GENEVA, Mar 15 (IPS) – There is much expectation about US President Joe Biden’s Afghanistan strategy to end the United States’ longest war effectively. So far, he continues to rely on Ambassador Zalmai Khalilzad, the Special Envoy for Afghanistan, appointed by Mr. Trump.
The initial statements issued by the White House, State Department, and Defense Department seemed promising. However, some highlighted that they ignored an essential element: the Afghan people’s wish about their future!
Following the latest visit of Ambassador Khalilzad to the region, various assumptions have emerged. It seems that he still pushes for a transitional government formula with the participation of Afghan chieftains and the Taliban, a new version of an old strategy that never proved efficient!
It may be futile to invoke details of what has transpired or speculate about President Biden’s intention on Afghanistan. However, an overview of the challenges will help define a sound solution, allowing foreign troops to regain their country in the most dignified manner and the Afghan people to dispose of its future.
As of the end of the 18th century, Afghanistan became the battleground for controlling central and south Asia between superpowers. Their “great game” and the ineptness of Afghan rulers who quickly succumbed to the “divide and rule” policy never permitted this country’s population to evolve as a nation.
Therefore, understanding the Afghan puzzle is laborious. So far, those who intervened in this eternally fragmented country, more recently the British Empire and the Soviet Union, never grasped fundamental hindrances. Both lost their glory as a result of their uncalculated decisions. The Biden administration must not rush and consider national challenges, regional impediments, and international hurdles to find a lasting, workable, and sustainable solution.
A significant source of eternal conflicts in Afghanistan is an unequal historical treatment of its diverse populations by their governments. Effective equal rights and opportunities and good-governance constitute the basis of a peaceful future. Some fundamental national challenges are as follows:
- Afghanistan has always been ruled based on kin, ethnic, religious, and relationship considerations. Meritocracy has hardly been a concern to those in power. This has been a significant reason for the failure of international support strategies so far. Nepotism, cronyism, and tribalism, unless addressed immediately, will be a devastating deterrent element for any positive action.
- Since the takeover of power by Communists in 1978, atrocious crimes against humanity have been committed by various regimes, warlords, Mujahidin chieftains, and more specifically, the Taliban and their Islamic State and Al-Qaeda associates. Without a truth and reconciliation process, it would be difficult for any peace effort to achieve its objectives.
- While Afghanistan is a country with defined borders and recognized status in major international and regional arenas, Afghans never constituted a nation. Without acknowledging this fact and undertaking a robust nation-building program, Afghanistan will remain a plaything in the hands of foreign adversaries.
- Afghanistan’s post-Taliban constitution was drafted without considering decades of profound political, social, and economic transformations in the country. It did not satisfy the aspirations of the population. A substantive reform of the current constitution can only improve the chances of durable peace in the country.
- Despite efforts undertaken by the international community, Afghanistan is affected by rampant corruption. It has gangrened all layers of central and provincial government institutions and even the private sector, hampering efforts to rebuild and reconstruct the country. A comprehensive good-governance and ethics framework, policy, and action plan for public and private sectors must be agreed upon and put in place instantly.
- Since Mr. Hamid Karzai was propelled to Afghanistan’s leadership and despite trillions of US dollars granted to various Afghan governments, the expected development path is unsatisfactory. Leaders have not been capable of defining where their country would be in a year, ten years, or thirty years from now. It is extremely urgent that Afghanistan’s leadership clearly describes short-, med-, and long-term political, social, and economic plans for the country and elaborate the appropriate action strategies so that the population comprehends the sacrifices that are still needed to attain peace and prosperity.
- For decades under King Zaher Shah, Afghanistan benefited from a recognized neutral status that helped the country position itself as an unbiased element of the “great games”! Subsequently, it received development aid, particularly from the United States, major European countries, the Soviet Union, India, and the People’s Republic of China. The forceful change of regime by Daoud Khan from kingdom to republic with the help of Soviet-trained military officers annihilated Afghanistan’s privileged neutral status. Therefore, it is in the interest of this country to regain its neutrality in the international arena and stay away from the “new great game” battles.
- Since 2009, elections have been marred with an unacceptable level of corruption and mismanagement. The population has lost trust in the democratic process and does not believe in the elections’ outcomes. This is a significant handicap for the country’s future political, social, and economic development and peace and serenity prospects. Without a solid and unbiased election law, rules and procedures, and honest people in charge, there will be no future for democracy in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan is situated in a very volatile region of the world. For centuries neighboring powers crashed with each other and caused unforgivable tragedies. Below are some of the significant regional impediments to the Afghan crisis:
- Regional rivalries, particularly the Indo-Pakistan and Saudi Arabia-Iran tensions, affect Afghanistan and have prolonged the conflict and discord among the population, transforming the country into a battleground for proxy wars. There are historical, religious, political, and strategic rationales that have pushed Afghanistan into this situation. Among all the neighbors, Pakistan has heavily facilitated harboring, training, and supporting terrorist movements, mainly the Taliban. There must be a clear understanding among regional powers to immediately spare this country from bearing further the burden of defending diverse foreign interests. More specifically, Pakistan must agree on an honest commitment of non-interference in internal Afghan affairs and end their support to the Taliban or any other subversive organization.
