Every time, there is talk of bilateral, trilateral, quadrilateral, regional, continental and international talks on the Afghan issue, one’s mind inexorably turns to the cat belling fable of the Greek sage, Aesop.

One is not sure if something of value would ever come out of such closed door meetings, summits, conferences and table talks. Talking with the Taliban is like talking with the ghosts. You do not see the actual figures, but only the shadows. Add to that the lamentable fact that such talks take place not in Kabul itself, but in Doha, Bonn, Washington, Tehran or Islamabad and the prospects of peace and security seem more dim and bleak. Imagine a puppet leader talking with a ghost-like outfit in some faraway land with the blessings of invisible masters and there you get a perfect picture of a Hollywood horror.

Besides, is it possible for a man in death throes to extend a helping hand to other fellow humans? One guesses not! Afghanistan has a dysfunctional government and its writ is confined to Kabul and a handful of other small provinces. Pakistan is also having its plate full of problems. As for Iran, although, it is more stable and prosperous, still it is threatened with global isolation and UN sanctions, due to its recent progress in nuclear programme.

Perhaps, no other country has ever puzzled strategists and analysts in the last 200 years more than Afghanistan has done. It is the strangest of lands. Its people are stranger still. They were a constant source of worry to the great Mughals. Russian tsars tried to control them, but failed. The Great Britain wanted to tame them, but failed. Uncle Sam now wants to rein them. And obviously, he is failing. Such a mischievous and headstrong nephew Afghanistan proves to be.

Just what the heck is wrong with the collective psyche of the Afghan nation, some anthropologist might burst out in utmost anger and frustration. Is it the climate? Is it the terrain? Is it the culture? Or is it simply the people?

This last possibility seems to be the subject of many legends and remarks. One can find numerous Indian, Russian and British stories in which the proverbial khan sahib is depicted as a fierce and fiery man; conservative in outlook, warrior in nature and unforgiving in vengeance. He has also been called as a man of unrivalled hospitality, self-sacrifice and commitment. While his simple-mindedness continuous to be the butt of many jokes till this day.

I remember the Carnegie Endowment scholar, Anatol Lieven, making a witty remark in one of his pieces soon after the 9/11: “You cannot buy an Afghan; you can only hire him.” But that is only an old adage, contrived for fun purposes. A more precise description of the Afghan spirit has been painted by the famous warrior-poet, Khush’hal Khan Khattak:

“Za Khoshal toora pa las kafan pa ghara ba rapasam,

 Ke khabar shwam che Pakhtun da cha ghulam sho.

(I, Khush’hal, will rise with a sword in my hand and a shroud on my shoulder/if I ever heard of a Pakhtun becoming someone’s slave).

The Afghan nation is strange in that it is the only people on the face of the earth, who wear arms and weaponry as a man’s ornament. In comparison, professional armies of foreign nations look more like mercenaries than actual fighters. No wonder then. They have been invincible throughout their history. ANP’s Asfandyar Wali seems to be cognisant of the fact and hence his recent policy summersaults: “It is an abuse for a Pakhtun to surrender his weapon; we don’t want him to; we only want him to stop violence.”

Speaking of the ANP, one cannot help recalling its all-time favourite slogan “lar au bar, yav Afghan.” That is to say, one Afghan nation across the plains and mountains. For those unfamiliar with ANP, it was the stated policy of party to see Pakhtuns on either side of the border as one nation. This, however, served as an anathema for our political establishment for so many decades. And for obvious reasons. Even during the Karzai rule, the issue has been raised more than once to counterbalance Pakistan’s alleged desire for strategic depth.

Furthermore, it will always remain as an unsolved mystery whether it is Afghanistan responsible for most of Pakistan’s malaises or it is the other way around. Whatever might be the case, the fact remains both countries are locked in unbreakable bonds of geography, culture and religion, and as the saying goes their fates are intertwined with each other. And it is not only Pakistan, whose fate is tied with Afghanistan, but of the world at large - as the events of 9/11 amply prove. Dr Muhammad Iqbal was, then, not so wrong when he regarded Afghanistan as the heart of Asia: “If the heart is corrupt, the whole Asia is corrupt/its decline is the decline of Asia, its rise is the rise of Asia.”

Lastly, Afghanistan is a rare example of those very few countries, whose volatility and unpredictability render it impossible for political scientists, strategists and analysts to foresee its future course. Not even Dr Zbigniew Brzezinski, Dr Henry Kissinger or our own Dr Muhammad Iqbal could do that. “The verdict of history is that buffer states have never been able to form themselves into great political units. So was the case with Syria - a buffer state between the Empire of Rome and that of the Persians. It seems difficult to forecast the future of Afghanistan,” says the poet-philosopher, Iqbal.

The writer is a freelance journalist.

Email: samiurn@yahoo.com