Understanding The Significance of Peace in Afghanistan

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Mortar attack on Shigal Tarna garrison, Kunar Province

“A great majority of mankind are satisfied with appearances, as though they are realities and are often even more influenced by the things that seem than by those that are’.  Machiavelli

Pakistan’s Afghan policy can be summed by Machiavelli’s quote “The people often deceived by an elusive good, desire their own ruin, and unless they are made sensible of the evil of the one and the benefit of the other course by someone in whom they have confidence, they will expose the republic to infinite peril and damage”.

From US angle, Afghan war initiated as revenge.  Neither there was any planning nor a medium and long term war strategy.  It was an ad hoc project run by dysfunctional civil and military bureaucracies and evolved over the years depending on the ‘attention span’ at highest level.  Machiavelli said that ‘it is an infallible rule that a prince who is not wise himself cannot be well advised’.  Afghan project soon became low priority for U.S. when its forces marched towards Baghdad.  An unstable and fractured Afghanistan has benefited a lot from the charity of U.S. tax payers but it has been a total loss for the United States.  USA fought two wars with about two trillion dollar price tag on credit card. In Machiavelli words “whoever impoverishes himself by war acquires no power, even though he be victorious.  For his conquests cost him more than they are worth’.  It was Stephen Biddle who remarked about Iraq adventure that “American officials in Baghdad resemble apprentice sorcerers who had let loose forces they could barely understand, much less fully control”. Same applies to Afghanistan. There are many genuine national security aspects as far as U.S. is concerned but there are also several cheaper options which USA failed to explore and utilize.

USA’s Afghan misadventure has had a huge impact on Pakistan. The spillover affect has increased terrorism in Pakistan. Economically Pakistan has suffered a lot in the last one and a half decades. With over 60,000 casualties (civil and military) and thousands of more disabilities in terrorism related incidents, Pakistan has paid a huge price for being made a forced ally of United States in this pointless war. Now with US policy of withdrawal from Afghanistan and leaving behind few thousand troops, a new chapter will start which can have devastating affects in Afghanistan and the surrounding countries, especially Pakistan. Eventually world will have to  let Afghans decide what they want for their children. Local power elites always take foreigners for a ride for their own interests and play on their fears and ambitions.  It was Czarist Russia, British Empire, Communist Soviet Union, U.S.A. and Taliban yesterday and Daesh tomorrow.  It is a never ending game.  In fact, even a cursory look at history of Afghanistan proves this point.  During Raj, some Afghans regained their throne with British and Indian bayonets while those Afghan elite who lost on the buzkushi power playing field of Afghanistan enjoyed their pension at Ludhiana, Dehra Dun and Karachi. Read the special branch files of the Raj and you will be amused. Their fortunes have been upgraded. Today, some are enjoying comforts of power in Kabul while others living in luxurious estates in Dubai.  Both are paid by either money generated from lucrative drug trade or American taxpayers. No wonder that in 2009, Vice President of Afghanistan Ahmad Zia Masud landed at Dubai airport with $52 million cash in suit cases. Go figure it out how many suite cases you need to stuff 52 million dollars. Today one doesn’t have to wait 10 years for de-classification and Wiki Leaks cables provide good entertainment during free time. Sometimes prospect of hanging from the nearest lamp post spurs a lazy person into action.

