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Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Can regional power players prevent chaos in Afghanistan?

Despite suffering 20 years of chaos, peace is still not guaranteed for Afghanistan. With the US withdrawing, Afghanistan might descend into civil war; however, there is a way to prevent that from happening.

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|Jawad Khalid

It almost feels like déjà vu. The current situation in Afghanistan reminds one of 1991 when the US abandoned the Afghan Mujahideen to their own devices when it had achieved its strategic objective: the ouster of the USSR and fall of the Soviet Najibullah regime. What followed was a bloody civil war followed by the Taliban regime and the subsequent US invasion post 9/11.

Now the US is again abandoning Afghanistan after fighting its forever war leaving behind the chaos. Signing the peace deal with the Taliban, the US has secured a safe exit for itself. According to three Western officials, the deal has a secret annex ensuring that the Taliban will provide a “ring of protection” to the western military bases from attacks by a rival, or rogue Islamist groups.

Read more: Will US exit lead to another civil war in Afghanistan?

Indeed, 2020 proved to be the year with the lowest number of U.S. fatalities in Afghanistan since the war began. But there is no such annex for the Afghan people who are in the line of fire. According to a report by the UN Assistance Mission in the country (UNAMA), there has been a spike in civilian casualties since peace negotiations started in September last year.

Violence in Afghanistan

US legitimized the Taliban by signing the peace deal and gave impetus to their status as they have claimed the US withdrawal as a victory and see themselves as a government in waiting and thus continue to spread terror and gain territory without feeling the need to engage in dialogue.

The bloodshed and violence continue to rise as the targets are Afghan security personnel and innocent civilians especially religious and ethnic minorities like the Hazaras. In May, 405 pro-government forces and 260 civilians were killed in terror attacks across the country, the highest total death toll in a single month since July 2019.

Read more: Bus bombing kills 8 civilians in Afghanistan’s Herat province

As the violence resurges, the Afghan government is slowly losing its grip. The morale of the security force is plunging as the Taliban have been capturing bases and other strategic points. Since May 1st, at least 26 outposts and bases in four provinces have surrendered after negotiations.

With no progress in the peace talks between the government and Taliban, Afghanistan is at the crossroads of another bloody civil war. Unless a power-sharing agreement is reached, it seems unlikely that the Afghan government would be able to hold its own for long without the US military technology and airpower.

Read more: Delayed US withdrawal necessary for peace in Afghanistan

Added to this complex equation are the ethnic factions led by Afghan warlords. Divided into ethnic lines, they killed 100,000 people and ravaged Kabul in the civil war from 1992 to 1996. Recently, the warlords have flexed their muscles to put up resistance fronts against the Taliban. The Afghan government might form alliances with some of the warlords making the conflict more complicated.

Role of regional players

A civil war in Afghanistan will be disastrous not only for Afghanistan but also for the region. Indeed, the regional players are highly concerned about the potential conflict in Afghanistan and its ramifications.

Pakistan cannot afford a civil war in its neighborhood as it would mean a spillover of militancy and refugee crisis. China needs stability for its flagship Belt Road Initiative (of which Afghanistan is a part) to move ahead smoothly. India has invested heavily in Afghanistan development projects worth more than $3 billion.

Read more: Bringing Afghanistan & Pakistan close: Will China’s efforts bear fruit?

Civil war and a Taliban regime would mean losing that space and a risk of increased militancy in Kashmir.

However, at the same time, the stakeholders must realize that Indo-Pak and Sino-Indian rivalries in the region are the major roadblocks to peace and development in South Asia. Treating Afghanistan as an amphitheater for the cold war and supporting proxies like the past will only result in an escalation of the conflict and destabilization of the region.

Afghanistan needs a major paradigm shift from geostrategic to geo-economic. A long-term solution to the Afghanistan conflict is linked with peace between regional power players.

Read more: Why do countries want peace in Afghanistan?

Cooperation instead of confrontation

To prevent Afghanistan from descending into further chaos, it is important that a joint mechanism should be developed by Russia, China, Iran, India, and Pakistan to strategically engage the Afghan government and the Taliban towards a political settlement.

At the same time, these countries should push diplomatic efforts to engage the international community especially the UN Security Council to develop a roadmap to prevent humanitarian chaos in Afghanistan like Yemen and Syria.

Read more: Yemen peace plan: how to end the world’s worst humanitarian crisis

The Afghan government also needs to realize that blame game and incendiary rhetoric will not help the situation. The recent provocative remarks by Ashraf Ghani and National Security Adviser have only led to the halting of the diplomatic engagement between the Afghan government and Pakistan.

Kabul must adopt the way of cooperation instead of confrontation. Without the support of regional players, it will be a zero-sum game for everyone involved in Afghanistan. The stakeholders must act now before it is too late. Otherwise, we might be on the edge of impending doom.

The writer works for an international aid agency. His areas of interest are public policy and development. He can be reached at  jawadkhalid7@gmail.com. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.