Just five years ago, who could imagine that the sole superpower of the day would quit and leave in a hurry, a land it captured at a Trillion Dollar-cost along with so much blood spilled?
Conversely, keeping the history of Afghanistan in mind and the occupier’s record always convinced me that there would be a running withdrawal with not much pleasant to remember about the long years that the occupation lasted.
As we approach the dirty date of 9/11, the image of a new Afghanistan rises from the horizon across the red and black mountains. We are witnessing shifting sands from under the feet of occupiers and their cohorts by the hour and the emerging scenario becoming more vivid.
Present day Taliban
We must understand the character of the Taliban of 2021 against our perception of those of the nineties. This new generation is better informed and more astute in handling geopolitical intricacies, which they have proved while negotiating with the Occupying Powers.
They also understand that the people of Afghanistan are also a new generation that has tasted freedom and democracy, probably like never before in Afghan history. This population has tasted women’s education, free media, better social systems, a country run under a parliament that has a sizeable female representation, and finally a uniformly structured political regime across the country backed by three elections and political transitions.
They realize that going back to those primitive times of their erstwhile rule is almost impossible and will ignite a new freedom struggle against them, with the rest of the world supporting them.
This, in turn, would make them a pariah state under global scorn. The Taliban also realize that running the country without an all-out international geo-economic support would be totally impossible, which will not be forthcoming if they indulge in a crude ruling behavior.
Evolving political landscape
A few significant happenings need our attention today to imagine the emerging paradigm of change. Firstly, the landslide of Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) members joining the Taliban while taking along the entire combat paraphernalia leaves a message for the present dispensation not to dream of using force against the emerging power brokers.
The Taliban have declared a general amnesty for those working with or supporting the Occupation Forces and removed a general fear of retribution against such people. They are in contact with several countries through their diplomats in Doha and sending positive messages while asking for politico-economic support in post Peace Accord times.
Negotiations are believed to be taking place with non-Pashtun elements of Afghan Society and Shiite leadership for a positive and peaceful relationship. They are being assured of their safety and wellbeing while having a rightful share in the emerging power structure.
On the other side, the Biden Administration in some ways damaged the Peace Accord reached by the Trump government by not adhering to the May 1st deadline and adding 9/11 as the new date of withdrawal, thereby linking Afghanistan and the Taliban with the events of that day, which are factually at best controversial.
These actions have created an abrasive environment and unnecessarily muddied the waters, causing undesirable uncertainty for future events.
Destabilizing US-India nexus
Coming closer to the region, most regional countries realize the dividends of peace in Afghanistan and hazards of instability if the transition is not smooth. The only exception to this is India who would like a chaotic Afghanistan with ample space for the Indians to have the freedom to undertake every type of activity against Pakistan and China.
A lot has been said about Pakistan and the consequences for it in a post-withdrawal scenario. One can sum up that after Afghanistan itself, Pakistan would be the most affected state in the region, both positively and disastrously, in case of a negative outcome.
We have to tread very carefully and be part of the success story rather than be blamed for failure, which the Americans will certainly do. This is evident from their dubious narrative of blaming all their failures on Pakistan, which seems outright ridiculous for the sole superpower with ‘Next Century’ armed forces fighting a group of ‘ragtag’ militia.
Be prepared for any outcome
Finally, one sees three possible emerging scenarios in Afghanistan, and the first would be a smooth transition. In this case, all will be milk and honey for Afghanistan and the region. The second would be an abrasive transition where a combination of some intra-Afghan dialogue and part kinetic struggle over a short period would settle into the country’s final paradigm of political structure.
In this scenario, the catch lies in the role of regional countries to ensure that is period of transition does not prolong too much and the hardliners on all sides get an opportunity to scuttle the emerging peace. This is the scenario where India will try and accentuate the negative overtones of the fluid period.
The third and most complicated situation is when the Peace Process totally fails, and the country falls into an abyss of chaos and destruction. Such an outcome would obviously be a bombshell for Pakistan, and it is this eventuality for which we appear to be least prepared.
In fact, this would be the most formidable challenge for us, short of an all-out attack. Apart from handling a fresh influx of refugees, we would have to design a new dialogue and persuade all parties to sit across with a fresh mindset.
It is the scenario for which we must set aside a dedicated team of specialists from across the concerned spectrum of departments and ministries. This activity has to be started forthwith directly under the Prime Minister’s Office periodic reporting to him. If Pakistan fails to handle such an emerging disaster, we will pay a heavy and unacceptable price for it, as never before.
Lt. Gen. Asif Yasin Malik (Retd) is a former Defence Secretary and Commander 11 Corps.
He has served on the faculty of Command and Staff College Quetta and is a consultant on Disaster Management, Media, and Regional Security. He earned a Master’s degree in Strategic Resource Management from National Defense University, Washington, DC.