By Torek Farhadi
Peace and prosperity can come anywhere from good neighbourly relations, the opposite is also true, Afghans know it too well.
Since its creation in 1947, following the partition of India, Afghan governments have had an ambivalent relationship with Pakistan as an independent State.
Our undeclared strife goes back to the time of the British Mortimer Durand who had traced a border between Afghanistan and the then British India in 1893. The so-called Durand line, according to the original document had one hundred years of validity until 1993 only. This line was established as a border between Afghanistan and the then British India. Over the last hundred and twenty seven years, the world, including Pakistan has also recognized it as the de facto international border, recently fencing 70% of its length. However, in Afghanistan it is
close to treason to recognize it as a border because it separates us from our 35 million ethnic Pashtun brothers and sisters on the Pakistani side. There are close to 17 million Pashtuns living in Afghanistan. The Durand line remains a major irritant between the two countries.
Fast forward now to the recent Chapter of Afghanistan’s history post September 11, 2001, which also involved American and international military and civilian presence as well as their sacrifices in blood and treasure in our common fight against terror.
Since late 2002, Pakistan has carried on a low intensity war in Afghanistan through the resurgence of the Taliban, a militia it had created in 1994 as a proxy following the withdrawal of the Soviet Union and an ensuing civil war in the country between Mujahiddin factions, in order to put in place a weak and pliable Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
The Taliban, firebrand Islamic extremists also gave refuge to Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda during their reign in Afghanistan. In the late 90’s, Afghanistan had turned into a failed State after the Soviet withdrawal.
For decades, including after September 11 2001, Pakistan relations with Afghanistan have been predominantly managed by the generals and its spy services. In addition, Afghanistan’s overtures over the past two decades towards its nuclear arch-rival India have not gone well in Pakistan.
Post 2001, Pakistan, while a recipient of generous US aid, has also managed to shelter Osama Bin Laden and all the different varieties of Taliban, Haqqani and other leaders providing their fighters military training, and a rear base for rest and retreat. All these factions were potentially useful fighters against India as well.
The Afghan war itself has been bloody and destabilizing for all parties involved. In total, over 5,000 combined American and coalition forces have lost their lives in Afghanistan. This, without counting the contractors fighting alongside the coalition troops. Close to 150,000 Afghan soldiers and civilians have lost their lives as well.
The country itself never fully enjoyed the short lived dividend of the post Al Qaeda international intervention and its accompanying financial support. Afghanistan did enjoy the creation of a new vibrant civil society, moderate women empowerment in the cities and a free press over the last 18 years, but all these gains are fragile to maintain after of an almost certain withdrawal of American and coalition forces and if violence continues.
Today, large swaths of the country are controlled by the Taliban. The successive Kabul Governments’ corruption and nepotism has also resulted in the local population sitting on the fence waiting for a clear signal which side would win this protracted conflict. The lack of authority of the central government and Taliban’s tolerance has also allowed narcotics traffickers to have a field day in Afghanistan, multiplying the export volumes of drugs from Afghanistan through Iran and Central Asia towards Europe and beyond. All in all, over the past two decades, the international community spearheaded by the U.S spent close to one trillion dollars towards the military foray and aid to Afghanistan.
Today however, Afghanistan’s infrastructure is in shambles, parts of the territory infested with land mines from the soviet days but also recent ones. Afghanistan has an estimated half a million widows, 1.6 million orphansand 4 million disabled. Who to blame, the Taliban, the Afghan leaders not having a clear vision for peace, perhaps successive U.S. administrations who until the Presidency of Donald Trump were strongly guided by the military establishment, ambivalent about leaving Afghanistan while giving a part victory to the Taliban. And of course Pakistan.
Truth is, all Afghans are very thirsty for peace and tired of enmity with Pakistan, a majority Muslim neighbour which welcomed more than four million Afghan refugees during the soviet invasion period (1978-1989). Over 1.6 million Afghan refugees are still living in Pakistan; their children have been welcomed in their schools and benefited from good quality education over the decades. This, as opposed to the different treatment Afghan refugees received in Iran, following the soviet invasion.
Afghan children for the most part were not allowed to attend Iranian universities.
Today, the majority of Afghans would rather have better trade, transit and cultural relationships with Pakistan. Afghanistan is a landlocked country and its natural and largest trading partner is Pakistan. A few years ago, Pakistan’s exports to Afghanistan reached $ 4 billion per year before dwindling to $1 billion per year during Ashraf Ghani’s Presidency amid worsening relations between the two countries. A friendly Pakistan can offer Afghanistan access to sea through its’ Karachi and Gwadar ports. Afghanistan can offer Pakistan access to its own 33 million population strong market as well as safe and economical transit routes to central Asian markets and land corridors to Russia, Azerbaijan and Turkey.
For Afghans, the time has come for a settlement with Pakistan. We have to resolve our differences by creating expert negotiating teams on both sides for all the above topics of discord amongst the two nations. The Afghan Government should not miss the chance for peace. Through regional security and good Afghan-Pakistani relations, peace will save many lives and will open the door to prosperity for Afghans, our Pakistani and Central Asian neighbours. Russia and China, very concerned with Islamic extremism would welcome more regional stability in their proximity neighbourhoods as well. Absent a negotiated peace, after the U.S troops’ exit, Afghanistan could descend into a deeper cycle of violence, if the current
one is not sordid enough. The new cycle would undoubtedly involve Iran and its’ proxy fighters as well. Afghanistan would become a failed State again.
There is no winner in this war. Afghan leaders, including the Taliban should step up to the plate and reach peace for the benefit of all involved.
Torek Farhadi, Adviser to former President Karzai (2002-2003), Former Adviser to the IMF, World Bank’s IFC and the United Nations/WTO in Geneva (2004-2019)