Afghan Peace Process; Postscript

From Dr Hamid Hussain

Following was an exchange with an old Afghan hand of ISI.  It may be of interest to some.  His comments in normal font; mine in bold.

26 February 2019

 Thanks Sir for opening more windows;  My comments essentially of a wandering dervish in red in your main text;

Hamid

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Dear HH,

A very thought provoking analysis with indepth knowledge of situation in Afghanistan.  My take:

  1. No party can have total control over Afghanistan particularly psuedo democracy.(You are correct that no single party is strong enough to impose its will on the whole country.  In good old times, a chap like Amir Abdur Rahman put the fear of God by beheading a large number of tribal leaders and exiling others far away from their homeland.  In this way, he was able to impose a central state on reluctant Afghans. Times have changed.  It is time for a grand bargain and compromise although I’m not sure whether Afghans are ready for it.)
  2. Taliban will emerge as the largest group but will not be allowed total control by big powers. Fear CIS & Russians from fundamentalists will keep them supporting tajik and uzbek groups.(Correct.  Interests of many countries are divergent and each state will support its own proxy.  It is fine as long it is for political jockeying but all need to be mindful that one heated argument after endless cups of green tea can tempt one to reach for AK-47.  This urge needs to be controlled. If not then;

aur ja’am toteein gein; iss sharab khane mein)

3.hazaras & other shia gps having tasted part  powers will not easily succumb to Taliban rule. (Another reason for all Afghans to go for a bargain.  Like many highlanders, Afghans of all ethnicities have a distorted sense of honor.  They are willing to settle scores with gun for whatever perverted reason.  However, their grandmother is begging on the street, young son is molested in coal mines of Baluchistan (Shahrag mining town in Baluchistan is the most heinous place in this regard where boys as young as 8 or 9 from FATA and Afghanistan are being molested on daily basis) or daughters going into prostitution to put food on the table in Pakistan & Iran, and their honor is nowhere to be found. Reminds me the words of an American who had worked in Afghanistan.  He lived with his family among Afghans and worked in 1970s in Jalalabad for several years.  In mid 2000s, he went back for a trip to Jalalabad. He said that Afghans were poorer then but had honor.  Now they are richer but have lost their honor”. Hegel defined courage and bravery as “Courage among civilized peoples consists in a readiness to sacrifice oneself for the political community)

  1. I see a period of anarchy & civil war till a strong man emerges.(yes; there is clear and present danger of another round of ‘buzkushi’ on the playing field of Afghanistan.  I sincerely hope this wretched land does not go for it. They deserve much better.

There are some who advocate a de facto if not de jure partition of Afghanistan along Hindu Kush. Troubled south and east can be quarantined while allowing north and west to stabilize with economic activity.  I’m not sure if it is workable but if Taliban emerged as dominant group and non-Pushtuns of Afghanistan reach a point where they make a decision that it is now time to forever end Pushtun domination by separating. This will be in line with what Iraqi Kurds decided in 2003.)

