From Dr Hamid Hussain. As readers of this blog know, our other Pakistani military history contributor (Major Amin) has a harsher version of the same situation: that there is chaos in Afghanistan and it will drag all neighbors into trouble with it. Dr Hamid, a nice guy at heart, is willing to hope for peace a little more than Major Amin.. (the initial response is about what the American policymakers are thinking of doing)
17 October 2021
Following was part of conversations with many with first hand knowledge about the region. This gentleman had front row seat to many changes in the region and he was kind enough to candidly share his views with me & my response. It may be of interest to some.
Thanks Sir. I think you got it right about potential risks for the region. I know that in polite conversations, these topics are not discussed but in the real and cruel world people talk about their dreams and delusions and it is directly proportional to the level of their knowledge or ignorance. This has been at least my experience of dealing with many from different countries who have front row seat to this blood sport.
Here are my two cents. In my view, there is no agreement yet about the policy going forward but there are conversations about what is called ‘controlled chaos’. Some see huge opportunities in current situation where all potential trouble makers in Washington’s eyes can be paid back in the same coin. Keeping Russia busy defending its southern borders by spending more military and diplomatic capital, highlighting human rights violations of Uighurs on diplomatic front and limited support to do some fireworks in Xinjiang by using Wakhan corridor, destabilize Iran’s eastern border thus almost completely encircling Iran as currently, Israel is using Iraqi Kurdistan and Azerbaijan to cause troubles. Igniting another border and more involvement in Afghanistan will waste more Iranian intelligence resources. Turkey under neo-Ottoman dreamer Erdogan has gone from ‘zero trouble with neighbors’ foreign policy of decades to ‘100 % trouble with every neighbor’ quagmire. He is arrogant and ignorant enough to be easily enticed into putting his hand in the snake pit of Afghanistan. There have been reports of increasing Turkish parleys with Pakistan and several mysterious military flights from Istanbul to Chaklala air base have landed. We don’t know the details yet but I’m suspicious that the cargo has something to do with Afghanistan and it is not humanitarian aid.
Everyone and his cousin in Washington is very angry at Pakistan. The dangerous part is that now Afghanistan is not seen as a separate entity for management purposes. The talk is about region and it is now ‘Pak-Af’ that means support of anti-Taliban groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan mainly on political front at this stage and if needed in future a military front can also come into play. Goal is to create a ‘cordon sanitaire’ around Talib country of southern and eastern Afghanistan that is traditional Loy Kandahar and Loy Paktiya regions. This means strengthening both Pushtun and Baloch nationalist forces in Baluchistan. In Khyber Pukhtunkhwa (KPK), if Pushtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) is converted into a political party and moribund Awami National Party (ANP) wakes up and revamps its structure, it can create a political barrier to Taliban narrative. In addition to these ethnic forces, two major political parties; Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) have no love lost for Afghan Taliban. During their respective tenures (2008-2018), they have tried desperately to get rid of flea infested Afghan blanket but army came in the way. Even limited retreat of the army in current scenario provides the room for push back for all anti-Taliban forces.
Afghan Taliban leadership will try a hand at ‘reverse strategic depth’ by supporting religious segment especially fellow Pushtun Deobandi lot of KPK, Baluchistan and metropolis of Karachi. This will be their attempt at political front. In future, if circumstances force a military front then their natural allies will be Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
For the northern part of the region, there is talk about the Kurdish model that was adopted for Iraq. A de facto independent region although Afghan scene is quite different as there is no history of separatism among non-Pushtuns and also it is not one single ethnic entity in the north. If somehow, this time around non-Pushtuns come to the conclusion that Taliban are a dominant military force in control of Kabul for forseeable future who are not willing to share and they don’t have strong Pushtun partners to wrest control back and run as a joint venture, then other options come to the table. Even in that case, this model will require some modification. One possibility is the ‘canton model’ attempted in Syria for different ethnic and sectarian groups. The base for northern plan will likely be Tajikistan. Contrary to popular belief, it will be Afghan players that will determine the future course, outsiders will be simply enablers.
In my view ‘controlled chaos’ is a misnomer as chaos takes its own course and apprentice sorcerers can not even comprehend let alone control it. My personal view is that like every government change (although we may not agree with the method of taking control), Taliban should be given a chance of at least three years to prove what they mean? Formal recognition can be kept at back burner for now while channels kept open at different levels. In the meantime humanitarian aid channeling directly to the people to prevent famine and further dislocations while gently pushing Taliban to modify their stance on some issues especially inclusion of other groups and female education. On part of Talib, if he can keep violence below a certain threshold where it does not hamper daily activities for the next few years, that will be an achievement. In my view patience is needed but alas patience has never been an American virtue.
“The everlasting battle stripped from us care of our own lives or of others”. T. E. Lawrence