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Road ahead for Afghanistan

Road ahead for Afghanistan
There is only less than a week left for Afghanistan to undergo first of its two hugely important transitions. On April 5, the country will hold its presidential election where the voting will be for a new man in Kabul. President Hamid Karzai will lay down his office at the end of his second term that the Constitution of the country mandated; and barred him for the third.

Saturday’s Taliban attack on the Election Commision was clearly symbolic. They surely wanted to send the message they are averse to any significant democratic franchise within the Aghanistan borders. Considering the fact Karzai was also trying for a peace and reconciliation process to bring those elements of the Taliban, who had joined the organisation’s ranks out of fear or favour, or simply money, to Afghanistan’s own form of mainstream, this attack only signifies the viciousness of the Islamists.

If one reads the western experts writing on the country that defined the frontlines of the ‘war on terror,’ one gets a sense of utter confusion about what the process would entail in terms of their continued sway. Some of these experts argue that the person who will become president will be a Karzai protégé, made to helm the country to run the gravy train.

Others, the less cynical ones, say from the myriad think tanks of Washington, that the presidential transition will reap the harvest of positive changes the American and ISAF forces have brought. But, with a proviso. The next president will have to sign on the dotted line on the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) that will provide legal cover for the American forces who will be left behind to help the Afghan national security forces, during contingencies. This agreement is a bit like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act with which this country is wrestling. Like the AFSPA, the BSA will provide legal immunity in terms of any American soldiers or a group of soldiers violating the laws of the host country, and instead be tried after returning home i.e. the USA under its own laws.

Karzai first put up the BSA to the Loya Jirga to reach an agreement about signing it; and then held out saying this is actually the task of the next regime. Of course, it did sound reasonable and democratic in the ears of those who were not on the same boat with the Americans. But for the latter, it seemed Karzai’s action was another example of him being demonic.

The Afghan president had begun his stint in his country when the daily body counts were much higher, while the Americans were at their wits end how to deal with the situation. Every time he sought to ‘centralise’ the capability to wage violence in the country, in the Weberian sense, the Americans have outsourced that capability to tribal militias, following the precepts of General David Petraeus’ much vaunted counter-insurgency strategy. While this may have smoothened the rate of attrition between the US and NATO forces, it inevitably challenged the authority of Kabul and took away its ability for State building.

Similarly in the case of politics, while Afghanistan was not totally devoid of classical framework of political parties since early 20th century. Arguably, the political organisations were limited to the tiny educated elite, dubbed ‘clubs’ by London’s King’s College expert, Antonio Giustozzi. The two circles or clubs, which formed initially were Ikhwan-e Afghan (Afghan Brotherhood) and Jan-nesaran-e Islam (Islamic Volunteers for Sacrifice).

Even then, though the members of these organisations, were close to the power circles, they were targetted for ‘bloody crackdowns.’ Eventually the process witnessed the emergence Soviet-backed communist party like the Hezb-e Demokratik Khalq (the People’s Democratic Party) that also had two factions, Parcham (Flag) and Khalq (People).

Their internecine rivalry led to the killings of two communist Khalqist presidents, till Najibullah arrived on the scene as a Parcham faction winner, towards the end of the Soviet invasion.

The departure of the Soviet forces in 1989, led eventually to the end of the PDP rule and assassination of Najibullah. With the US, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia declaring victory after the departure of the Russians, Afghanistan had gone back to Stone Ages marked by inter-tribal warlordism leading to the creation and eventual usurpation of power by the Taliban.

But the Americans, after displacing the Taliban found little merit in re-creating democratic institutions in the form of political parties. This suited Karzai as he could rule the country then through a complex process of patronage.

Still, in this game the US and its NATO allies were better as they were better resourced. So, when the inevitable differences cropped up, it also triggered the snivelling of the Western spokespersons’ complaining Karzai administration to be corrupt.

Now that the first transition is about to be take place, a lot of the second transition – departure of the most of the American and ISAF troops – depends on the former. India, meanwhile, enjoys a unique position, in this welter of confusion. By strictly maintaining a supportive role, from military training to constructing the Parliament building, New Delhi has been successful not to be tarred by any brush.

At this another cusp of history, India should be ready to broaden its portfolio of services to the people of Afghanistan by increasing the element of training of the Afghan national security forces officers, if needed, by positioning Indian advisers in Afghanistan – of course, if the Kabul regime wants it. Additionally, New Delhi should lend its expertise in creating democratic exercises within a fractious polity. That, in the long run, will help both the countries of South Asia to create and retain stability.

The author is a senior journalist
Pinaki Bhattacharya

Pinaki Bhattacharya

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