As Afghanistan Peace process enters a new phase, it may be pertinent to analyse where things stand today and what likely scenarios can help us in projecting the trajectory of this process. Pakistan, US, Taliban leadership, Afghan Government, KSA, UAE and some other stake holder held marathon discussions in UAE to negotiate the way out of this untangled web of conflict, called Afghanistan.
This included visits by Zalmay Khalilzad’s diplomatic sojourn to a dozen countries including three visits to Islamabad.
As reported by Radio Free Europe on 18 December, Afghan government negotiators arrived in the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) to join U.S.-brokered talks with the Taliban, as efforts intensify to negotiate an end to Afghanistan’s 17-year war. The three-day talks that started on December 17 are seen as an important step to launch formal peace negotiations with the militant group. Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and the U.A.E. have significant influence over the Taliban, who also took part in the talks.
The talks have focused for a cease-fire in Afghanistan and the future withdrawal of foreign forces. The Taliban has repeated their demand for the release of Taliban prisoners and a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troops. Unconfirmed reports suggest that Taliban may agree to a ceasefire if Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and UAE can guarantee that peace plan will be implemented in true spirit.
Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid however struck to their old stance and said, “Discussions are taking place with the representatives of the United States about ending the occupation, a matter that does not concern the Kabul administration whatsoever,” The Taliban has long refused to hold formal talks with the Afghan government, insisting on first brokering an agreement with the United States. Mujahid said Taliban representatives held talks with Khalilzad and officials from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the U.A.E. on December 17 and that the discussions would continue.
Khalilzad has said he would like to see a “road map” agreement reached before the Afghan presidential election scheduled for April. The decision to move the venue of the talks from Qatar to the U.A.E. was seen as an effort to involve Saudi Arabia, which is hostile to Qatar, more closely in the process and to exert influence on its ally, Pakistan.
Before we discuss the future trajectory of Afghan peace, let’s state what is driving US strategy at this point in time, taking help from one of my previously published articles:
The current US strategy in Afghanistan and West Asia is driven by four major factors; One, maintain reasonable influence in Afghanistan as part of exit strategy for US military, Two, try to use the Afghan(Taliban) leverage in the region to strategically suffocate Iran and bring in regime change in the Islamic Republic through Non Kinetic means, something John Bolton said in a new year message to Fox news on Ist January; Three, make sure that the power vacuum in Afghanistan is not exploited by Russia or China, and Four, re-engage Pakistan to achieve all of the above.
Pakistan is participating in this peace process due to humanitarian and strategic reasons, it feels that Afghanistan is an intertwined twin of Pakistan and we have a shared destiny due to cultural, historic, economic and ethnic relations. Pakistan also feels that India has occupied disproportionate space in Afghanistan through a complex matrix of investments, running vilification campaign against Pakistan using Indian sponsored media in Afghanistan, expanding her covert war against Pakistan through RAW and her surrogates in the NDS, supporting Daish and TTP to conduct a campaign of terror in the areas west of River Indus, including Balochistan, Kulbhushan is a case in point, and, using Chabahar-Zaranj, Delaram rout to bypass Pakistan through a trade maneuver targeting Pak-Afghan economic lifeline. India has also tried to conduct a ‘water war’ against Pakistan by telling Kabul that the natural flow of rivers into Pakistan had to be choked to help build Afghan economy.
Two scenarios and their impact within and outside Afghanistan are tabulated below:
Scenario 1: Graduated stability and Peace in Afghanistan
In case the yawning gaps between two major stake holders, US and Taliban, are bridged, Afghanistan could witness a graduated peace and stability. This could have salutary effect on entire region, if US and international community could bring in a Marshall Plan for Afghanistan and support the new arrangement of Unity Government headed by Taliban leadership but having participation from all major stake holders, an era of real peace could return to Afghanistan.
This scenario will benefit Afghanistan and Pakistan tremendously, as it opens new vistas of development, connectivity, peace and prosperity.
However this could adversely affect Indian interest in the region. South Block in New Delhi and the head honchos of Pakistan haters cabal in BJP are already worried about the changing situation in Afghanistan. India appears to be losing all cards in the poker game in West Asia.
With Taliban getting on board in Afghanistan and an emerging architecture of power based in Eastern and Southern Afghanistan, India will find herself totally isolated and out of the equation. RAW-NDS-Daish nexus built through a system of bribes and incentives and delicately placed by Ajit Doval to keep Durand Line on fire will be dismantled by the new regime in Afghanistan. Indian investment of billions of dollars in Afghanistan and her so called soft power in Kabul will be washed away into Kabul River.
Should the failed Doval- Modi circus in Afghanistan let India think of meaningfully re-engaging Pakistan for peace and stability in the region and is India going to look for a land bridge through the natural and economic conduit provided by Pakistan to make sure her investments in Afghanistan remain beneficial?
Pakistan will regain her central position in Afghanistan and West Asia and become the only guarantee for a lasting and comprehensive peace; from now on, all roads to Kabul will pass through Islamabad. Pakistan has always displayed her resolve and will to support an Afghan- led and Afghan- owned peaceful settlement of Afghan imbroglio.
Scenario 2: The Bleeding Wound continues to Bleed
There is a possibility that the Afghan peace negotiations may breakdown due to hawks in the US establishment and Indian lobby in Washington as well as NDS in Afghanistan. This could lead to further bloodshed and destabilization of Afghanistan and may result into a civil war causing trisection of Afghanistan. However the US, has to decide that if they have to sit again with Taliban to resolve this issue after another year, what is the fun in not doing it today?
For Afghan people, the second scenario is too dreadful. I will end the paper with an advice for all stake holders in Afghan conflict by quoting a para from one of my previously published articles. ‘Afghans have suffered tremendously because of power game played by outsiders and extra regional forces; three generations have sacrificed their future due the shenanigans and covert games played by likes of Doval-Modi circus, TTP and ISIS, its high time that Afghanistan and Pakistan join hands with international community to disenfranchise these forces of disintegration and develop a new trajectory of peace and prosperity in Afghanistan’.
Imagine if even 20% of a trillion dollars wasted in fruitless war in Afghanistan by the US was spent on Afghanistan as a Marshall Plan, it could have changed the entire landscape of the region and preserved US interests for next twenty years.