The fast deteriorating situation in neighboring Afghanistan and its impact on Pakistan should ideally be at the top of the national news agenda, particularly in the electronic media. Unfortunately, events like the stoppage of a former PTI special assistant to the Chief Minister of Punjab from attending a minor event hogged the limelight where tweets, counter tweets and discussion on its impact on national polity took center stage in major parts of the country’s news channels. Discussions on the key issue of Afghanistan do form a part of the news cycle of all major broadcasting agencies, but unfortunately, some observations defy logic.
Consider the following: the foreign office lament on the abrupt US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan without first stabilizing the situation is difficult to fathom. Foreign troop withdrawal has been one of the key demands for a peaceful resolution of the Afghanistan conflict since the beginning of the crisis, and finally, the USA after admitting defeat is in the process of pulling out all its military forces from the country.
For nearly two decades despite employing its enormous economic power and military might in Afghanistan, stability has remained a farfetched dream; and how they can achieve it once they have thrown in the proverbial towel, needs explanation.
Operation Enduring Freedom (2001-2004)
Operation Enduring Freedom was launched with the twin military objectives of overthrowing the Taliban regime and decimating the al-Qaeda set up there. These were achieved quickly, even though Osama bin Laden had managed to evade capture. The political aim of installing an effective government as its surrogate was only partially successful.
Hamid Karzai, the first President of Afghanistan under a fresh constitution sponsored by the Americans and his successor Ashraf Ghani, the incumbent President, have followed the US diktat. However, the instability caused by the Taliban resurgence has made the regime impotent, thus foiling the attempt to plant a potent American puppet right in the underbelly of the USA’s nemesis, China.
Massive doses of economic and military aid failed to establish stability, without which Afghanistan, as a US proxy, posed little threat to China. The financial and military cost of stabilizing Afghanistan is no longer affordable. And now asking them to stabilize Afghanistan before departing would be hoping for the moon. Ironically, while a stable set-up in Afghanistan under their marionettes was earlier to the US advantage; after their departure, an unstable Afghanistan will suit them as without peace there, the benefits of CPEC, the star China-Pakistan initiative cannot be fully realized.
Afghanistan falling under the Taliban
The manner in which the ground situation is unfolding in Afghanistan, the country would fall under the Taliban control, sooner, rather than later—according to US intelligence, ‘Taliban could take Kabul in 90 days’ (Dawn newspaper, Thursday, August 12, 2021). Two options for taking over Kabul, the capital city are possible—a direct military assault, similar to the 1996 takeover, or a more nuanced indirect strategy where the surrounding areas and approaches of the capital are seized isolating the city to a degree where mass desertion of ANA soldiers force Ashraf Ghani and his cohorts to flee, allowing the Taliban to take over without firing a shot. And if they follow the Afghan tradition of getting elected to office by a hand-picked Shura of Afghan elders, a fig leaf of democracy would be achieved.
Afghanistan’s future prospects under the Taliban would depend on how they conduct themselves when back in power. In their first tenure, major mistakes were committed that barring a handful of nations, alienated them from the rest of the world. Two plus points, however, did emerge from those dark days: first, the law and order situation was brought under control to a degree where many claim an unaccompanied female could travel across the length and breadth of the country during day and night without fear. And as long as the people adhered to the Taliban’s interpretation of the Sharia laws, they were safe. Second, even western sources admit poppy cultivation was brought to near zero under their rule.
The beginning of new regime in Afghanistan
Dismissing the current Afghani constitution and replacing it with their version of the Sharia is almost a given, as their entire struggle was based on these two premises. One hopes they would not repeat the grievous mistakes of their last tenure and taking a leaf from Saudi Arabia, revisit their draconian understanding of the Sharia, particularly the interpretation where women’s education and working outside their homes were banned. They are now adept at using electronic media to propagate their vision, and TV would in all likelihood no longer be banned.
Trade is one of the principal livelihoods of a majority of Afghans. Where countries impose restrictions on the movement of goods, smuggling becomes their forte. Afghanistan is known to possess rich deposits of valuable minerals that include gold, platinum, silver, copper, chromite, lithium, uranium, and aluminum. Massive modern technology and foreign investments would be needed for their exploitation, and that can only occur if peace returns. Knowing their penchant for trade and commerce, the Taliban could implement measures that promote peace and encourage world powers to invest in mining of the natural wealth. Even America would jump in the foray if provided the opportunity.
A return to peace in Afghanistan would be the greatest payback Afghans can give to Pakistan for looking after millions of Afghan refugees for over four decades. CPEC and OROB initiatives would then be in a position to achieve their true potential. In the meanwhile, Pakistan has vowed not to play favorites and remain neutral until the dust settles in Afghanistan. It must walk the talk.
Air Cdre (Retd) Jamal Hussain has served in Pakistan Air Force from 1966 to 1997. He was awarded Sitara-e-Basalat for his services in the year 1982. He regularly contributes articles on defense issues in the Defence Journal from Pakistan, Probe Magazine (Dhaka – Bangladesh), and national newspapers including Dawn, The News, and The Nation. He is the author of two books on ‘Air Power in South Asia’ and ‘Dynamics of Nuclear Weapons in South Asia’. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.