headed by Abdullah Abdullah, are using their influence to find strategic space in Afghanistan. Irrespective of political and social differences, the region and the people of Afghanistan want peace.

Now when trumpets have started to fade for Uncle Sam and associates, they still have some tricks up their sleeves for advancing their agenda within the AfPak region; Zalmay Khalilzad is the core player of the new poker game being initiated in Afghanistan.

Some spoilers like India are not liking and accepting how things are currently progressing in Afghanistan, so they would try their best to accentuate the existing chaos to maintain their bargaining position. But the million-dollar question is what would the future of Afghanistan be like and what repercussions the region and key players would or would not face? Would it remain in a perpetual state of chaos and spoiler elements and groups used as mercenaries for regional powers? Would there be a comprehensive understanding and settlement between major power groups, or would it be used as a foothold, a strategic partner to strangulate Uncle Sam’s rivals? The following are predicted scenarios that might unfold in Afghanistan:

Scenario A—Peace attained through dialogue and a coalition is formed between Taliban and current status quo. This scenario is only applicable if Afghan Taliban display flexibility and get adjusted in the system with major power share going to them. Taliban has already indicated that they will review their standing on women’s rights and reconciliation with the rest of the power brokers. The conservative and hardliner elements within the Taliban may have to be motivated by the leadership for giving space for a lasting peace. In this scenario it will become much easier for the US to accept the new power structure and get some guarantees that her interests are preserved in the region. Russia, Iran and China will have to be taken on board with a central role assigned to Pakistan so that the process moves smoothly. Can this scenario sustain peace in Afghanistan without a mini Marshall Plan to make sure the Afghan people get some relief, and the state functions till the time it becomes self-reliant? This is a major question.

Scenario B—Shattered peace after withdrawal of NATO forces—a civil war-like situation with Afghans and power brokers left to sort it out through the barrel of a gun. This is Something akin to post-Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, when warring factions were left on their own. This scenario is a possibility if no peace deal is reached. Keeping in view the interest of the current regime and her backers and spoilers like India, Afghanistan could plunge into a civil war, with more misery for the people of Afghanistan. Hostile agencies like RAW could expand collusion with ISIS and TTP and their proxies could push Afghanistan into another quagmire. Contest for spaces would grow as more space occupied by a specific faction would give it more leverage and strength. Attempts could be made to restart destabilising Pakistan and keep Pak afghan border on fire.

Scenario C—The Taliban upholds the peace agreement, gets rid of Indian influence and her proxies in the region and establishes a powerful conservative system by defeating its opponents in coalition militarily. So far, this is the most predictable outcome. Already, many Delhi and Kabul based pundits have predicted the Taliban gaining strength on their own. It is primarily to do with India supporting NDS, ISIS and TTP who have been targeting the Taliban faction in Afghanistan since 2006. This scenario could have repercussions for the whole region and even Occupied Kashmir, as India loses face in Afghanistan and is frustrated by ‘Ladakh Shame’ incurred on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China. A major challenge for the Taliban would be to economically sustain their regime; will Russia, China, Pakistan and their allies be able to help economically sustain this arrangement, this is a million dollar question; especially when India, Iran and the West try to fail the new regime.

Scenario D—Breakaway factions in the Taliban split and try to gain power by colluding with other power factions. This is one of the most dangerous scenarios because it would result in something similar to Scenario ‘B’. Pakistan, China and Russia could lose space and hostile agencies in Afghanistan may try to woo these breakaway factions through incentives and power-share promises. This scenario could actually allow many countries in the region for power jockeying and use these factions in a turf war. The Iran-Arab contest, the US-China contest, the US-Russia contest and the Indo-Pak contest within Afghanistan could accentuate the Afghan quagmire and create a situation like Yemen or Syria.

It is unfortunate that the current dynamics within Afghanistan are similar to what is happening in Syria. An onslaught of global powers and regional countries trying to enhance their respective agendas. Besides Afghanistan, no other country is more affected by these scenarios than Pakistan. A common border with Afghanistan, hosting Afghan refugees on its soil, having ethnic and cultural bondage with Afghans and the long war fought to dismantle terror networks in KP and Balochistan has cost Pakistan a lot.

Pakistan must weigh all these plausible scenarios and be prepared to meet any eventuality.

Umar Waqar

The writer is a freelance journalist. He can be reached at yallaumar