Spring in Afghanistan has turned now into a season of doom and gloom, for it brings recurring bloody battle into bloom. While NATO and the American military commanders are talking about inflicting a lasting blow to the remnants of the Taliban, the latter brag about crushing the Americans like Russians in 1980s.
Amidst such a cacophony of pretensions, innocent Afghan civilians are helplessly awaiting the end of war through a political dialogue that can end tragedy in their country. President Karzai has announced negotiation with the Taliban this past week.
Six years on, since the fall of the Taliban, NATO and the US-led coalition forces, have achieved little by solely emphasising on military strategy in this country. Several military operations code-named: Jawbreaker, Mountain Loin, Screaming Eagles, Anaconda, Operation Snipe, Dragon’s Fury, and so on have failed to capture the highest al-qaida or Taliban hierarchy. The only thing achieved was the resurgence of the Taliban and reorganisation of al-qaida in safe hideouts in Pakistan.
Adding to the anxiety, al-Qaida and Taliban have large swaths of the Pakistani north-western tribal areas under control, where they feel safe and free to promote their ideology and terrorist operations against the West. Al-Qaida is “cultivating stronger operational connections and relationships that radiate outward from their leader’s secure hideout in Pakistan to affiliates throughout the Middle East, North Africa and Europe,” said the outgoing Director of the US National Intelligence, Mr John Negroponte recently in a testimony to the Senate.
Another disturbing factor that is threatening to wreck the policy of building democracy and defeating terrorism in Afghanistan is a lack of unity among the NATO member countries. In the face of an increasing surge of Taliban, NATO’s European member countries seem to be divided over war strategy. Media reports indicate that the British troops feel a shortage of military hardware, Bulgarian troops are in need of new boots, French and Australian special-forces have already left the country, while German, Italian, and Spanish troops are unhappy to venture into the Taliban-infested south and east of the country.
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Afghanistan’s predatory neighbours make the situation even murkier. Diverse geopolitical interests increasingly drive a wedge between Pakistan and the West. Despite its denial, Pakistan has a high strategic stake in the Taliban. In Pakistan’s thinking a hard push against the Taliban means its tribal Pashtun minority might give up its present religious extremist doctrine for a nationalist fervour. In that event, 28 million Pashtuns in Pakistan might begin edging towards an outright secession from Pakistan like Bangladesh in 1971. Pashtuns have no history of living together with Punjabi majority. Pakistan’s fear of losing control over its restive and largely ungoverned Pashtun tribal belt reached a fever pitch when General Pervez Musharaf began building a fence along the Durand line, which will make the tribal areas even more safe for its hosts— the Islamic terrorists and the Taliban leaders.
By using warlords of the Northern Alliance, Iran is mobilising extremist Shiite ideology among its old proxy. Although it failed to transplant a Hizbullah-like militia in Afghanistan, Iran selected a cultural invasion of Afghanistan. Russia is also keen to resume its flirting with the same warlords belonging to the Afghan ethnic minority in the north of the country for fear of Taliban resurgence. The militia of the Northern Alliance has already begun to remobilise itself to counter Taliban’s rise.
This also points up the corrosion of President Karzai’s effectiveness, who is threading a tightrope between dealing with the dominance of warlords and the demands of the Pashtun majority. He is growingly becoming a cover for the warlords of the Northern Alliance, which following the overthrow of the Taliban were propelled to power.
The ethnic groups of the alliance are pursuing their sectarian agenda of undermining attempts by Pashtuns to restore their traditional political authority in Afghanistan. The Northern Alliance minimised Pashtun influence in state beaurocracy, and also dumped Pashtu as the national language of the country. While Afghanistan’s history bears witness that no government in Kabul survives without an active Pashtun support.
Using Western military presence as an insurance policy for their new-found power and ill-gotten wealth, chiefs of the Northern Alliance pry on Western aid. There are fears that the US new pledge of a further $10.8 billion for Afghanistan’s security and reconstruction might not reach its targets. Although at the outset of invasion the alliance played a positive role in helping to oust the Taliban, its sectarian agenda is becoming increasingly intractable.
In such dire circumstances, there is one thing worthy of trying: detach the Taliban from their fanatical hard core faction loyal to al-Qaida. But this can only be done if Taliban is to be divorced from Pakistani Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) first, whose obscene gamble is directed to keep Taliban relentlessly radicalised to serve Pakistan’s geopolitical aims.
Mr Karzai’s call for negotiation with his opponents has never received wholehearted support from Pakistan. A national reconciliation which guarantees the emergence of a strong and stable Afghanistan is seen as a threat for Pakistan’s strategic depth in the region. Pakistani ISI knows that the only way to march towards Kabul is on the Taliban’s back.
Copyright © Ehsan Azari
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