A saying by Howard. E. Koch goes: you can be a good neighbor if you have a good neighbor. Afghanistan’s neighbors and near-neighbors have long been muddling in its matters and have stoked divergence within its margins.
Regional actors have been willy-nilly to articulate views on what the substantive upshot of an Afghan peace process should be, in the main averring only to be interested in any output that nurtures Afghan stability.
The responsibility of regional states in Afghan peace dialogues will chiefly be off-screen and might not be explicitly reflected in the essence of a peace agreement.
Currently, the core US interest in Afghanistan is a safe exit. Afghan peace and stability have secondary significance for the US. The US is only concerned to safeguard its interests in Afghanistan, Central Asia, and the Middle East, and in South Asia.
The US is focusing on the regional dynamics after decamping Afghanistan and is envisioning taking necessary measures to protect its regional interests. While considering the Afghan peace process from a regional perspective, the regional actors must look into the core internal and external peace affecting factors in Afghanistan.
Appeasing the ethnic groups
The diverse ethnopolitical ties among major Afghan groups which can diverge power at excel anytime should be focused on.
Afghan population will increase from 30 million to 47 million by 2024. This population explosion will surely affect the regional actors. The population explosion may result in environmental, economic, natural reserves, water scarcity, food shortage, climatic changes, and many other issues.
The prominent Afghan ethnic groups include 42% Pashtuns, 25% Tajiks, 10% Hazara, and 10% Uzbeks. The balance of power among these Warlords is imperative for peaceful and stable Afghanistan as well as for regional actors. A unified, balanced central government can guarantee Afghan peace with the joint efforts of regional actors.
For peaceful Afghanistan, the regional actors must fully satisfy all the major ethnic groups and ensure their due role in Afghanistan by eliminating their fears, speculations, and suspicions.
The supporters of the Northern Alliance and Taliban in the past will ensure their peaceful inclusion in the national government. The regional actors must bring a balance of ethnic groups in the Afghan National Army, civil administration, and in the government machinery so that there remains a surety of security in case of a split.
All the ethnic groups have been externally triggered therefore the external actors involved in Afghanistan will play a key role in Afghan peace and stability.
Saudi Arabia and Iran must forsake their pulling of the power rope in Afghanistan by separately supporting Pashtuns and Hazar respectively. Saudi-Iran must start a joint venture in Afghanistan to ensure peace which is in the best interest of both.
Vested interests in Afghanistan
India and Russia can convince the Northern Alliance including Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Hazara. Russians don’t want the US to stay in Afghanistan for many reasons. Only Indian is harping on the bugs of the US stay in Afghanistan for its vested interests.
Pakistan, the most important of all, is at the forefront of bringing peace and stability to Afghanistan. A peaceful and stable Afghanistan is in the best interest of Pakistan from all possible aspects. Both India and Pakistan must give up rag pulling in Afghanistan to challenge each other.
Indian rhetoric regarding the US stay in Afghanistan is revolving, curbing Pak-China influence in the region. China is also desirous of peace and stability in Afghanistan for her and for regional dynamics.
Peaceful and stable Afghanistan is in the best interest of China in regard to her trade with central Asia, the Middle East, and peace and security in its Afghan border-linked provinces.
Afghan-Iran is interconnected. Iran has diverse interests in Afghanistan, especially aspiring to get hold of Western Afghanistan to support the Hazara wing. Like other regional actors, Iran can sway the balance of power if its supported groups feel insecurity or lack of due share in the national government.
Afghan stability is also important for Iran as it will help Iran in controlling narcotics and refugees. The US decamping from Afghanistan will also wipe over the impending immediate danger for Iran.
Nearing 2030, Iran is expected to plunge into a water and energy crisis. Presently, Iran is using 70% of the Hirmand River which is more than the treaty. Peace and stability will ensure Iran’s water availability.
The Russian revenge?
Russians are also supporting the Afghan peace process for many reasons. Major of them want revenge from the US and want to push the US out of the region to control the trafficking of drugs.
They also want to promote regional trade, strengthen its hold in South Asia. Russian will surely support the Afghan peace process because turmoil in Afghanistan will affect the Central Asian States which are Russian dependent. But Russia is following a flexible strategy in Afghanistan.
Along with other Chinese interests in Afghanistan, China wants to have a check on Indian factors in the region especially along with its territory.
Peaceful Afghanistan guarantees Chinese investment in CPEC. China, like Russia, also wants the exit of external regional factors. The Chinese role in Afghanistan will also limit the Indian regional markers. Turkey is also considered a semi-regional factor in the Afghan peace process.
The writer is an English Professor and freelance columnist, based in Lahore, Pakistan. He can be reached at Prof.abdulshakoorsyed@gmail.