Afghanistan’s uphill climb to peace


Worried relatives gathered outside a hospital in Kabul on Saturday

Humanists the world over have been jolted afresh by Afghanistan’s senseless suffering. A few days back a suicide bomb attack at a wedding banquet in Kabul claimed the lives of 63 civilians and wounded some 180 more. Isn’t there a way out for the hapless country? This troubling poser recurs but the answer continues to be elusive.

Right now, life seems to be ‘cheapest’ in Afghanistan. For example, the UN estimates that more than 32,000 civilian lives have been lost in Afghanistan over the past decade. Yet, there does not seem to be a concerted effort on the part of the major parties to the conflict to make positive, concrete and urgent moves towards ending the blood-letting in the country. Afghanistan’s agony is compounded by the fact that some of these parties to the conflict comprise the world’s foremost powers.

Afghanistan’s haplessness is accentuated by its highly strategic geographical location. Far too many of Afghanistan’s neighbours and not so close neighbours would like to have an enduring foothold in her. This accounts for the fact that international collaborative efforts in resolving the conflict have not been easy to shore-up over the decades. The competitive efforts at wielding influence in the country by these external actors contribute towards making peace in Afghanistan an uphill proposition of the most daunting kind.

Of Afghanistan’s immediate neighbours who are likely to take a keen interest in her evolving internal political situation, India, Pakistan, China, Iran, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan are the most noteworthy. Located at the veritable crossroads where these major states meet, Afghanistan is likely to be seen by all of them to be having a considerable bearing on their security.

Political instability in Afghanistan should be of immense concern for many of these neighbours, accordingly, and they would prefer to be formative influences in Afghanistan’s domestic politics, lest a political dispensation comes into being in the state that would prove inimical to their vital concerns.

To sum up Afghanistan’s strategic importance, it could be said that she is the virtual gateway to South-West Asia, the Gulf, Central Asia and South Asia. Small wonder that, besides some of her immediate neighbours, Afghanistan has been sought after by Russia, the US and the UK. An irony that should not be skipped is the fact that the US is today in the same unenviable position the USSR was in the late eighties with regard to Afghanistan.

Inasmuch as the USSR was compelled to vacate Afghanistan in the early nineties on being bloodied by the Afghan resistance, the US too is seriously considering pulling out fully from the country currently, having seen its costs in being in Afghanistan soar to $ 45 billion annually. This accounts for the months long negotiations the US is conducting with the Taliban at present in Doha. It is yet to be seen whether a final agreement between the parties would materialize. However, it ought to be of interest to those sections that are eager to fight terror militarily that the US is in face to face talks with the ‘enemy’. The ‘moral’ is that ‘terror’ could not be eliminated entirely by military means.

Ideally, there ought to be a meeting of minds among all the relevant external actors in the Afghan quagmire. They need to negotiate on a give-and-take basis to ensure that the trauma of the Afghan people comes to an end. Some of their interests would need to be sacrificed to ensure that the blood-letting is staunched. If not, the continuing loss of lives in Afghanistan would constitute a scathing indictment of the powers concerned and expose them as being bereft of a moral conscience.

However, Afghanistan never ceases to intrigue the observer. Even as US-Taliban talks are in progress, the IS has put the world on notice that it is very much ‘alive and kicking’. For instance, the IS is on record as having claimed responsibility for the wedding banquet suicide attack in Kabul.

From this development arises the question – of what final significance would be the US-Taliban talks? Apparently, there is more than one major militant organization that needs to be talked to. In fact, a multiplicity of domestic militant groups and formations have been featuring in the Afghan conflict. This factor has always compounded the complexity of the Afghan issue. There are numerous identity and interest groups to contend with. They are backed by some of Afghanistan’s neighbouring states to ensure the meeting of the latter’s interests. Thus, a Gordian Knot awaits cutting in the form of Afghanistan.

While Afghanistan’s external players and their interests constitute a vital dimension to the Afghan problem, the country’s domestic actors and their power play form an equally engrossing different dimension to the enduring quagmire. Even if the external players resolve their differences and work towards peace in Afghanistan, there are the domestic quarters that need to make peace among themselves. These processes need to run parallel to each other to enable substantive peace to be generated in Afghanistan.

Thus far, as regards domestic quarters, the Afghan government and the Taliban are seen to be of principal interest. However, are these the only domestic players of prime interest? What about the other Jihadic groups, such as the Al-qaeda and the IS? The latter too have served notice of their prominent presence in the conflict time and again. If a final peace is to be clinched all local groups that matter need to be inducted into the peace process.

Needless to say, the latter would prove to be an uphill undertaking. Essentially, what we would need in Afghanistan is an inclusive and democratic process that would not leave any group that matters out of the peace effort. The UN and other quarters with Afghanistan’s interests at heart would need to work towards establishing such a process from now on.

The final deciding factor is human life. Would the international community prefer to see Afghanistan bleed further? Or would all well wishers come together in a grand effort to deliver the country from its Longsuffering? The world must opt for peace in Afghanistan and work as one towards this end.

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