By Khadim Hussain
August 12, 2013
AFTER reading several pieces in the print media and watching numerous talk shows on Afghanistan, one reaches the conclusion that we have a very limited understanding of this region, Afghanistan in particular.
Before deliberating upon the probable scenarios in Afghanistan after 2014 and their implications for Pakistan, it is pertinent to discuss some of the obstacles that hamper our understanding.
First, our academia in general has made limited effort to understand our neighbours. How many books have so far been written and published by our area study centres and Pakistan study centres on Afghanistan, Iran, India and China?
Then, most of the information on strategic issues regarding our neighbours is licensed instead of disseminated. This monopolisation of vital information by the security establishment has perhaps made our academia unconsciously complacent with respect to our region and especially Afghanistan. Another reason for this might be the real or perceived intimidation of the academia by various security agencies.
Second, we tend to look at the region in general and Afghanistan in particular either from the perspective of insecurity or with a sense of superiority. This tendency leads us to view everything happening in our western and eastern neighbourhood through the lens of paranoia.
Having said that, let’s try to imagine three distinct and mutually exclusive scenarios after 2014 in Afghanistan.
a) First, Kabul is overwhelmed by various factions of the Taliban and insurgents. After the establishment of an emirate in Afghanistan, the Afghan Taliban ask their cousins in Pakistan to stop fighting against a state that was instrumental in making the emirate in Afghanistan. The Pakistani Taliban lay down arms and live happily ever after.
b) The recently established state and security institutions in Afghanistan, with the support of regional and international stakeholders, put up fierce resistance against the Taliban onslaught. In that case, there will be a stalemate between the Taliban and the rest of Afghanistan.
c) The third scenario takes into consideration the challenges for peace in Afghanistan and Pakistan, including other states in the region, and envisions a three-tiered reconciliation process. The challenges include the process of reconciliation, reconstruction and state building and the establishment of sustainable political institutions in Afghanistan.
Despite the overriding desire of several state and non-state entities in Pakistan to see Kabul overwhelmed by the Afghan Taliban, it seems improbable that they will storm Kabul the way they did back in 1992. If there had been even a slight chance of this probability, the Taliban would have never agreed to peace talks with the US and the Afghan High Peace Council.
On the other hand, if the current Afghan government had been that spineless, the US would have never paid heed to its objection to the Taliban’s Doha office flag or plaque. Moreover, the Pakistani prime minister would have never sent his envoy to Kabul to appease the Afghan president if he were no more than a straw man.
If the first scenario, though it seems absolutely improbable, becomes a reality, its implications for Pakistan might be completely the opposite of what sections of the state and non-state entities here assume. Far from being a strategic gain for Pakistan, Kabul under the Taliban might be this country’s worst nightmare.
The sprawling militant network here might find it a good opportunity to unleash immense terror on the state and society. If they can fight for an emirate in Afghanistan, why wouldn’t they go for the same in Pakistan? It is also uncertain whether the Afghan Taliban will de-link from Al Qaeda.
As for the second scenario, the present deadlock involving the US, Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Taliban and the non-inclusion of regional states in the efforts to find a solution to the challenge of peace in post-2014 Afghanistan indicate a stalemate. In this case, too, Pakistan will have a tough time. With an ideological and technical network in Punjab and Sindh and the needed physical infrastructure in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Fata, the militant network might be able to move around freely in southern and eastern Afghanistan and the adjacent tribal region in Pakistan.
Keeping in view the confusion in Pakistan’s military and political establishments with respect to dealing with extremism and terrorism, observers are of the opinion that some districts of KP earlier occupied by the Pakistani Taliban and later taken back by the military might see the resurgence of the militant network. They cite the continuous killing of members of peace committees in Swat, Buner and Dir districts in this regard. The Swat, Bajaur and Mohmand chapters of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan have already established centres of operations in the Kunar and Nuristan provinces in southern Afghanistan.
One can observe the expansion of the militant network in Pakistan in the shape of their ability to strike in Gilgit-Baltistan, Karachi, Sukkur, Quetta and Khurram Agency within just one month. Observers also believe that the militant network has established its foothold in the suburban areas of south and southwest of Peshawar.
A win-win situation for Pakistan, Afghanistan, regional states, NATO and the insurgents groups in Afghanistan lies in the third scenario. If the reconciliation process among the Afghans (internally) and among the states in the region and international stakeholders is initiated simultaneously and is in sync with the reconstruction process and the political institutionalisation of Afghanistan, all stakeholders might emerge victorious.
This can only happen when all parties to the conflict make efforts at finding a shared interest in the solution. This cannot be achieved as long as all parties wish to show the other as the vanquished.
Khadim Hussain is a political analyst based in Peshawar.