It is October and it was exactly ten years ago in the October of 2001 that the Taliban regime was toppled under the assault of international and Afghan allies. The ouster of the Taliban regime was a turning point in the history of Afghanistan. It promised to not only bring better days for the people of Afghanistan, but also to restore the normalcy Afghanistan had lost on account of decades of war and conflict. The people of Afghanistan have suffered tremendously over the past three decades.
Hundreds of thousands of dead and wounded accompanied with profound socio-economic devastation have catapulted a significant segment of people of Afghanistan to the depth of poverty, misery and destitution. The post-Taliban decade had promised to bring the long-sought panacea to Afghanistan's myriad ills; however, this window of opportunity open before Afghanistan is narrowing by each passing year, rendering futile any hopes of durable peace and stability in our country. Ten years on, what is the balance sheet of Afghanistan and the international community's performance?
Some candid talk
On the crucial front of bringing about durable peace and stability, the performance has been abysmal. The resurgent Taliban insurgency has been met with inadequate response, thus providing the insurgency to thrive and prosper on the failings of Afghanistan and its international partners. Military victories against the Taliban and their allies, despite the "surge" strategy of the U.S. government over the past years, is "fragile" and "reversible" as admitted by American military Generals themselves.
With the Afghan National Security Forces still far from being able to provide fool-proof security to Afghanistan's large swaths, the international coalition's performance is the benchmark to gauge the overall success of the ongoing war against the Taliban and their allies.
Over the past few months, it has become apparent that Taliban are indeed going to remain as formidable forces in the South and East of the country. This ensures that war, in its current shape and form, will be a in a dead-end, becoming a long-drawn war lingering indefinitely into the future. Afghanistan of 2018, in all likelihood, will be still embroiled in war, civil strife and conflict. The chances are very high that the war might indeed spill over into the adjacent territories, engulfing other countries in our vicinity.
The government of Afghanistan is in no position to be able to affect these regional developments to its own favor. The knee-jerk reaction of the government during the recent U.S.-Pakistani spat put on display the sorry state of affairs inside our government.
There has been strong indications that the NATO-led military coalition present in Afghanistan have already reached the conclusion that militant outfits such as the Haqqani network and the Taliban should be accommodated, pleased and a truce reached with them in which they take it upon themselves not to attack Western targets inside Afghanistan. This would mean that these groups, over the coming years, will have ample time and opportunities to further expand, develop and strengthen their war machines. This, by itself, renders impossible the goal of bringing peace and stability to Afghanistan.
The short-lives U.S.-Pakistan spat over the Haqqani network is, by now, over and Pakistan has made to pull off an achievement of sorts in checkmating angry American Generals. Pakistan has been successful in hammering it down the American throat that the U.S. cannot afford to disregard some core Pakistani interests in Afghanistan. The American Generals, including Adm. Mike Mullen, have backtracked for now. The capture of a senior Haqqani commander in eastern Afghanistan, random as it may appear, is in fact directly related to the recent U.S.-Pakistani spat done for the purpose of calming down American nerves.
The capture of Haqqani commander is also made possible in order to enable a channel of dialogue between the U.S. and the Haqqani network. Now, the U.S. is able to forge direct bridges of dialogue with the Haqqanis in order to reach a truce with them in the lead-up to the 2014 deadline. Now, the U.S. and Haqqanis are turned into interlocutors with the initial contacts and dialogue having the potential to enable the both sides make a deal.
Haqqanis as a crime syndicate
The Haqqani network and the Taliban are different in one important respect. The Haqqani network is, unlike the Taliban, more of a crime syndicate with the illegal business activities of the network being the main center of attention.
In sum, Haqqanis are less ideologically-driven and more interested in preserving and expanding their mafia-like business empire than waging Jihad in the way that the villagers of South do within the Taliban movement. While the core of the Taliban are firm in their ideological commitment of driving out the "Afghan" and foreign infidels, the Haqqani network's core, being less ideological, is susceptible to negotiations and deal-making.
The U.S. in Afghanistan is desperate to exploit these natural differences in the ranks of the insurgency and drive a wedge between them. Over the coming months, is the initial American-Haqqanis parleys bear fruit, we would see some marked changes in the way the Haqqani network has been conducting operations. The network might get less noisy and less active in return for concessions made by the American military in the form of allowing them free hand in some parts of the East.
What Afghanistan needs, however, is not these temporary patching of wounds and injuries. The political will must be robust in the U.S.-led international community, our neighbors especially Pakistan as well as our own government to tackle Afghanistan's conflict in a fundamental way. Disregarding the root causes and instead focusing on short-term and short-sighted remedies is a recipe for further turmoil, chaos and disarray inside Afghanistan.
What is largely absent is the kind of active political diplomacy on the part of our own government to use the unfolding regional developments to its favor. While we remain mere spectators and are engulfed in our own divisions, others exploit our weaknesses and our destiny gets scripted in wrong hands. Our reaction, so far, has been blaming others and refusing to put our own act together.