South Asia Research and Analysis Studies

Afghanistan: Surge to transition
Dr. Raja Muhammad Khan

Pakistani Army Chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, while giving his assessment of the US role in Afghanistan once said, “In the ultimate analysis, if people of Afghanistan and their coming generations view US and coalition as friends’, war can be won. If they think otherwise it would be considered as lost.” After almost eleven years of military campaigning, the US led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), could not subdue the Taliban and other opposition groups in Afghanistan. Ironically, whilst today the international and domestic support for the US-led GWOT is waning, Taliban have grown stronger strategically and more influential politically, and pose a more formidable challenge to both the legitimacy of the Afghan administration and effectiveness of ISAF.

Although the international discourse on Afghanistan is dominated by the calls for the removal of extra-regional forces by 2014, a satisfactory and comprehensive political and military strategy in the Post-2014 scenario has still not been agreed upon between the major players. The war-torn people of Afghanistan need stability and peace in their homeland. Attaining such, a situation would call for an indigenous Afghan led peace process, taking on board all stakeholders in Afghanistan, supported by regional actors, NATO and United States. On its part, Pakistan desires a political solution of Afghan predicaments, while accommodating interests of all ethnic and religious groups.

With the rapidly approaching ISAF drawdown schedule (2014), the strategic landscape of Afghanistan is witnessing a steady but profound shift. Indeed, 2014 represents a transition point not only for Afghanistan but also for the entire region. The political and strategic groundwork done within this timeframe will largely determine the outcome for the future of Afghanistan.

Nevertheless, the progress of ISAF in Afghanistan with regards to security and development in over the last decade is a source of pessimism. In the words of Barnett R. Rubin, a US expert on Afghanistan and a Professor and Director of Studies in the Centre on International Cooperation, New York University; “The situation in Afghanistan has turned so far against the United States, NATO, the international community, and those Afghans who originally hoped that the post September 11 intervention would finally bring them a chance for normal lives.

No country will benefit more from a secure and stable Afghanistan than Pakistan. Pakistan seeks peaceful relations with both its Eastern and western neighbours based on sovereign equality, mutual interests and dignity. It is therefore in the national interest of Pakistan that Afghanistan should be peaceful and stable. Within this broader framework, however, lie complexities that Pakistan perceives as formidable obstacles to achieving peace in Afghanistan.

Rather intermingling with its traditional culture, international community and US should help Afghan people by bringing reforms on three key areas. These include; governance system, security system and constitutional reforms. Indeed, the abhorrent state of governance is the basic cause for sufferance of Afghan masses. Corruption, nepotism, violation of merit and dishonesty is the order of day in Afghanistan. Owing to these factors, caused by the poor governance, there is a growing discontentment among the masses. ISAF and United States need to enforce such reforms, which develop confidence of the people over their form of governance. Otherwise, a common Afghan is compelled to think that, ISAF is deliberately supporting a corrupt governance system, as this suits them, rather suiting the masses. U.S has to address this rapidly growing perception.

With respect to their security, there exists uncertainty among the masses in Afghanistan. If they feel sacred from Taliban and other warlords, they do not feel protected from the ISAF too. If Taliban have been brutal towards Afghan masses, ISAF too has bombed many innocents during night raids, marriage ceremonies and funeral processions. There is a need that, ISAF should give sense of security to a common Afghan for restoring his confidence and respect over this body of international troops.

The make up of Afghanistan is as such that, there are multiple power centres in Afghanistan’s tribal society, which makes it a difficult task to reconcile competing interests. How would then a structure of a strong central government, as envisioned by ISAF will sustain is a big question. To be acceptable by all Afghan factions, ethnic and religious groups, there is a need to reform the current constitution, accommodating the tribal needs of the country. ISAF and U.S need to extend full cooperation to incumbent Afghan Government in this regard.

As the focus in Afghanistan shift from surge to transition, the important prerequisite for the success in the country lie in the formulation, focus and pace of reconciliation process in place. Pakistan sees the region in transition as both an opportunity and peril in short and long term perspective. What would be the outcome of this transition will depend upon the strategic decisions taken today in favour of peace and stability in Afghanistan.

Pakistan finds itself at the centre of debate and desires to carve a region where regional interests converge and stability thrives thereby creating a space for security, economic growth and prosperity, long desired by the people of Afghanistan, Pakistan and the region in general.