Pushtun settlements in north of Afghansitan developed in the context of centralization of the state by Amir Abdur Rahman.  He was suppressing the rebellions in Pushtun and non-Pushtun areas.  In fact, he beheaded so many Shinwari Pushtuns when they rebelled that many crossed over and came under British protection.  For many years, Shinwaris on Afghan side used to come to British side to find young Shinwari men for their girls.  Same thing happened to Hazaras.  After pacifying north, he settled many Pushtun clans with twin objectives of having Pushtun elite dominance of the north and to remove troublesome Pushtuns from their ancestral lands thus diluting their strength.  After pacification of the north in late nineteenth century, the Pushtun settlements were established in northern areas especially Badakshan, Kunduz, Jauzjan, Faryab and Badghis provinces. Amir Abdur Rahman cleverly used his rival Ghilzai Pushtuns in the east and settled them in north thus cutting them off from their power base and diminishing their ability to threaten his rule. Durranis were settled there to utilize the fertile lands of the north as insurance to keep their loyalty and also act as guardians of northern frontiers. Certain tribes and clans are more represented in north. Ishaqzai (various clans), Barakzai, Popalzai, Alizai and Nurzai of Durrani stock and Hotaki, Tukhi, Taraki of Ghilzai stock as well as some Mohmand and Wardak are the main groups settled in north. In the civil war of 1990s, there were many rounds of ethnic cleansing in many areas and it will be interesting to know what the current census of Pushtuns in northern areas is? Taliban have made some inroads in these settlements and that is a bad omen for future.  If they kill non-Pushtuns or create enough instability to hinder trade then non-Pushtun backlash on Pushtun settlements will be inevitable.  This may result in punishment from government or non-Pushtun militias with aim of making life for these Pushtuns difficult enough to make them move out.  More important and relevant point in 2016 is that non-Pushtuns are in no mood to accept Pushtun dominance indefinitely.  Future is either for mutual respect and sharing in local resources or in the next cycle of civil war, we may see more displacement of Pushtun settlements in north. Ethnic pride among Pushtuns is no problem but chauvinistic and dominance themes will not take them very far in Afghanistan in 21st century.

The advent of ISIS in Nangarhar and cross-border raids into Pakistan by the escaped TTP elements, with safe-havens in Afghanistan, has caused further regional insecurity. While the failure of re-conciliation with the Taliban so far places a big question mark regarding the chances of peace in the region, we must not forget that other spoilers who can be best defined as criminal entrepreneurs, will avail themselves of any opportunity that they can find to make money by reducing the ability of the states to guard its people and interdict criminal activities like drug trafficking or gun-running that are the sources of employment and fulfillment of their ambitions that are unrequited due to lack of economic growth for a majority of people in certain parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Under such circumstances state has to eliminate physically as much as it can and then increase the cost of participating in such enterprises high enough to make people think twice. This is then integrated with inclusive political economy to channel discontent via non-violent means.  In view of its history and continuous civil war of over three generations, Afghanistan is in a state which Machiavelli described a ‘divided country’ and in a divided country, when a man is injured he approaches his patron for redress and patron to keep his own influence has every incentive to use violence to redress the grievance.  This is the pattern followed by various ethnic groups, tribes and clans. Afghan people need to understand what belongs to an individual and what to the nation only then will they see prosperity in their country. There was an interesting episode when long after the last Soviet soldier had left, in the free for all fight, one group of ‘holy warriors’ over ran a town and looted the local school and cleaned everything.  In the end some wooden chairs and tables were left.  They couldn’t agree on what to do as they had no use at home for these items.  Finally they decided to chop the furniture and distributed it among the warriors to take home to use as fire wood.

For a smart chap strategic significance can be a boon but for a dumb chap it can be a curse.  In a divided country, groups and factions can be bought by interested parties and this is exactly what happened in Afghanistan.  Everyone now has a dog in the fight in Afghanistan. For the un-initiated understanding Byzantine intrigues on Afghan chessboard can be a very dizzying experience.  Look at only one example; Gulbadin Hikmatyar.  For years he ate from the hands of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.  He was quite explicit in his anti-Shia rantings. He had no qualms in accepting Israeli weapons that they had captured from Palestinians when later were routed from Lebanon.  In First Gulf War, he somersaulted and started to cheer for Saddam Hussain. When Pakistan put its money on a different horse i.e. Taliban, and he was shunned by his former patrons, he took a residence in Tehran where he comfortably lived.  When Taliban started to creep into his power base in Kunduz and eastern Afghanistan, he had no qualms in passing intelligence to Americans so that his turf was protected from Taliban encroachment.  He was travelling on both tracks of the gravy train extracting resources from Afghan government read U.S.A. by cooperating in some areas and advancing his political and non-violent factions while at the same time taking handsome handouts from Tehran and others via factions who were shooting.  His son was in lucrative business partnership with governors. Kabul is a place where everyone is selling some information to someone.  In some cases, one person is selling different pieces of information to different patrons. Once you understand this basic point then you know why late Mullah Akhtar Mansur who was recently kicked upstairs to meet his 72 virgins (few young boys thrown as a bonus) held a Pakistani passport with valid Iranian visa. This chap like a busy executive was shuttling between Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan and Dubai. Outsiders can play their own little dirty games as they wish but they should fear the day when some really interested parties put their hands on the heads of some really pissed off Afghans and thoroughly alienated Baluchs in Pakistan and Iran.  I recall as early as 2001-2 when some nationalist Afghans swore that if neighbors don’t behave in the next round, they will make sure that Afghanistan doesn’t burn alone in this fire. Machiavelli told us long time ago that “once the people have taken arms against you, there will never be lacking of foreigners to assist them”.

