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Afghanistan and the advent of a new epoch

Former diplomat argues that the Taliban have a unique opportunity to unite their country and launch the country on a development trajectory if some immediate economic and governance issues are addressed. International recognition is a pressing need and Pakistan needs to take a less ambiguous position and lead from the front in recognition.

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A new era has dawned for the war-shattered country and its millions of impoverished people. The momentous events of August this year took everyone by surprise. Most surprised were the Taliban themselves. Perhaps no observer of the Afghan scene could ever have visualized such a swift end to a system that was imposed on the country twenty years ago.

But the seeds of disintegration were planted in 2001 when the US toppled the Taliban government in a matter of few days. Was the invasion justified? Was there any rationale for an  assault  on  a  country  that  had  nothing  to  do  with  Septem-ber 11? If Osama, then sheltering in a remote village of Nan-garhar province in Eastern Afghanistan and cut off from the world, had anything to do with the attacks on the twin towers in  Washington, he  could  have  been  taken  out  just  as  he  was  picked up years later from his Abbottabad compound.

But the invasion had other motives. The Islamic model of governance in  Afghanistan  could  have  become  a  beacon  for  the  regional  Muslim countries. Osama  came  to  Afghanistan  and  sought  asylum  in  May  1996 when Jalalabad was still under the control of President Rabbani’s  government.  Rabbani’s  government  allowed  him  to  settle  in  the  country  and  imposed  some  conditions.

A  few  months later, the Taliban swept into power, having taken Kabul as  well  as  the  Eastern  Nangarhar  province.  The  new  Taliban  Governor allowed Osama to stay on, imposing more stringent restrictions on his movement and activities, effectively isolat-ing him from all contacts inside Afghanistan and beyond.

Read more: US withdrawal: An end of an American century?

When the attacks of 9/11 happened, the US demanded the handing over of Osama. Mullah Umar, then Taliban supremo, offered to hand him over to a third country for standing trial. He (Osama) may be punished if found guilty. The US rejected the offer and chose to occupy Afghanistan. Such  reactions  from  Washington  are  not  uncommon  in  a  country  that  has  had  a  historic  addiction  to  wars.

Starting  from the dropping of atomic bombs on Japan ( although Japan had agreed to surrender the nuclear weapon had to be tested ) in 1945, to the removal of Iran’s first democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran in 1953 to the dismantling of the Chilean government on September 11, 1974, to the unwarranted war of Vietnam, to the war of Afghanistan, to the removal of the first democratically elected President of Egypt in 2011, to the criminal assault on Iraq to find “weapons of mass destruction”  – the list is never-ending.

The  US  has  used  its  immense  arsenal  of  weapons  of  destruction  to  annihilate,  eliminate  or  intimidate governments worldwide.

Unraveling of the US scheme

The failure in Afghanistan may be the beginning of the end of the American century. The withdrawal of US forces would have  profound  implications  for  the  political  landscape  of  the  region.  No  longer  would  the  US  allies  bank  on  Washington’s  support in their hour of need.

No longer would partnership with the US be counted as a factor of stability for smaller nations. No longer would the US be regarded as a bastion for promoting pluralism, democracy. And no longer would the world look to America for any lead role in confronting the many challenges

humanity faces –climate change, population growth, depleting water tables, rising sea levels, cyber crimes, pollution lowering defense expenditures, etc.

Learning from the Afghanistan fiasco

There are lessons to be learned from every major episode in history; unfortunately, they are not. Errors of judgment are perpetuated. In dealing with Afghanistan, the Americans relied heavily  on  training,  provision  of  equipment,  technology,  and  manpower resources. They overlooked the most crucial lesson: Afghans have never accepted any occupation of their country.

They  would  get  recruited  in  the  army  because  of  poverty  but  should an opportunity arise; they would lose no time in shifting their loyalty. The Americans did not realize their control of the country was never accepted by the rank and file Afghans. They did not discover that the system they imposed on the country breeds  corruption  and  generates  more  poverty.

Read more: The beginning of a new era in Afghanistan

They  did  not  realize how fragile were the structures of governance they created.  They  ignored  facts  like  the  alarming  increase  in  opium  production and the growing desperation of millions of Afghans seeking to emancipate themselves from subjugation as soon as the time was ripe.

They ultimately remained ignorant that the puppet  regimes  they  created  had  no  rapport  with  the  masses,  were never popular with the people, and had no genuine inter-est in bringing about a change for the better. Those rulers also knew one day they would face the wrath of the masses, having agreed to function under the guidance of the occupation army.

They paid a horrendous price. More than $ 2 trillion was invested. Thousands of army soldiers and contractors’ security forces  died,  and  thousands  more  were  wounded;  hundreds  of  soldiers returned to the US from Afghanistan and Iraq commit- ted suicides. And then a chaotic exit.

What now for Afghanistan?

