As the withdrawal of international coalition forces led by United States of America in Afghanistan in 2014 is set firm, western, regional and local political and regional strategists and planners have been prolifically producing views and opinions about the future of Afghanistan – with majority of them casting doubt on the ability of Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP) to protect the country from falling back into the grip of Taliban and other insurgent groups – including Al-Qaeda. But looking at facts and figures based on the past decade of efforts exerted – both by international community and Afghans themselves - we should not ignore the many sparks of possibilities and opportunities that could be fanned into flames of achievements, development, progress and stability in this country - notwithstanding mountains of challenges such as rampant corruption, absence of governance, absence of strong institutions, monopoly of power by certain warlords across the country, absence of economic planning and support and security for investors and businessmen, that still exist.
It might be true that Afghanistan throughout its more than 5000 years known history has gone through turmoil and disturbances, but we have cases in point where certain mechanisms and political tactics worked to maintain stability, achieve progress and development in all fronts – including education, economy and security. A vivid example is the more than 50 years of recent stability that Afghanistan witnessed during the era of Musaheban that started early 20th century till 1979 when socialist forces with active involvement of ex-USSR overturned the last government of Musaheban under Sardar Muhammad Daud Khan.
The present debacle is bequeathed in larger part due to conflicting interests of the outside powers rather than something attributable to the Afghans themselves. During the era of USSR intervention in Afghanistan in the 80s, stability could not be achieved due to rivalries between USSR and USA – with Pakistan and Iran playing regional proxy warfare with hidden and vested interests in Afghanistan, which is now very much at play creating obstacles on the way to stability and political settlement. Violent extremism and religious bigotry were something unknown and alien to Afghans before the war against USSR in the 80s. But during the war against ex-USSR when millions of Afghans took refuge to Pakistan and Iran, CIA and ISI of Pakistan have allowed such religious sentiments foster among Afghan and external fighters from other countries – especially Arabs - in order to give motion and excitement to the fighters that were trained, supported with ammunition and money and sent inside Afghanistan to carry out guerilla attacks against the socialist Afghan government forces and Russian red army.
The commonality of interest between Osama bin Laden, his organization – Al-Qaeda - and the ongoing international, western backed campaign to join forces in the war against ex-USSR in Afghanistan caused CIA to tacitly agree with Osama bin Laden to establish parallel organizational structure and channels to those ones created by CIA and ISI, to garner resources and manpower in support of ongoing war against ex-USSR in Afghanistan in the mainly Arab Muslim world. These parallel structures (CIA-ISI and Al-Qaeda) produced good short term, synergic results until the USSR red army left Afghanistan. But these organizations (Al-Qaeda and others) were left intact after the defeat of USSR in Afghanistan. The United States had withdrawn all out support at once from Afghanistan and left that country with her destiny at stake and exposed to hostile countries such as Pakistan with historic territorial disputes with Afghanistan, and Iran with vested interest in that country. At this time (1992 when the last Russian Tank left Afghanistan), the government of Dr. Najeebullah in Kabul was still in power and institutions were still intact. The government in Kabul extended overtures and offered hand of friendship to Pakistan and to the many Jehadi organizations to join negotiation for the formation of all-inclusive government in Afghanistan. This was not allowed by Pakistan – realizing her interest and future influence in Afghanistan at stake – and continued to support the existing Jehadi organizations. This caused complete annihilation and destruction of Afghanistan’s institutions including army, police, education and intelligence. The nation and the country were hijacked by less than 50000 armed men belonging to various organizations, which were fostered in Iran and Pakistan during the war against ex-USSR. With no system, institutions and defense mechanism in place, Afghanistan was turned into no man’s land and forces belonging to various Jehadi organizations started fighting over power in the capital. Disaster loomed large and more than 50000 innocent civilians including women and children were killed. This intrinsic war was at full play when Taliban appeared on the seen with support of Pakistan’s ISI. Within a matter of two years, Taliban captured Kabul and established ultra-orthodox religious government in the country. This was effectively an invasion by Pakistan as recruits and training of the students (Taliban) were carried out in Pakistan. After the Taliban came in power in Kabul, Al-Qaeda got its niche in the country with much influence over Taliban government. Then came in the incident of 9/11 when United States decided to retaliate against Al-Qaeda and Taliban who harbored Al-Qaeda. By November 2001, Taliban were ousted from Power in Kabul and the stage was set for international military force led by United States.
After the United States toppled Taliban government in 2001 the focus was to chase the enemy and find Osama bin Laden, dismantle his network of warriors and to destroy his terrorist organization in Afghanistan and across the world. In the meantime a parallel effort was undergoing – though with much lesser attention and interest - to establish a central government in Kabul based on the outcome of a conference in Bon, Germany in 2001 immediately after the Taliban were toppled. Efforts were put on to stabilize Afghanistan after the conference in Bon decided to rally around a government in Kabul under the leadership of Mr. Hamid Karzai. In the beginning it looked as if the process of political rehabilitation of Afghanistan was on track. All main players were led in oblivion to the very stark realities of vested interests of regional players – especially Pakistan who invested immense efforts and resources to keep their step in the future set up of Afghanistan – of course at the cost of Afghan nation. This rivalries among regional players – including India, Pakistan and the neighbors in the Northern sphere of Afghanistan – fractured the process of political rehabilitation, hence Taliban were regrouped in an unprecedented manner by ISI in Pakistan. They started attacking NATO – sometimes in a group of 400 people from across the border in Pakistan in to Afghanistan. Other intelligence agencies operating in Afghanistan for other regional powers have also contributed and have done considerable damages in the form of bringing into power small groups in Kabul. The office of the President has become a symbolic figure with no real executive power in any of the provinces – including the capital Kabul. All those small armed groups who were actively involved in the civil war before Taliban and during the reign of Taliban were supported. These groups formed their strong holds in their respective provinces across Afghanistan and aggressively pursued power in Kabul. In order to avoid visible disturbances in the so called ongoing process of formation of a system of governance in Afghanistan, the President and his advisors entrenched these groups in the government – allocating positions as Ministers, deputy ministers, provincial governors and advisors. Not much time was passed when the ecstasy for the new era in Afghanistan on the part of common Afghans or silent majority began to disappear. War intensified, corruption became rampant in the government, compounding the misery of a nation who had hardly took a sigh of relief after more than a decade of civil war in the country.
Things went awry wrong when US Ambassador to Afghanistan, Doctor Zalmai Khalilzad, was pulled out of Afghanistan and assigned with a new role as the US Ambassador in Iraq. With formidable and deeply rooted knowledge of Afghanistan, his political history and a strong administrative ability, Ambassador Khalilzad had delivered a great deal of improvements in the ongoing process of stabilization and political rehabilitation in the country. On the military fronts, the campaign was strong and generals were only to pursue the pre-planned agendas against the enemy. Ambassador Khalilzad provided equal and parallel efforts to stabilize the country. Being Afghan-American, Ambassador Khalilzad was very well placed to deliver the promises of international community to the people of Afghanistan in accordance with the wishes of ordinary Afghans. But immediately after his departure from political and diplomatic scene in Afghanistan, things took a turn for the worst – as mentioned in the foregoing paragraph.