By Rana Athar Javed
Over time it is becoming clearer that establishing peace in conflict zones is extraordinarily frenetic, especially frequent and rapid policy changes impact new circumstances, and severity of threat also undermines the negotiation process. Although discourse on political settlement of Afghan issue is highly charged and, national security establishments of the US/NATO, Afghanistan and Pakistan are striving to formulate a pragmatic and “problem-solving” approach. The talks in Qatar, joint communiqué of Pak-Afghan and UK leadership and, inclusion of powerful religious/political stalwarts in talks/conferences with the various bureaucratic sophistications describe the importance of strategic consideration in negotiating the future of Afghanistan.
Still, the disagreement surfaced again relate to the preparation of withdrawal, and the subsequent modalities of an independent and functional Afghan state. Extreme positions taken in terms of negotiating with Taliban and the plan to remain in supervisory control of Afghan armed forces by the US would ultimately affect the border security arrangements between Pakistan and Afghanistan – and the way final stages of the withdrawal conclude. The people of Afghanistan definitely seek guarantees that the US/NATO would not violate the spirit of an independent Afghanistan. The question however revolves around the credibility of the Afghan government and, to which extent it is loyal to the entire communities of Afghanistan or will its loyalty be compromised after the withdrawal of the US?
Again, despite participation of all partners, Pakistan is expected to create conducive peace and environment and facilitate the peace process in the post-2014 Afghanistan. Either way, the direct involvement of the Afghan government is crucial; as an Afghan-led-and-Afghan governed state would justifiably play an independent role in keeping the people united. Conversely, the credible peace roadmap can be tempered with the fear of economic crisis, US pressure, heightened risks of attack on Iran, and thus failure of grand peace plan with the Taliban. Because a policy planning to design another change in the region, especially in terms of creating more warfare and crises, subsequently, pushing the region into a “Greater Game”, the implications of which should actively be considered by all the concerned parties.
Typically far better prepared in military planning, the US has not been able to develop a cohesive, credible and innovative peace policy for the post-2014 Afghanistan. In recognition of this reality, the basic issues of “who should be included” in peace talks and why economic stability of Pakistan is important to achieve essential objectives in Afghanistan are two of the key questions that are particularly important at the operational level – but yet to be addressed by the US and NATO member states.
The immediate impact of such a dichotomy is that the foreign militants considering their legitimate right to attack all those who seek to rebuild this economically viable region, and publically call for the renewed peace talks with Taliban. The killing of more than one thousand tribal leaders in the FATA region of Pakistan is one of the glaring examples of this threat. The common view is that the US diplomatic posture always comes with conditions and at times incomprehensible. Bonded by military ideology and dangerous concept of overpowering other civilizations, the retired military and political officials have become factions pursuing their own party and personal preferences. Historically, partisan politics has played a significant role in the US politics.
This reflection was prevalent, especially on Senate confirmation hearing of Chuck Hagel, the current US Defence Secretary, who had been accused of “anti-Israel” and “soft on Iran” by the republican members of the committee, therefore, without elucidation of overall withdrawal strategy, the endgame in Afghanistan would remain a step-by-step confusion. In his 2013 State of the Union address (February 12), President Obama stated that “the American people don’t expect government to solve every problem…Beyond 2014, America’s commitment to a unified and sovereign Afghanistan will endure, but the nature of our commitment will change. We are negotiating an agreement with the Afghan government that focuses on two missions: training and equipping Afghan forces so that the country does not again slip into chaos and counter-terrorism efforts that allow us to pursue the remnants of al Qaeda and their affiliates”.
In addition to the President’s own assumption about American people’s hopes, the continued public pressure to consolidate domestic economy and a complete withdrawal from Afghanistan demonstrate that if these popular sentiments are rejected, the strategic construct in Afghanistan could become more controversial. The ensuing analysis of President Obama’s remarks reflects a type of “control”, which desires more resources because the nature of “tasks” will shift from combating to overseeing the combat operations.
This approach not only involves operational preparation of Afghan army (training) against al-Qaeda, but also the assumption is made against Taliban (i.e. “their affiliates”), although this is not clearly mentioned, but, rhetorically phrased in the traditional fashion. In order to overcome the al-Qaeda, it is implicitly informed that the gap between fighting capacity of current Afghan forced and the al-Qaeda affiliates will be fulfilled through the strong presence of the US military. Negotiating an agreement with the Afghan government is crucial and is being pursued, but, mentioning the role of major partners specifically Pakistan was absent. The absence of an overall exit strategy, and who would help the US in this process was particularly of the narrowly defined options.
A number of conclusions can be drawn from the current US efforts to negotiate a peace with Taliban in Afghanistan. First, the US military planners and diplomats are aware that the economic costs of a reserve mobilization, transporting heavy machinery and public pressures to “stop” engaging in further conflicts, is indeed impacting the way US forces have been operational for more than a decade. Secondly, the psychological consequences of wars have been fatal for soldiers and their families, the press reports are full of tales of disappointment, suicidal behavior and increased Rates of Depression, PTSD, unemployment and broken families of those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Finally, the basic decision to go to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is still hard to understand, and hence a fear of failing in establishing credible peace as well. During this year before the withdrawal (2014), considerable changes in the nature and character of dealing of the US national security team are vital because any further striking disconnect with allies such as Pakistan or aggressive approach would simply cause a crisis of negotiation and (negative) “change” in commitment of rival parties in Afghanistan.