Pushtun and non-Puhstun tensions in Afghanistan need a broader perspective.  In the civil war of 1990s, both communities perpetrated horrendous atrocities.  Rape was used systematically and civilians were indiscriminately slaughtered.  No foreign troops had ever committed such atrocities on Afghans.  This is the collective shame of Afghans but no one will talk about it.  If Pushtuns resented rise of non-Pushtuns in post 2001 then what about pre 2001?  Non-Pushtuns resented the control of the most retrograde movement ever seen even in Pushtun areas to control their lives.  Imagine what an educated Herati and Kabuli felt when a village Pushtun boy with scraggy beard and dirty clothes was beating his educated wife on the city streets with leather lash.  Her crime being that while covered from head to toe with Burqa had the audacity to show her ankles.  This treatment was given to anyone regardless of the ethnicity but the anger and hatred of non-Pushtuns was quadrupled. When the tide turned, non-Pushtuns tried to keep their hold on lever of powers and who would blame them. In peaceful areas in central and northern Afghanistan local communities have reaped the benefits of reconstruction and education and racing forward.  Male and female education among Hazaras is quite impressive.  These traditionally underdogs are excelling in many fields and winning large number of foreign scholarships of higher education.  Insecurity in south and east means that Pushtun is lagging behind.  In near future, how you are going to replace a well qualified non-Pushtun with an unqualified Pushtun? This is the question for Pushtun intelligentsia to ponder over?

Initially non-Pushtuns fully cooperated to overthrow Taliban and were rewarded.  Just like during Durrani rule, all high posts in military and civil bureaucracy went to Pushtuns. Research Work on Afghan army’s evolution in the last ten years suggest that this has dramatically changed although real statistics are hard to get. Last time when checked Afghan National Army was about 45% Pushtun including many mid and high level Pushtun officers.

Ashraf Ghani made a genuine effort to placate Pakistanis to end the conflict but he miscalculated the immense hatred against Pakistan among general population in Afghanistan.  He didn’t build a reasonable consensus before embarking on the journey.  Another factor may be that he exaggerated Pakistani influence over Taliban.  Pakistan didn’t help Ashraf to bring some gifts to the table so that Ashraf could convince his critics to give Pakistan more time. I was of the view that the only way Ashraf’s gamble will pay if Pakistan hands him a major gift.  Whether Pakistan had the capacity or intention is another matter.  Pakistan’s problem is that it may have some influence on some factions but it cannot dictate to Taliban.  Those factions who resent too much of Pakistan involvement have already found sanctuaries inside Afghanistan and financial support from many other parties including Iran and Russia.  Everybody is responsible for the mess of forty years and now wants results in months. They need to come down to earth. As far as Afghanistan is concerned, everyone thinks that only they are doing the right thing and everybody else is messing up. Every country messed up Afghanistan according to its own ability and resources and it will need collective efforts to bring some order.  However, first condition is that every nation has to discard its previous notions and start fresh. Another important factor is to be realistic about violence.  It is extremely naïve to expect that violence will be completely rooted out.  Even in well established states with good functioning governments, violence of various sorts is inevitable.  In case of Afghanistan, as long as violence is kept below a certain threshold where it does not interfere with day to day functioning of government and ordinary life, I’ll consider it a success.