- Exploitation of resources, in particular minerals and water, constitute a major source of discord. Moreover, climate change has affected Afghanistan to the extent of destroying its agriculture. Any effort by Afghanistan to exploit its water faces powerful neighbors’ fury, deteriorating the atmosphere for an amicable understanding and peaceful coexistence. Regional power must recognize Afghanistan’s vulnerability and assist overcome the difficulties through exploitation of their own natural resources.
- Internal challenges of regional powers, particularly claims of autonomy or independence by the peoples of Baluchistan, Kurdistan, Yemen, and Kashmir, affect Afghanistan. There are reports of Afghans dispatched to fight in Kashmir, Syria, Yemen, and elsewhere. Often ethnic and religious motivations are the driving force for such insanity, resulting in the lack of unity within Afghanistan. Regional powers must restrain from using Afghans as foot soldiers for their interests.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the world has become multipolar. In the absence of sound morality, there is a bitter competition for global political and economic leadership. The four years of the Trump administration unmasked glimpses of some’s ambitions to dethrone the United States from their leading positions.
While Europe is a stand-alone power and the Russian Federation rises from the ashes of the Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China and India are undeniably the future centers of political and economic gravity.
The Middle East and Central and South Asia are the battlegrounds for a “new great game”. Therefore, the leading international hurdles for Afghanistan are as follows:
- Western powers have been shaken by the repeated failure of their policies in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, and many other countries, particularly in Africa. As a crushing tool, social media allows people to have numerous instantaneous information portals that reveal the difference between rhetoric and realities. This fact enables other powers, notably the People’s Republic of China, to ascertain and strengthen their stand in the international arena. Afghanistan seems to remain the playground for such competition that could last decades.
- Afghanistan is no more a priority for the international community. Other emergencies such as the Covid-19 pandemic or an eventual conflict between important rivals in the world arena can make it even more irrelevant. It is, therefore, vital for the country to find lasting peace in a reasonably not distant future.
- The horrendous terrorist attacks on the United States in Nairobi, Darussalam, Aden, and, more specifically, New York and Washington were perpetrated by Al Qaeda, whose leadership sought protection with the emerging Taliban movement in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Islam, a religion of peace and mercy, was used as a pretext for their inhuman actions. “Islamic terrorism” inflicts misery on people in Asia, Africa, Europe, and elsewhere. The image of Islam is tarnished durably. Islamic countries and Afghanistan, in particular, must undertake unsurmountable efforts to bridge a sustainable trust among all peoples of faiths.
The way forward
Afghanistan has been “an inspiration” for terrorist organizations for decades. However, it can be a significant source of regional and international stability too. It all depends on how the Biden administration shapes its strategy to bring lasting peace in this country with the firm assertion that they accomplished the objective of defeating terrorism in this country. Therefore, Afghans implore President Biden and his team to consider the following:
- Learn from past mistakes of the US governments. The 5 December 2001 Bonn Agreement, an understanding among political traders, was a quick fix and did not bring peace and security. Another deal involving a selected number of chieftains with the Taliban’s inclusion may be an immediate “success,” but it would be a significant long-term disaster. A repeat of the mistake of 1992 that led to the sharp rise of international terrorism and direct attacks on the United States will cause devastations of much larger scales. The United States must not rush and earnestly seek the view of the Afghan people about their future. Effective durable peace in Afghanistan will strengthen the trust in American leadership.
- Since 2002, the Afghan leaders proved inept, corrupt, and lawless. They cannot handle national challenges, regional impediments, and international hurdles surrounding their country. It is time to empower a new generation of young, competent, and incorruptible leaders within the country.
- The United States and its allies must opt for a transitional government between five to seven years, formed by the new leaders who sound the population and address the national challenges and embark with regional and international powers to agree on a neutral and peaceful future for Afghanistan.
- Initiate a new inclusive peace process, conducted by the transitional team with the support of regional and international powers, following which an honest and transparent election would be conducted under international monitoring. No transitional government member would be eligible to have substantial public office in the future. They can form an Ethics and Good-governance Council to scrutinize the future governments and private sector actions and take immediate corrective measures in cases of breach of ethics.
Peace in Afghanistan signifies the defeat of terrorism. Bringing terrorists and corrupt leaders to forge a future for this country will signify yet another immense failure.
* Saber Azam is also the author of SORAYA: The Other Princess, a historical fiction that overflies the latest seven decades of Afghan history, and Hell’s Mouth, also a historical fiction that recounts the excellent work of humanitarian and human rights actors in Côte d’Ivoire during the First Liberian Civil War. He also published articles mainly about Afghanistan and the need to reform the United Nations.
© Inter Press Service (2021) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service