The Future of Afghanistan
Key to success in Afghanistan lies in understanding the Afghan mind-set, and that means understanding their culture and engaging the Afghans with respect to the system of governance that has worked for them in the past. A successful outcome in Afghanistan requires balancing tribal, religious and government structures. There are also models that believe that the future of Afghanistan lies in smaller units/countries. This model views the breakup of Afghanistan along ethnic lines and takes the task of divide and rule to its logical conclusion. Proponents of federalism for Afghanistan would like to see the country divided on ethnic, linguistic or economic basis. This would give ethnic groupings the freedom to shape their own social and cultural affairs, without the need for national coordination of the same. It would also mean dividing the country geographically into perhaps north and south or east, south and the west, along with the northern division.23
Ten years after its initial intervention, the international communitys involvement in Afghanistan is now being heavily influenced by an ISAF-agreed 2014 deadline, when plans to transfer security and civilian control back to Afghans are due to come into force.
A federal system for Afghanistan would make it closer to becoming a Yugoslavia. Although the religious divide in Afghanistan is not between faiths but within the one faith of Islam, ethnic groupings are diverse. However, throughout Afghan history, the ethnic makeup of the society has led the Afghans to cherish their status as Afghans rather than members of the ethnic groupings. The name “Afghan” has become synonymous with a freedom-loving nation that has never accepted foreign rule.24 Afghanistan has been a nation state since 1761, and even though Afghanistan has suffered severe internal wars and coups, the country and its people have shown remarkable resilience.
Today, there are more Pashtuns and Tajiks in Afghanistan than in Pakistan and Tajikistan, respectively. This situation has given rise to a political fear in Afghanistan’s neighbours.
Robert Blackwill, a former official in the Bush administration and a former U.S. ambassador to India, is one of the advocates of the partition of Afghanistan. Blackwill recently wrote that since the U.S. cannot win the current war in Afghanistan, it should consider a de facto partition of the country, handing over the Pashtun south to the Taliban and propping up the north and the west, where Uzbeks, Tajiks and Hazaras live. Such a partition, he writes, “is now the best that can realistically and responsibly be achieved.”25
Today, there are more Pashtuns and Tajiks in Afghanistan than in Pakistan and Tajikistan, respectively. This situation has given rise to a political fear in Afghanistans neighbours. On the other hand, the mostly Shiite Iran eyes a strong influence over the minority Shiites of Afghanistan. Furthermore, the Baluchis live in the three neighbouring countries of Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan. Ahmed Rashid argues that a federal system in Afghanistan may make it easier for Afghanistans neighbours to further intervene in the affairs of the country in favour of the ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities that they support and want to befriend. That in itself would create the danger of disintegration. It is best that the international community works together for a centralised strong but just system of government that would guarantee unity of the nation and maintenance of its sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Talking to the Taliban
One of the most recent initiatives towards a political solution to the Afghan issue has been attempts to talk to the Taliban in Afghanistan. The idea of talking to what the British euphemistically called “moderate” Taliban arose two years ago, and since then efforts have been made to get the Taliban to shed the gun. Most recently, the Americans have got into the act as honest brokers, aiming to get the Taliban to talk to the government of Hamid Karzai and lay down arms.26
Despite India’s recent statements supporting the moves by the Karzai government about the dialogue with the Taliban, history tells us otherwise. Both the U.S. and India know who created the Taliban and to what purpose.
At the end of 2011 came news that the talks had reached a critical juncture and it will soon become clear if the Taliban is serious about talks. The Taliban has indicated that talks are of no use till such time that foreign troops withdraw from Afghan soil.27 The U.S. plans to withdraw from Afghanistan by 2014. It has been reported that in mid-2010, Karzai had a face-to-face meeting with Sirajuddin Haqqani, head of a prominent Pakistan-propped terror network, in the presence of Pakistans army chief of staff and the ISI chief.28
At the close of the year came reports that Afghanistans High Peace Council, in a note to foreign missions, had set out ground rules for engaging the Taliban. This happened after the United States and Qatar, helped by Germany, secretly agreed with the Taliban to open an office in the Qatari capital, Doha.