Col Ikram Ullah Chitral

Afghan peace – an elusive goal

Col (r) IkramUllah Khan

The US abrupt withdrawal from Afghanistan has created conditions that has put the security situation of Afghanistan in an utter chaos. A scene of pandemonium is witnessed throughout the war-torn country in the absence of government control over the worsening security situation. The Taliban’s blitz has left the demoralized Afghan National Defence Security Forces (ANDSF) completely unnerved which is evident from the fact that they are surrendering before the Taliban doughty fighters without putting up a resolute fight. Reports emanating from Taliban sources indicate that the Afghan security forces’ personnel who lay down arms voluntarily are given blanket amnesty and are allowed to go home after being paid the fare charges while some others are fleeing to neighbouring countries like Uzbekistan. This, according to Taliban is being done to encourage the security forces to lay down arms and join the Taliban fighters.

According to a report published in “The New York Times” citing US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Mark Milley, a complete Taliban takeover is possible in Afghanistan. According to him, “Taliban fighters have achieved decisive strategic gains in Afghanistan and have gained control of about half of 419 districts and putting pressure on the outskirts of 17 of 34 provincial capitals short of seizing control of any of them”. According to Taliban sources, capturing provincial capitals is not a big deal for them butat the moment it doesn’t figure in theirscheme of operationand they are not doing it as a part of their well-thought-out strategy because they believe any precipitous move on their part in this regard may spoil the strategic as well as tactical gains achieved by them in the battlefield so far.They have captured strategically important countryside locations away from provincial capitals and are gradually advancing towards their ultimate objective with little resistance from Afghan security forces. However, after consolidating their position in rural areas they have now started focusing on capturing provincial capitals. According to Al-Jazeerah, to start with, they have captured provincial capital Zaranj, the capital of Nimruz province.  It’s a strategically important province as it shares its borders with Iran and Pakistan. Presently, a fierce fighting is reportedly going on in other three key Afghan cities, i.e. Herat, Qandahar and Lashkar Gah. Given the strategic importance of these cities, if Taliban succeed in capturing them, the fall of Kabul wouldn’t be far away.

With the ever increasing control of Taliban over Afghanistan, the prospects of a negotiated settlement of Afghanistan’s simmering problem are getting thinner. The recent peace talks held in Doha between the Taliban and Afghan government’s high-powered delegation led by Dr Abdullah Abdullah ended without fetching any positive result. Battlefield victories have emboldened the Taliban to maintain an upper hand while negotiating with Afghan government for peace.For Ashraf Ghani it’s a race against time to rescue his crumbling empire. Seeing the Taliban’s ultimate victory round the corner, Ashraf Ghani, as a last-ditch effort has started raising ethnic militias being equipped with arms and ammunitions provided by India to fight the Taliban. The US is encouraging India to extend all out financial and military support to Afghan government to stem Taliban advance.

Despite all these bottlenecks in the way of peace, there is a need to continue with the diplomatic endgame without yielding to stubbornness shown by both sides till it achieves some positive results as diplomacy is the only hope to bring peace to Afghanistan. However, given the rigidity displayed by both sides and tough stance taken, certain critics with pessimistic approach are of the view that further efforts for a peace deal between the two sides should be abandoned and declared charade and scrapped.

Seeing Ashraf Ghani’s tottering government fast losing ground to Taliban, India’s desperation is quite understandable as its huge investment made in Afghanistan is at stake in the event of Taliban coming to power. In this regard, in an attempt to bar Taliban from coming to power, India has seized the opportunity to capitalize on the dicey security situation in Afghanistan and has jumped into the fray with men and material to set the stage for a full-fledged civil war in Afghanistan with simultaneous move against Pakistan through its proxies. This is being done by India duly backed by the US  through a close nexus between CIA, RAW and NDS to safeguard their strategic interests and to save India’s  huge investment made in this regard in Afghanistan during the past two decades.

With the deadline of US withdrawal approaching near and with nearly 95% troops withdrawal completed as of now, Ashraf Ghani seems to be fighting a losing battle despite US support. Last month, the US provided three new propeller-driven A-29 Super Tacano light attack fighter jets to Afghan Air Force and three newly refurbished UH-60 Black-hawk combat helicopters to bolster Afghan security forces’ fighting capability. But despite all this military support, the Afghan security forces are put to a continuous rout by the Taliban fighters. The golden opportunity provided to Ashraf Ghani to engage in peace negotiations with Taliban seems to have been lost in the air mainly because of the former’s non-reconciliatory approach who is not ready to sacrifice his personal interest for the supreme interest of the country. Ashraf Ghani appears to be in no mood to shed power and is hell-bent on clinging to power till he is compelled to make an ignominious exit.

The Pakistan brokered Doha peace initiative after making great strides seems to be back to square one given the rigid stance taken by both the Afghan government and the Taliban. Major portion of the blame for the stalemate in the talks, according to political analysts, is laid at the door of Ashraf Ghani for his uncompromising attitude and recalcitrant posture. Ashraf Ghani’s refusal to establish an interim government and release Taliban prisoners are the main stumbling blocks in the way of a negotiated settlement of Afghan issue. The crucial question as to who should run Afghanistan once the troops withdrawal is completed ending the longest US war in history still remains unanswered mainly because both the warring sides want to have an absolute reign and total governance of the country without sharing with the other party. The Taliban believe it as their right to rule the country due to the unprecedented sacrifices rendered to evict the foreign occupying troops from their mother land which they have done after two decades of struggle.

The human and economic losses of biblical proportions borne during the two decades Afghan war are far from over. These losses are likely to increase in the coming days, months and maybe years if sanity doesn’t prevail. An unending civil war may ensue to continue till eternity thus serving the purpose of the foreign powers. Both the Afghan government and the Taliban need to realize this and come to a peaceful settlement before it’s too late.

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