There are two reasons for optimism in the current scenario. For the first time since 1978, a government in Afghanistan faces  no  external  or  internal  threat  to  its  existence.  There  are  no signs of an uprising. Former warlords have fled the country. Secondly, there is a fatigue syndrome —people are fed up with a conflict that has raged for more than four decades.

This gives the Taliban a unique opportunity to unite the country and prepare  the  nation  for  the  historic  task  of  reconstruction  and  rehabilitation.The  challenges  they  confront  are  also  enormous.  Poverty has overwhelmed  the  country,  with  more  than  70  percent  falling  below  the  poverty  line.

Unemployment  is  at  its  peak,  touching about 70 percent. There are 3.5 million internally dis-placed people in the country. Tens of thousands have become drug addicts. Wheat production in this last year is down by 40 percent  because  of  drought.  The  pandemic  has  added  to  the  woes and sufferings of the people.

Read more: Should we be talking with TTP? Gen. Tariq Khan

The health delivery system has collapsed, and the Taliban government has just no money to pay the salaries of the public sector employees. The country needs immediate delivery of some cash to disburse the salaries and keep the Government machinery functioning.

Depending upon whether the Taliban would maintain unity in their ranks, there are reasonable prospects of the country being launched on a development trajectory if some immediate issues  are  addressed.  There  is  the  issue  of  ‘recognition.’  The  world is waiting and watching.

Whether the Taliban would institute systems that would provide opportunities for both men and women to seek educations, jobs, whether minorities would be adequately protected and whether the Taliban would be able to deal with the militant groups operating in their country? Taliban have pledged to do all this and more. Their survival lies in guaranteeing peace to its war-weary citizens and introduce systems that reflect the aspirations of the masses.

In the matter of recognition, Pakistan’s role remains ambiguous  and  incompatible  with  the  ground  realities.  To  align  itself with the regional countries is understandable in matters relating to Afghanistan’s socio-economic emancipation. But to delay recognition only because other countries are undecided is not a wise course to adopt.

No other country has a 2600 kilo-meters long border; no other country hosts 2.5 million Afghan refugees; no other country has leaders of the Taliban residing on its soil with their families. Islamabad should determine its policy based on objective realities. And since there is no other option, why delay recognition.

Recognition

Soon  the  world  would  have  to  reconcile  with  the  new  emerging order in Afghanistan. There is Government that has its  writ  all  over  the  country.  There  is  a  Government  that  has  roots in the masses. There is a Government that has delivered peace for the first time in decades. Why then withhold recog-nition? The US is concerned because it believes the new emerging order would result in China becoming the dominant economic and  political  power.

Washington  is  anxious  because,  after  its  exit, the grand Chinese ‘one belt, one road ‘project will be carried out to its completion, giving ingress to Beijing in countries of south and west Asia and Eurasia. But this had to happen. But Washington’s concerns should not detract the Taliban from relentlessly pursuing their goal of establishing a system that ensures peace and prosperity. Taliban are seeking good relations with the US.

If they can warm up to Moscow, they can also build bridges with the US. Europeans would soon realize there is no point in delaying recognition. There are hopes that the Americans would be willing to release Afghanistan $ 9 bil-lion  currently  lying  in  their  banks.  Taliban,  in  the  meantime,  would be well advised to focus on seeking assistance from the UN – technical, financial, and critical manpower.

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China is one country that can provide immediate cash assistance to help the regime overcome urgent payment problems. The world must not forget that the Taliban would be able to deal with the menace of ‘Daesh’ only if they could overcome their financial difficulties. They can confront other militant groups like Turkistan Islamic movement, ‘Fidayee mahaz’ if they succeed in consolidating their control of the country.

The Afghan army has disintegrated; the Police have lost thousands of their personnel. A  new Police force has to be resurrected. That will happen only when they can focus on critical nation-building issues rather than seeking recognition. Driving the Taliban into isolation would be counterproductive.

That will be a historic folly. When the negotiations in Doha were in progress in 2020, and when the draft agreement was ready, President Trump decided to invite the Taliban leaders to the white house for the signing ceremony. The ceremony did not take place for some other reasons, and the agreement was signed in Doha.

If the Taliban representatives are invited to the White House to meet the President of the US, then how can recognition be held up of that very Government? Taliban  have  to  align  themselves  with  the  international  community  and  seek  support  for  the  country’s  reconstruction  and its institutions. They have to present the image of a Government  that  seeks  cooperation,  collaboration  based  on  their  commitment to promote the cause of peace and progress.

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The world must acknowledge that the Taliban are not a transnational entity;  their  sole  aim  is  to  operate  inside  Afghanistan  and  establish a truly Islamic system that meets the requirements of justice and equality. With this in mind, the hurdles in the way of trust-building could soon be overcome.

Ambassador Rustam Shah Mohmand is a senior Pakistani diplomat, political scientist and politician. He has served as Chief Secretary NWFP, Interior Secretary of Pakistan, Pakistan’s Ambassador to Afghanistan and Commissioner for Afghan Refugees.

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