The process of reconciliation with Taliban and other insurgent groups is nothing but grounded in a deadlock with the insurgent side showing no sign of willingness to seriously negotiate towards the goal of bringing a political settlement to the decade-long war. It is clear that the morale of the Taliban and other insurgent groups is high and they increasingly view themselves as inching closer to victory with each passing month.
A total victory for the insurgent groups in the form of overthrowing the government in Kabul is, however, very unlikely given a set of stark realities on the ground. A 300,000 strong Afghan National Security Forces(ANSF) comprised of Army and Police which will reach 375,000 by the end of 2014; significant numbers of NATO-led international forces on the ground even after the completion of the withdrawal plan announced by the Obama administration;the inevitable long-term American military presence in the country with a troop strength of 30,000 to 40,000 which will be stationed in Afghanistan for many more years beyond 2014; and finally the fact that the government in Kabul, however corrupt and inefficient it may be, will nonetheless have international community's significant long-term support are the facts that make a repeat of 1992 very unlikely. Moreover, unlike the years of early 1990s, the global and more important, the regional geo-political setting has undergone a series of massive changes which forestall the possibility of Afghanistan sinking yet again into a geo-political vacuum as it did in early 1980s and 90s.
These facts present us with a long-term horizon in which the ongoing low-intensity warfare might very well turn into a long-drawn war of attrition with neither side able to seal the war's fate to its favor. We are now staring into a very real possibility of the war in Afghanistan dragging on for many more years and draining further the meager resources that Afghanistan has and thus plunging the country into more poverty and destitution as the years pass by.
The key, as I have always maintained, lies in creating a favorable regional geo-political environment in which the regional countries, with honest and forthright participation of extra-regional countries such as the U.S. and other global powers, set aside differences and work out a grand consensus for the purpose of stabilizing Afghanistan. In the absence of such a regional consensus and greater regional consultation and cooperation on this critical issue, the war in Afghanistan, as said, will be condemned to become a long-drawn war of attrition in which Afghanistan will see more of its meager resources wasted and poverty, violence and destitution multiply.
The current disgraceful hubbub in Afghanistan and over Afghanistan is largely characterized by competing interests and rivalries among both regional and extra-regional countries mired in deals and cross-deals with each country trying to out-maneuver and backstab the other in pursuit of narrow, chauvinistic interests. For example, you have the Americans, setting eyes on Pakistan's nuclear assets, trying to drive a wedge between the Pakistan and the Taliban leadership in the hope of weaning away the Taliban from the Pakistanis as part of a wider strategy/plan of targeting Pakistan. On the other hand, you have Iran which views the war in Afghanistan solely through the prism of its long-standing hostilities with the U.S. There cannot be any breakthrough in pacifying Afghanistan and putting an end to the insurgency without the regional and extra-regional countries setting aside their rivalries and working towards constructively addressing the requirements of stabilizing Afghanistan.
No peace in Afghanistan without better Pakistan-US relations
Slowly but surely, another dimension to the issue of the war and peace in Afghanistan is emerging out of the dust of the recent scuffle between the U.S. and Pakistan. The deterioration in relations between Pakistan and the U.S., especially after the killing of Osama bin laden, spells trouble for the situation in Afghanistan. To be certain, there cannot be any breakthrough in the war against Taliban and other insurgent groups such as the fiery and resourceful Haqqani group without active and willing cooperation of our neighbor to the South, Pakistan. Pakistan is well-placed to affect to a great extent developments in the war against militancy and extremism inside Afghanistan. Cooperation of Pakistan with the NATO-led forces inside Afghanistan have so far proved decisive in lowering the momentum of the insurgency on the battlefields.
The plunging of relations between the two countries has the potential of taking away Pakistan's incentive to extend its helping hand in the cause of destroying the momentum of the insurgency on the Afghan soil. It is very likely that it will have the net effect of further complicating the situation inside Afghanistan. Therefore, the rivalry and skirmishes between the U.S. and Pakistan, unfortunately likely to increase in future, and the latter's increasing sense of insecurity and suspicion towards the real intentions of the U.S. amassing troops on its borders will have a direct bearing on the situation inside Afghanistan. Pakistan's growing unease was revealed recently when Pakistani President, Asif Ali Zardari, in a rare moment of diplomatic candor, declared that the U.S.-led NATO's war in Afghanistan poses serious risks and threats to Pakistan's security. Therefore, now we are compelled to view the conflict inside Afghanistan also from the new angle of plunging relations between Pakistan and the U.S.
A deteriorating regional environment and our neighbors' increasing antagonism towards the U.S. and NATO's presence in the region have not and will not help the matters here inside Afghanistan. The process of talks and negotiation with Taliban and other insurgent groups such as the Hizb-e-Islami must be placed within a broader context of regional accommodation and consultation with Pakistan and the U.S. working towards a shared goal and a unified vision of the kind of region and Afghanistan they want to see unfolding in the near-term. The daunting task before the government of Afghanistan and the international community, provided they have a substantive political will, is to mobilize the various countries in the region in a campaign of dialogue, consultation, and enhanced cooperation on the Afghan issue.