Inaction against the Taliban could be the biggest spoiler

By Imtiaz Gul (from Kabul)

The Afghanistan Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity (APAPPS) is the new buzzword in the bilateral discourse. More so in Kabul, where skepticism accompanies the excitement arising out of the new mechanism for engagement. Discussions with Afghan leaders such as Chief Executive Dr Abdullah Abdullah, MPs and officials lead one to the conclusion: APAPPS is a great news after a long time but much of the onus of success rests on actions against those behind the rampant violence in Afghanistan.

And “those behind” is a euphemism for Taliban leaders thought to be in Pakistan. ‘How can we be exchanging pleasantries and ideas of peace with Pakistani interlocutors when the string-pullers of violence go unquestioned,’ is an oft-heard comment here.

The expectation in Kabul is that ‘those behind’ terror attacks should not feel safe and they must not think they can continue piling misery on innocent Afghans as their hosts seek ways of peace and cooperation with Kabul government.

The Taliban shall have to either come to negotiations or pay the price for their obstinacy, is the overriding consensus on how to deal with the militia.

Asked to identify possible spoilers in the new bilateral dialogue, Afghan leaders and officials single out ‘inaction’ against the so-called irreconcilable Taliban as the biggest spoiler. Although both sides have agreed to keep their talks under APAPPS insulated from acts of violence, yet the sense one gathers in Kabul is that continuing engagement without demonstrable reduction in violence might not be easy. And by implication, Pakistan is seen as the key to reduction in violence by virtue of its influence over Taliban.

Unfortunately, this perception largely overlooks the multiple vested interests that are driving the conflict in Afghanistan.

However, John Sopko, the current US special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction (SIGAR), and the four-star General John Rutherford Allen, who commanded 150,000 U.S. and NATO forces (from July 2011 to February 2013) offer a view that is at variance with that of most Afghan officials and leaders.

When asked about Pakistan’s role in the Afghan insurgency, John Sopko, who has since 2012 meticulously been laying bare the systemic fraud and lacunas in the US security and development efforts, told a gathering at Brookings Institution on May 24, “We keep referring to Pakistan as being the key problem. But the problem also was that the Afghan government at times was viewed very negatively by their local people and what you really need is to insert a government that the people support, a government that is not predatory, a government that is not a bunch of lawless warlords. That is a key thing and that was one of the things I did not talk about. When we poured so much money into these unstable environments we contributed to the problem of creating more warlords, more powerful people who basically take the law into their own hands. So, in essence, the government we introduced, particularly some of the Afghan local police forces, which were nothing other than warlord militias with some uniforms on, were just as bad as the terrorists before them.”

General John, now the president of the Brookings Institution, also offered a sobre assessment of the intricacies of US-Pakistan relations: “For a long time, I believed that peace in Afghanistan passed through Islamabad and Rawalpindi. In many respects, I now think that the longterm stability of Pakistan passes not just through Islamabad and Rawalpindi but also through Kabul. So, getting the Pakistanis, the Afghans and the international community to have a similar view that a stable Afghanistan, one that has the capacity both for governmental stability, security to the population, and very importantly, a viable reinvigorated economy, is not just important to Afghanistan it is also important to the long term stability of Pakistan.”

These conflicting views on the root causes of Afghanistan’s woes are likely to muddy waters as both nations move on the path to reconciliation and all sorts of cooperation. Moderating expectations in an extremely complex situation will represent another big challenge beside the inaction (against Taliban) that Afghan officials keep repeatedly referring to.

The author is the executive director, CRSS.

Published in Daily Times, June 25th 2018


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