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No end in sight for Afghanistan

One day after the powerful head of Pakistan’s Army, General Raheel Sharif, visited the Afghan capital in an effort to revive peace talks, a Taliban bomber detonated an explosives-packed vehicle near Kabul airport, killing one civilian. Amidst pressure from Washington, Pakistan has taken up the mantle of initiating peace talks between the Taliban and Kabul to end the long-standing civil war. To the uninitiated, the Afghan Taliban operates from Pakistan. The recent meeting between General Sharif and the Kabul leadership is the latest in a series of encounters between government officials from Pakistan, Afghanistan and India over recent months to ease longstanding tensions between them. Sharif’s visit to Kabul follows two meetings between Ghani and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif over recent weeks that set the stage for efforts to restart Pakistan-brokered peace talks with the Taliban. Moreover, it comes two days after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Afghanistan where he opened a new India-financed parliament building and delivered three Russian-made military helicopters. Suffice to say, Pakistan is viewed with deep suspicion by many in Afghanistan. They have often claimed that Islamabad sponsors the Taliban insurgency with the aim of extending its own influence. Until now, the script has gone exactly as envisioned by Pakistan’s detractors in Afghanistan. Bitter fighting has ensued in key provinces of Afghanistan, including Helmand and Kunduz, and the Afghan army is not equipped to defeat the Taliban. Instead of the bringing both parties to the negotiating table, Pakistan has allowed the Afghan Taliban to launch its largest offensive in years to surge forward. It is abundantly clear that Pakistan continues to play for both sides until the Taliban can bring the Afghan government to its knees. There is an inherent contradiction in Pakistan’s role as peace-maker between the Taliban and Kabul, and its strategic aims in Afghanistan. Quite clearly, instead of bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table, Pakistan has paved the way for their largest offence in years. Also, in the context of Pakistan’s internal security, Islamabad looks to be in no position to stem the flow of Afghan Taliban fighters into Afghanistan. Under no circumstance, does Islamabad want the Afghan Taliban to join hands with their Pakistani counterparts. Only last year, the Pakistani Taliban attacked a school in Peshawar, in which 134 students were killed. If the both units of the Taliban come together, Pakistan could find itself in a civil war that it is simple, but not prepered to fight. Any attempt, therefore, to strong arm the Afghan Taliban into talks could backfire.  

Fourteen years after the US invasion, Afghanistan continues to stand on one knee. In terms of most economic and other human development indicators, the war-torn nation languishes at the bottom of the heap. The US-backed regime propped up in Kabul has been unable to establish its authority with the Taliban still running wild. The situation has turned so dire that US President Barack Obama had to abandon his longstanding goal of ending the war in Afghanistan by the end of his term.  Looking back, the 2001 US-led invasion into Afghanistan had sought to capture or kill the al-Qaeda terrorists responsible for the 9/11 attacks, who were backed by the Taliban regime. Quite naturally, the aim was extended to bring about a regime change and topple the Taliban leadership. When the Taliban were toppled, the invading forces sought to rebuild a nation ravaged by the war. Similar to the situation under Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, pre-2001 Afghanistan had seen a Taliban regime that exerted total control over warring tribal factions. After the invasion neither did the Western forces build key state institutions nor did the US-propped Kabul regime exert any real control over warring tribes. Distracted by the Iraq invasion, Afghanistan was neglected and by 2006, the Taliban had made their way back as a formidable force. The Afghan army and police today, despite extensive logistical and military support from Western powers, are not up to the task of defending the nation’s security. They almost lost the city of Kunduz in northern Afghanistan. In fact, they are on the brink of losing the Helmand province, despite Western military support. To make matters worse, the Islamic State is now fighting in thousands.

Leading western news media outlets like The Guardian have also categorically stated that the Western powers have failed in their endeavour to bring any modicum of stability to the country. According to its recent editorial, US-led Western powers, “must surrender the lead role in forging an Afghan political and security settlement to the regional states most directly concerned, namely Pakistan and India”. The editorial does go on to acknowledge the constraints Pakistan is under. In light of this fact, it suggests, “A bolder, more imaginative initiative from the region’s leading power (read India)”.
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