In broken societies, many questions never gets answered.  There are two dimensions of the afghan problem; one perceptions of non-Afghans and other of Afghans.  As far as outsiders are concerned, first, we are told that conflict between Pushtun and non-Pushtun needs to be settled for peace, then it is between Durrani and Ghiljai.  Even if we miraculously achieve this goal then it will be between tribes, then clans then families.  As far Afghans are concerned they are of the view that the problem lies with foreigners who don’t understand Afghans.  They think that if outsiders stop interference then everything will be fine.  Everyone has the capacity to spoil the game.  Any disgruntled party can pay someone to put a bomb or send a suicide bomber – like any other weapon on the market you can actually buy and sell a suicide bomber.  A society that reaches this low point needs a lot of introspection and reflection.  In my view, even if all the gold of Fort Knox is transferred to Afghanistan, it will not solve their problems.  Only Afghans will solve their own problem.

In post 2001 decision making process, Pakistanis have seriously underestimated two things; first how vulnerable they are and second failing to comprehend internal debates in American, Indian and Afghan security establishments. They don’t have to agree with these debates but they need to take into consideration the impact of the outcome of these debates on their own national security. It is their right to think that some Afghan Taliban could be helpful in their national security policy and follow on this line.  However, they should also be aware of consequences of such policy.  To be fair to Pakistanis, they are not responsible for all the ills of the region and to expect that they have the key to all the problems is unrealistic.  Even if they get out of the room, India still has to deal with discontent in Kashmir and Afghanistan has to solve its own problems.

In 2001 Pakistan had a very narrow window to make a clean break as far as Afghanistan was concerned while at the same time make a proactive move to ensure that disorder doesn’t spread in its own territory.  Shell shocked retreating militants were robbed of even their shoes and money by local tribesmen in Kurram agency.  If state had asserted itself it could have protected its interests at a fraction of a cost.  Strategic myopia at the highest level prevented some common sense measures.  If only high command had read Machiavelli who said ‘one ought never to allow a disorder to take place in order to avoid war.  For war is not thereby avoided but only deferred to your disadvantage’.  We should remember that in 2001-02, the action needed was not war but assertion of state’s authority with vigor and punishing militant start ups promptly to send a message that state meant business. Pakistan deferred it to its own disadvantage. It had to spend lot of blood and treasure to regain the control back from militants. In the end, it did the right thing but in the process lost the good will of a large number of tribesmen. In my own interactions, tribesmen are extremely bitter about state policy that devastated their lands.  No wonder thousands of tribesmen from North Waziristan sought shelter in Afghanistan.

Pakistan and India are prisoners of their past and willing to mortgage their future for misplaced fear, envy and pride. The grand bargain now means that Pakistan has to wash its hands off Kashmir and let Kashmiris decide what they want and India pull back from a dangerous posture. Both countries are facing many internal pressures due to economic, political, ethnic and religious factors and these forces are straining internal cohesion of both societies.  This phenomenon is not limited to third world countries.  Look at Western Europe where brigade strength of alienated Muslim youth left for the killing fields of Middle East and now fighting for Daesh. It is true that India and Pakistan can stir troubles in each other’s backyard and give some sleepless nights to decision- makers of opposite side. However, igniting a fire in neighbor’s backyard is not a sound national security policy. A new vision directed by young global generation of both countries attempts to understand the other ‘out of the box’ and exert pressure on their own governments so that they desist from self-defeating policies. This is the hope for the future for both countries. It will be truly tragic if they decide to fight another battle on the killing fields of Afghanistan.

One must agree that dividends of peace are enormous for everyone.  However, every player is short sighted and their judgment is clouded by existing distrust and imagined fears.  Some Afghans are happy to carry foreigner’s gun and foreigner is happy to fight to the last Afghan.

“Everyone may begin a war at his pleasure; but cannot so finish it”.  Machiavelli

Above analysis is a compilation of comments
By  Mr. Hamid Hussain <hhussain186@gmail.com>

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