Afghan situation … regional powers need to fill vacuum!
The writer, Mr. I. Hussain Janjua is a senior media professional and analyst having experience of research & broadcast journalism in different organisations. He is a non-resident fellow of Chengdu Institute of World Affairs (CIWA). (Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; twitter: @ihussainjanjua)
The fast-paced withdrawal of foreign troops amid stalled peace talks and rising insurgency in Afghanistan threatens to undermine international efforts to bring peace and stability in Afghanistan through power-sharing arrangements that have international backing.
Since intra-Afghan negotiations started in Doha, Qatar, on September 12 last year, Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government and Pakistan’s military leadership have repeatedly emphasized that only a political settlement can end conflict in Afghanistan. Pledging support for an Afghan-led peace process, they have also repeatedly denied backing any party to the conflict.
However, the Biden administration’s policy has changed the rules of the Afghanistan game for Afghans and for the country’s neighbors. On April 14, President Biden announced an unconditional withdrawal of US forces by September 11, the twentieth anniversary of the terror attacks that led to the US military intervention in Afghanistan. The pullout of US and allied troops is well under way and likely to be completed during this month, but the prospects of a negotiated peace appear slim.
An earlier effort by US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad to convince Ghani government and the Taliban to agree on a transitional power-sharing government at a proposed April meeting in Turkey, alongside a UN-sponsored meeting of major regional stakeholders, had proven a non-starter. Angered that the US had reneged on the May 1 pullout date and reluctant to be pressured openly, the Taliban refused to attend any conference on Afghanistan’s future “until all foreign troops withdraw”.
Reportedly persuaded, or pressured, by Pakistan, the Taliban have since agreed to rejoin the peace process, with talks once again resuming in Doha. The group’s leaders have not yet been convinced, however, to disclose their political vision for Afghanistan, beyond vague generalities such as a demand for an Islamic government.
At the same time, the Taliban have also escalated military attacks countrywide, reportedly capturing district centers and threatening provincial capitals, including Kabul. If the peace process fails to make headway, a new and bloodier phase of Afghanistan’s civil war could ensue, with potential consequences for Pakistan’s security. If the Afghan conflict continues, Pakistan, sitting right next door, stands to lose more than any country but Afghanistan itself.
Amidst this scenario, senior Pakistani military and intelligence officials, according to sources told members of Parliament during a closed eight-hour briefing on July 1 that they fear increased violence in neighboring Afghanistan once the US withdrawal is complete.
They told the parliamentary committee that Pakistan was trying to persuade the Taliban to negotiate a settlement to the conflict but, they said, the country’s influence is waning. However, they also said Pakistan has fenced 90 percent of its border with Afghanistan to shield it from increased violence.
China also firmly supports the Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process. The Afghans must take control of their own destiny. No external force is to impose itself on Afghanistan or use Afghanistan for its own selfish gains
China has been mediating between all parties to the Afghan question. As State Councilor Wang has put it, as a close neighbor and sincere friend, China hopes more than any other country for Afghanistan to achieve peace and stability. China sincerely hopes that the two sides of the Afghan peace talks will focus on their common interests, resolve their differences and turn their swords into ploughshares in continued pursuit of a political settlement and an extensive and inclusive framework goal.
A prominent advantage that China enjoys is that it has good relations with both Afghanistan and Pakistan and can play a critical role in building trust between these two neighboring countries as Beijing has already contributed its wisdom and propositions and facilitated such mechanisms as the China-Afghanistan-Pakistan foreign ministers' dialogue, the China-Russia-US consultation, the China-Russia-Iran-Pakistan special representatives meeting and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization-Afghanistan Liaison Group, all designed to serve as a platform and create conditions for peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan.
Having said that a lasting peace in Afghanistan is very important but without the regional actors, namely Russia and Iran, who played similar roles in post-9/11 Afghanistan by supporting the US-led operation and reforming the Afghan government after the collapse of the Taliban peace will be impossible.
Both Russia and Iran have US troop withdrawal in September presents an opportunity for renewed involvement of both Russia and Iran in the Afghan peace process. While the Russian and Iranian perspectives on Afghanistan may vary, their interests converge on key topics related to peace and security; and both countries possess leverage with the Taliban, which if given the chance could be used by both states/actors to play a positive role in the political solution to peace.
Like Russia, Iran is also concerned about the security implications surrounding the future of Afghanistan. Iran’s primary concern is the potential influx of insurgent groups that would fill the vacuum as US and foreign troops leave Afghanistan. Given Iran’s close proximity to Afghanistan, Iran is likely to feel the impact if the country slips into civil war, and fears the likely refugee spillover into Iran as well.
A regional component appears to be the only solution left for Afghanistan short of chaos and civil war, and how if achieved, the ideal outcome would lead to Afghanistan serving as the heart of regional connectivity between South and Central Asia.
A stable Afghanistan is in favor of not only in favor of world powers like US and but also the neighboring countries including Pakistan. The international community needs to take full account of the current situation in Afghanistan, continue providing training, financial and technical support for capacity-building by the Afghan national security forces, help the Afghan side to deal effectively with such threats as terrorism, transnational crime and drug smuggling, support Afghanistan in implementing the National Peace and Development Framework (2021-2025) and jointly tackle poverty, refugees and terrorism.