The Afghanistan Dilemma: The way out
After the events of September 9/11 2001, US and allied forces’ intervention in Afghanistan was welcomed by the Afghans. They expected that after years of turmoil (such as foreign occupation, civil and proxy wars, insurgencies and instabilities), an era of peace, stability, reconstruction, progress and democracy would usher in Afghanistan, but the hopes and wishes soon shattered when the Afghans found themselves again in a state of war. With every passing day, month and year, the sufferings of Afghans are on the way to increase and the hope for peace and progress are dashing down.
Ironically, the US policy also failed to win the hearts and minds of Afghans. It ended up in more death and destruction than bringing peace and stability in Afghanistan. The death toll of allied forces is increasing day by day and more than 2000 soldiers have been killed so far. What did they die for? Did they lay their lives to bring peace, stability and democracy in Afghanistan? No, they were sacrificed for a failed mission that has no specific goals and means.
Besides foreigners, many Afghan men, women and children have lost their lives, Despite the presence of hundreds and thousands of foreign troops in Afghanistan, the end result is failure; the failure of international community, Afghan government and that of democracy to deliver.
To save the sinking ship, the international community, Afghan government and the opposition forces must sit together and prepare a grand rescue plan for the way forward. Following steps might be useful to save Afghanistan from further catastrophes:
The US and allied forces under, the mandate of UN, should organise an international conference in which the regional powers and neighbours of Afghanistan be given a part to play. The aims and objectives of the conference should be based on the strategy regarding how to cope with the present situation when some NATO members have given a signal to withdraw from Afghanistan. The talk should be based on exit strategy with emphasis on a time frame for the withdrawal of NATO forces. Moreover, empowerment of Afghan government and forces be given a special consideration.
The time frame for withdrawal of foreign troops should not be more than three to four years. In the meantime, Afghan army and police should be organised and trained by a friendly state acceptable to all Afghans.
In this UN backed International conference, regional and international powers should also guarantee that they will not indulge themselves in interfering in Afghan affairs. It must be ensured that Afghanistan will no longer be used as a proxy state against others and that no support will be extended by any state to any of the Afghan groups.
Anti government groups and leaders who have been blacklisted by the UN should be cleared. In addition, Taliban and other opposition groups in Afghanistan should be allowed to establish their offices manned by their representatives.
With the help of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, Afghan government should be encouraged to start negotiation with all opposition forces. These negotiations should not be intercepted or influenced by others. Afghans should be allowed to decide their fate and whatever decisions they take; it should be accepted by all wholeheartedly.
During the process of withdrawal, if Afghan army and police are not well prepared to take their responsibilities, then the duty of maintaining law and order should be assigned to one or more of the Islamic countries acceptable and trusted by all Afghans.
Afghan society is distinctly divided between the poor and the rich: the rich are getting richer and poor are getting poorer day by day. The rich people constitute the ruling class while poor people are the most affected one. Middle class doesn’t exist. Afghanistan is in need of a middle class which may prove to be a much needed balancer in the society. Afghan refugees living abroad especially in Pakistan and Iran have the potential to become a strong middle class. These refugees are well educated and economically they are sound too. Thus, their skill and education can be utilised to bring positive changes in Afghanistan. Besides, the refugees living abroad have the experience of democracy which will have a daunting effect if they return to Afghanistan. This gigantic task should be taken up by the international community and Afghan government jointly with the help of neighbouring countries to bring the refugees back home.
These are the steps that can save Afghanistan and provide it with a safe and bright future. If the international community, regional states, Afghan government and opposition forces fail to recognise the seriousness of the situation and fail to reach an agreement, the suffering of Afghans will continue. The situation like this is neither in the interest of the region nor in the interest of the world, only a peaceful, stable and democratic Afghanistan can guarantee to end the growing trends of terrorism and extremism.
If the International community fails to take appropriate steps or takes hasty and hurried decision as happened in late 1980s when the whole focus of attention was on the provision of a safe passage for the withdrawal of the former Soviet troops, then there are chances that Afghanistan may fall again into civil war which will cause more devastation to the region and the world than happened in the past.
Great powers always learn from their past experiences. America as a sole super power of the world should take the past events into consideration while designing polices for Afghanistan and should not repeat steps like BONN Conference in which such elements were brought to the forefront that were rejected by the people of Afghanistan. The world remembers that in 1994, the Afghans had extended support to Taliban with the hope that the former will bring stability to the state and put the nation on the way to peace and progress.
The power should be transferred in a transparent democratic manner so that people could have a chance to choose their representatives without fears of warlords and government interference. The Jirgas and conferences are not answer to Afghan problems. The Afghans need a grand, durable strategy which is acceptable to all and which can serve Afghanistan’s interests.
The Afghans are optimistic. They can rise and cope with their difficulties as they have done throughout their history. Afghans have a strong will power and they can successfully come out of the current crises. The only thing they need is the moral and material support from international community in general and the neighbouring countries in particular.