  1. From where he is likely to emerge is the biggest question. If the world powers are prepared to back hikmatyar he could be one. 6. otherwise Afghanistan remains divided amongst powersharing groups. No one on his own can takeover entire country.(Hikmatyar is from a different vintage era.  A lot has changed since then.  His own influence is also regional limited only to some pockets in eastern Afghanistan and Pushtun settlements of Kunduz in the north.  Both Pakistan and Iran may have a sympathetic note for him in view of his relationship with intelligence agencies of both countries.  However, their interests are divergent and not likely that both countries will agree on a single strong man. More importantly, supporting a strong man needs lot of money; some for instruments of war but mostly to bribe opponents.  Neither Pakistan nor Iran have much gold in their kitty.)
  2. These power groups will look for outside support Taliban maybe only exception. If they can fight the Americans to a standstill without outside help they can do so in future also.(That is the fear of proxy war as everyone will rush in to ‘rent’ their Afghan.)
  3. My suggestion would be to identify a likely winner & world community could support.(What is your list of top three likely winners?)
  4. Loe Jirga etc are meaningless, Afghanistan has been through a revolution like the French or Russian Revolution the traditional role of tribal chiefs has been taken over by other forces.(To some extent true but I’ll not count the tribes out completely.  Modern nation states that emerged in Middle East, Asia and Africa were not the result of a national struggle of the people.  In the aftermath of First World War, new national boundaries were carved out by victors who were foreigners and groups were lumped together in a national boundary.  A national sense now needed to be invented to meet the need of the state.  After the end of colonialism, a strongman kept these groups together through despotic/autocratic rule.  Once, nation state became weak or fractured either from direct foreign military attack (Iraq) or internal revolt (Syria) or a combination of both (Libya), then the humpty dumpty simply fell apart.  Tribes rose from the ashes of modern state and in many cases carved a space.  Tribal strategy is very simple to extract resources from the power brokers fighting on their lands and maintain local autonomy which means to resist encroachment of central government. I while ago, I did some detailed work on Kurds and how they stitched together ethnic and tribal threads to carve out a space in post-invasion Iraq.  This principle is at play in many remote areas of Afghanistan. I have looked at this aspect in the Nangarhar province on micro-level that is quite interesting but not enough space here to elaborate.)
  5. The only role Pakistan has is to decide the winner & support him so that period of turmoil ends quickly.(Pakistan is just one player and it neither has political, economic or diplomatic strength to make a major headway.  If U.S. with its military juggernaut, diplomatic clout and enormous economic spending of close to $800 billion could not find a winner and support it, then I doubt anybody else can pull this rabbit from the hat. My own personal view is that Pakistan has paid a heavy price by more involvement and less involvement is in Pakistan’s interest. More involvement will elicit more forceful response from adversaries.  Those Afghans not in line with Pakistan, India, Iran etc. will respond and with very little investment they can ignite many fires in Pakistan’s backyard.  If Pulwama has one lesson that is the other party no matter how weak also has a vote in the fight. A decade of work of sane individuals on both sides of the border, painstaking work of years, gradual de-scalation over years and more contacts of ordinary people of both countries and nascent movements of peace builders no matter how small.  One blast with three dozen casualties and everything goes up in smoke and both countries are back to square one.  Pakistan’s main interest is that Afghan soil is not used against it and ironically this is exactly Indian interest.  A grand bargain between Pakistan and India on this is must but both countries have to wait until adults take charge.)

With deep personal regards

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3 Replies to “Afghan Peace Process; Postscript”

  1. \Afghanistan particularly psuedo democracy\
    It is bit rich coming from an ISI man about psuedo democracy , when that is what they have reduced Pakistan to.

    \Taliban fight the Americans to a standstill without outside help \
    This is bit delusional since Afghan Taliban has been supported to the hilt by Pakistan, without whose support they would have fallen wayside years ago. For Kabul gov Taliban is proxy for Pakistan.

    I don’t think any strong man will emerge in Afghanistan for many, many years. No Saddam or Assad or Castro, which is a good thing for Afghanistan. Without any so-called strong man, they can find a modicum of co-operation between different ethnic groups, that is the best one can hope for.

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  2. ” Pakistan’s main interest is that Afghan soil is not used against it and ironically this is exactly Indian interest. A grand bargain between Pakistan and India on this is must but both countries have to wait until adults take charge’

    I think India has neither the means nor the will to enforce that. As i have said earlier, that time has long passed. Any participation of the Taliban ensures Pakistan interest and India’s best hope is that anti-Taliban forces (even if its for the own sake ) wouldn’t allow Taliban to have a free run, which in turn might help Indian interest. Optimistic i am not.

    Not sure what adults taking charge really mean. I think any future Indian Govt (especially a Congress led one) would most likely abandon the Afghan project and treat it as “sunken” cost. They have too much to do closer home to expend resources in Afghanistan to support ongoing activities , specially if now they have to also pay up for the security, once USA leaves. Any deal (some sort of status qou peace in Kashmir, in lieu of India leaving Afghanistan), however dubious it might be will mostly taken up by the Indian Government (especially a Congress led one).

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