Changing Afghan landscape
Dr Raja Muhammad Khan


Afghanistan, a crossroad of the civilizations, has been at the centre stage of global power play for centuries. The Soviet invasion, Taliban rule and U.S led war ever since October 2011, has deeply influenced the social, political and economic sphere of Afghanistan with deep spillover effects on Pakistan.

The strategic landscape of Afghanistan is witnessing a steady but profound shift as the drawdown date of ISAF (Dec 2014) is rapidly approaching. Indeed, 2014 represents a transition point not only for Afghanistan but also for the entire region. The political and strategic groundwork undertaken within this timeframe will largely determine the outcome for the future of Afghanistan. Traditionally, there has been a weak central structure at Kabul, with powerhouses centered in various parts of the country, according to the strength of respective tribes. Whereas this tribal culture still forms the basis of Afghan society, Afghans learnt a lot in last thirty years about ‘unity in diversity’ and to be in-step with international system with a strong relationship between structure and agent. Afghans demonstrated this during last two terms of President Hamid Karazai, who did not face worthwhile tribal antagonism (less Taliban), despite many inherent flaws in his form of governance. Afghan nationalism has strengthened and they are poised for a stable and peaceful Afghanistan under a central authority. The voting pattern during Afghan Presidential elections is indicative of this fact, where a minority ethnic leader secured the mandate of majority population. With the positive transformational trends, there are challenges facing Afghanistan. With a weak economic base and uncertain security environment, Afghanistan cannot sustain itself domestically in the post drawdown phase. A continuous and dedicated external economic support would be essentially needed for the economic survival of the state and for the combat worthiness of Afghan national security forces (ANSF). Currently, Afghan security forces are not sufficiently geared up to ensure national security, in the event of stiff Taliban resistance as witnessed in the preceding years. Politically, though former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah has emerged as a strong and generally acceptable Presidential candidate (after run-off elections), the survivability of the political dispensation in Kabul is still questionable in the absence of a national reconciliation. Unless, a reconciliation process is reached with Taliban and other groups, opposed to the current political set-up, there would remain political instability and looming threats for a possible infighting despite a successful second round of Presidential elections. The successive invasions, factional fighting, exposure with outside world and more so the exploitation by others, have deeply impacted the Afghan society. Today, Afghan society is passing through a process of social and political transformation. The transformation process is voluntary, rather obligated. Depending upon the available facilities, Afghan youth is desirous of seeking formal education and taking advantage from modern technological advancements. On the cultural front, Afghans masses are rapidly acclimatizing with international culture and global norms. In this regard, a major role has been played by the institutional development, and frequent Afghan interaction with the outside world. The peaceful conduct of election-2014 and unprecedented turnout of masses during the elections is reflective of Afghan’s desire for change. The most startling and indeed a surprising change witnessed during these elections was that, the Taliban did not block the election process. This is being viewed as a change in the approach of Taliban towards political temperament in Afghanistan or else they are losing strength in the milieu of social transformation in that society. This is true that, Taliban still maintains their strongholds in many rural areas; however, the traditional urban-rural and ethnic divide is rapidly shrinking in Afghan society, thus, further constraining the liberty of actions by Taliban. Either of the two presidential candidates has clearly hinted to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with US. With these assurances, on May 27, 2014, President Obama revealed his long-awaited plan for Afghanistan in the post 2014 scenario. According to plan, “a residual force of 9,800 US troops will remain there for one year following the end of combat operations in December. That number will be cut in half at the end of 2015, and reduced at the end of 2016 to a small military presence at the US Embassy.” Nevertheless, with all odds, US would maintain its influence over Afghanistan for at least next decade; transition to transformation period (2015-2024). Both Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani feel that, US presence in Afghanistan would help in the consolidation of their grip over the un-ruled areas and for the training and backup support of ANSF. India too feels comfortable with the US presence in that country as its junior partner. India has gained acceptability among the ruling elites, bureaucracy, ANSF and powerful Afghan spying network-NDS. The wider projection of Indian role and its deep involvement in Afghanistan has created anti-Pakistan sentiments among the Afghanistan nationals, a deliberate act. Besides, India is supporting terrorism and sub-nationalism in bordering areas; FATA and Balochistan; indeed creating dilemmas for Pakistan. Whereas, China would not like to involve itself in the security sphere of Afghanistan, it would be definitely interested in the stability of Afghanistan for the sake of stability of its bordering region, Xinjiang. Facing the separatism of ethnic Uyghur in Kashghar area, China has economic stakes in Afghanistan with an investment of $4-5 billion in copper mines and hydrocarbons. A resurgent Russia would like to exert its influence in Afghanistan for the obvious reasons that, return of Taliban like setup will promote militancy in its Muslim republics, already facing insurgency. Then, after Crimean episode, Russia would like to be felt in the global politics, alongside United States. Central Asian states too would be interested in a stable and peaceful Afghanistan. Iran has an influence over a sizable part of Afghanistan. Its linkages with Northern Alliance and Hazara community of Afghanistan have been traditional. Iran would like to have deeper influence over the future setup of Afghanistan. In case of Abdullah Abdullah, Iranian influence will be more pronounce. For Pakistan, the Indo-Iran and New-Delhi-Tehran-Kabul nexus would be an abhorrent scenario. Despite historical differences (mostly influenced by interest groups), there remains established closeness between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Both share similar culture and society – same religion and norms. Being a responsible neighbour, Pakistan would like to play a constructive role to end the war in the interest of Afghanistan and for a long-term regional peace and stability. Pakistan believes that, peace and stability in Afghanistan would guarantee the peace and stability of Pakistan. Indeed, Pakistan still administers 2.6 million Afghan refugees and thousands of Afghan nationals daily enter Pakistan for earning their bread and medical treatment in the bordering Pakistani cities.