Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Thursday, September 20th, 2018

Afghan Peace Should Not Fall Victim to Conflicting Priorities of Nations Involved in the Process

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Afghan Peace Should Not Fall Victim to Conflicting  Priorities of Nations Involved in the Process

Since the US direct involvement in Afghanistan in the aftermath of events unfolded after 9/11in 2001, priorities and nature of involvement of US and other countries – mainly the ones forming NATO – kept changing. The initial goal was to capture Osama Bin Ladin, the main suspect who planned and carried out fateful attack on World Trade Center in New York city, which killed and wounded more than three thousand people, and to dismantle his organization – Al-Qaeda. Thousands of US and NATO member countries’ armed forces entered Afghanistan to achieve these goals. Taliban government was toppled by US military mainly because they rejected US demands to handover Osama Bin Ladin and his accomplices to US Government. Strategists and planners in the White House and Pentagon decided to start the process of nation building in Afghanistan parallel to ongoing military campaign to fill the power vacuum created due to Taliban eviction from government. This tedious process was undertaken at a time when most of the focus was to defeat Al-Qaeda and Taliban, and the process of nation building was not given due diligence and attention, which was warranted at the time. Though military campaign, which was focused on the main goals of US intervention, went smooth when it comes to defeating Al-Qaeda and capturing Osama Bin Laden, but political stability, economic development and nation building remained periphery objectives for the entire decade, starting 2001 till 2010. It was later decided to clear out all un-governed space in the country in order to deny safe havens for terrorist organizations and Taliban fighters across the country.
The United States of America and NATO member countries – I would call them as ‘stakeholders’ intervened in Afghanistan in order to defeat terrorists in the country. This was the mandate given to armed forces of these countries in Afghanistan. As the war in Afghanistan prolonged – against the expectations of stakeholders, priorities of mentioned countries changed as well. Democracy inherently calls for elections and change in government policies. These policy changes on the part of stakeholder countries – including the US under Obama administration - caused huge dent in political, economic and military landscape of Afghanistan. Everything seemed to be starting and reviewing a new. Disagreements reached to their peak between US Government i.e. NATO and Afghanistan government concerning the way to move forward. It was almost a tipping point for US government under Obama administration to pull out all forces from Afghanistan due to differences with then Afghan Government headed by Hamid Karzai.
All the pitfalls and unpleasant consequences that had taken huge toll on coalition and Afghan forces in the shape of losing ground to Taliban fighters, which eventually settled for almost 40% of total Afghan geographical area at Taliban fighters’ hands, and the sorry state of economy of Afghanistan, which prompted thousands of educated and young Afghans to flee their country in search of better life to EU countries, had been due to lack of all-inclusive strategy for Afghanistan, and conflicting priorities of different governments that came into power in the US and other NATO member countries. Though leveling the playing fields for political settlement of ongoing military campaign has started with the new government under Trump administration, it is highly recommended that progress made in Afghanistan during the last one and half decade should not be compromised while talking peace with Taliban. Though there have been urgencies initiated at stakeholders’ home countries and their policies, it is sensible to look back and review the progress of one and half decade in Afghanistan, which has been earned by shedding so much blood and so very much resources. Afghans now stand comparatively united, politically alert to their future, committed to build their national institutions, are struggling to achieve economic development in the country. These are major milestones for nation building, which have been achieved. A stronger Afghanistan will accommodate interests of all stakeholders, friendly countries and neighbors in her national agenda. Therefore, it is highly recommended that stakeholder countries accommodate in their priority and national interests, Afghanistan’s political, economic and social stability.
Long term peace is possible when it is all-inclusive, aligned with present Afghanistan realities and alert to national, regional and international sensitivities and rivalries.
Though the Bush (junior) administration during his two terms office had put lots of resources in support of nation building by constructing hundreds of schools and clinics, and building thousands of kilometers of roads across the country, but this huge operation was undertaken without a strategic framework and extensive planning process.
The idea behind building schools, clinics and roads were logical because education would train future generation of the country to take responsibility and control of the country, clinics would take care of the health of population because healthy nation can bring around huge economic benefits, building roads would connect villages, districts and provinces for the people of the areas, who had been locked in smaller geographical areas for hundreds of years,  so that they could trade, interact and communicate with each other.
But nation building requires a strategy with hundreds of moving parts in order to bring about a stable, functioning, inclusive, and economically viable government and a standing nation in the country. Most of the tips and advices were ill-fated, but were given due attention in the process of building the strategy for nation building. For example, Pakistan had advised against building a strong Afghan army, and they consistently opposed this. The price of such ill-fated blips in the decision to build a strong Afghan National Army was huge – both for coalition and Afghan government in later years.  There had been many factors contributing to the kind of lukewarm attention towards building Afghan national institutions, which resulted in a series of spasmodic reactions to events at that time, which – despite of injecting precious resources, manpower and time to the process – lack of strong, inclusive government institutions continued to take toll on the people and government of Afghanistan and proved taxing on US and NATO member countries. Corruption increased many fold, warlords climbed to the summit of power in every government organizations in Kabul and in the provinces. Judiciary and legal institutions had become main source of corruption, which alienated general public from the government and rallied support around forces opposing the government.
Things had almost gone out of control before a re-think to build a viable strategy was agreed upon among the stakeholders in 2011. 
The ongoing efforts to bring peace in the country are commendable. The present government of Afghanistan and its leadership seem to have understanding of the sensitivities lurking around peace talks. It seems all major stakeholders, regional powers and neighboring countries have been taken into confidence in the ongoing peace negotiations. This is the way forward, and the people of Afghanistan are looking forward restlessly to a positive outcome of the ongoing peace negotiations with Taliban so that a strong and peaceful Afghanistan can emerge and stand as an example to the whole world community.

Mohammed Gul Sahibbzada is the permanent writer of the Daily Outlook Afghanistan. He can be reached at mohammed.g.sahibbzada@gmail.com

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