Afghanistan at the critical juncture of history

Afghanistan has a long history of domination by foreign conquerors and strife among internally warring factions. At the gateway between Asia and Europe, this land was conquered by Darius I of Babylonia circa 500 B.C. and Alexander the Great of Macedonia in 329 B.C., among others. Afghanistan assisted as a buffer between the British and Russian Empires until it won independence from British control in 1919.

The USSR entered Afghanistan in 1979, attempting to shore up the newly-established pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. The rebellion was swift and broad, and the Soviets dealt harshly with the Mujahideen rebels and those who supported them. Foreign funding propped up the diverse group of rebels, pouring in from Iran, Pakistan, China, and the United States. Civil war raged after the withdrawal, setting the stage for the Taliban’s takeover of the country in 1996. The Taliban, which emerged from the ashes of Afghanistan’s post-Soviet civil war, provides al-Qaeda sanctuary for operations. The U.S. attacked Afghanistan in October 2001 to overthrow the Taliban, whom they said were sheltering Osama Bin Laden and other al-Qaeda figures associated with the 9/11 attacks.

The Taliban insurgency remains robust approximately two decades after U.S.-led forces tumbled its regime in what led to the United States’ lengthiest war. Afghanistan’s former president has said the United States was unsuccessful in its two-decade assignment of bringing steadiness to fight extremism and bring stability to his war-torn nation. Today the nation is in total disgrace and disaster.

All of the significant drifts — politics, security, the peace process, the economy, the humanitarian emergency, and COVID — all of these trends are hostile and alarming. So if there is a sense of hope, it indeed resides in a fact that previous worse case predictions did not materialize. However, the inexorable spirit of the Afghans and their implausible resilience is being severely tested, and the possible slide toward dire scenarios is undeniable. (Ms. Deborah Lyons, United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan). What occurs in Afghanistan remains of global significance, and the United Nations Security Council(UNSC) should remain fully informed of the severity of the current state of affairs.

The April declaration that all U.S. and other international troops will be pulled out entirely by Sept 11, 2021, was like a rude shock that created havoc in the Afghan political system and society at large.  Though the withdrawal pronouncement was predictable, the rate of speed of binding up was not expected. Therefore, all stakeholders have had to fine-tune these fresh outcomes of the realism to unfold shortly.

The pull-out plan is one of four conditions agreed upon in February 2020  between the U.S. and the Taliban that UNSC and few other countries have indeed recognized. This agreement leads to hope that it would generate a conducive environment for peace and security amongst Afghans. The international troops would be gone, and therefore, rather than fighting one another, Afghans would have the opportunity to come together and find a sustainable path to peace. Nevertheless, unfortunately, actions on the battlefield have been much more rather than improved at the negotiating table.

Unfortunately, at this crucial time, the Afghan people and the people from various countries in Kabul have been worried about the absence of political agreement amongst Afghanistan’s political parties. Undoubtedly, some of the inadequacies in government are part of an inheritance of weighing politics over good governance.  The lack of integration must be checked for the benefits of Afghans or risks contributing to further Taliban territorial advances.

The world is cautiously invigorated and observing the situation. Nevertheless, the new moves by President Ghani and his government and the other political leaders to come together to debate serious security matters and demonstrate unity are not much encouraging. However, the litmus test will be whether unison in Kabul helps further to strengthen the peace process and reinforce the state institutions or not.

There was a continuous upsurge in violence over the past year, though the peace dialogues commenced in Doha in Sept 2020. The Taliban’s current headways are even more substantial and result from increased military operations. More than 50 of Afghanistan’s 370 districts have fallen since the beginning of May. Most of these districts have been taken surrounding provincial capitals,  indicating that the Taliban are locating themselves to try and to get hold of these capitals once foreign forces are fully withdrawn. This action of the Taliban is a tragic development that would lead to increased and protracted violence. Indeed, this is a threat to finish what has been earned over the past 20 years.

However,  any efforts to install a militarily imposed Government in Kabul would go against the will of the Afghan people and the stated positions of the regional countries and the broader international community. Meanwhile, nearly one-third of Afghans face emergency levels of food insecurity as drought worsens and internal displacements increases. The World Bank has projected that as an outcome of the conflict, and the severe third wave of COVID, the drought, the weakened social fabric, and other factors, Afghanistan’s poverty rate could rise from 50 percent to more than 70 percent.

To avoid a worst-case scenario, an enlarged fight in Afghanistan means augmented insecurity for many other countries. A scrappy conflict generates a more permissive environment for terrorist groups to recruit, finance, plan and conduct operations with a global reach. Any Government in the future would need international interactions and backing. This is not the time to lower our guard to subscribe even unconsciously to the present state of affairs. Only one desirable course for Afghanistan is to remain away from the warlike situation and come back to the negotiating table.

There is another problem of coalitions between criminal offenders and terrorist rudiments that have resulted in the world’s maximum casualties from terror attacks — cross-border measures to fight drug-related criminalities and preserve Afghan’s hard-won gains. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, the large poppy harvests, an illicit economy threaten peace, tranquillity, and security.

Afghanistan is moving in a new but ambiguous phase of its decades-long conflict. The situation in Afghanistan remains tremendously perilous. Afghanistan will remain reliant on the international community in the near possible future. There is an urgent need to help Afghanistan on the road to sustainable economic and social growth and steps to curb the illicit economy. The security situation remains profoundly concerning. The careful aiming of citizens by anti-government elements and the targeted killing of media workers, civil society activists, judiciary and civil administration members, and women have been a despicable feature aspect of the conflict. Such attacks must cease without further delay and should be publicly denounced by all the stakeholders. They also should be thoroughly investigated, with perpetrators held to account.

The regional agreement holds that achieving peace in Afghanistan can benefit populations by improved conditions for economic cooperation, cross-border exchange and the restoration of historical ties. Envisioned plans for more excellent connectivity would link Afghanistan to the region and the region to Afghanistan.

Efforts to boost the peace negotiations slowed following the deferment of a planned high-level conference in Istanbul, Turkey,  stressing the need for a renewed promises by the parties to engage in talks fully and constructively.

About the Author
Colonel Balwan Nagial retired from the Indian Army in 2019 after serving for thirty years. Managed administration, security, project mgt throughout his service. He loves writing and contributing in newspapers and magazines in India. He loves Israeli culture.
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