When Peace Returns…
The withdrawal of US and NATO forces from Afghanistan will hardly bring peace to the war-racked country.
Normally, independence from the foreign yoke after more than four decades should have been a moment of joy and celebration for any nation. But today, Afghanistan is a country deeply divided at several levels and faces the spectre of an intensification of civil war. The Taliban are reported to be moving at lightning speed to maximize their military gains. The intra-Afghan talks have reached an impasse as the Taliban see a military victory.
Several bilateral and multilateral attempts by neighbouring countries such as Pakistan, Russia and China, have failed in persuading the Afghans to work out a peaceful settlement. Deep anxiety and fear persist among its peace-loving citizens as to what the future holds for them. Despite the civil war and instability in Afghanistan, the majority of its youth do not want to migrate and are hoping that there will be a political settlement. Neighbouring countries have their own concerns as to what measures they should take to prevent the ill effects of thousands of refugees pouring in as Afghanistan undertakes the journey towards freedom from foreign rule.
The Pakistan government has planned to set up camps close to the border so that Afghan refugees do not spread into different parts of the country. Keeping the Afghan refugees isolated from mainstream Pakistan is not going to be easy as same tribes straddle both sides of the border. Hopefully, the international community and the UN organizations would provide financial and material assistance for the fresh wave of Afghan refugees, otherwise Pakistan, whose economy is already overstretched, would find it very difficult to sustain itself.
With the wisdom of hindsight and closer scrutiny of the prevailing situation in Afghanistan, the Pakistan government and armed forces have taken several preventive measures to reduce the adverse fallout. Fencing nearly a 2000 km border is no ordinary feat, considering the high altitude, nature of terrain and the spread of mines and militant activity that the troops have been facing. In view of the precarious security situation, the strength of the border force has been increased. But still challenges remain for which Pakistan and regional countries should be prepared and coordinate their responses. For nearly four decades, Pakistan has hosted 3.5 million refugees which regrettably, neither the Afghan government nor the international community has duly acknowledged.
The Biden administration has assured the Afghan government of its economic and military support and reiterated it would use its Special Forces against Al Qaida and terrorist elements. However, it seems to have no plans to help Afghanistan’s neighbouring countries, should the situation deteriorate in these regions in the coming months Surprisingly, the ideological aspect of the Afghan conflict is seldom discussed, although the consequences would have a farreaching impact in the region. The Afghan government, notwithstanding its failings, represents, at least on the surface, a progressive worldview and operates in a democratic framework, however, faulty it may be. Despite the fact that the present Taliban leadership has clearly learnt from their past mistakes, they still have a relatively narrow and antiquated vision and, instead of contesting elections, continues to seek power through the barrel of the gun. This is not something that Pakistan or neighbouring countries can afford to overlook. People in Afghanistan are nervous and fear an uncertain future underscored by instability. The neighbouring countries, Iran, Russia, China, Pakistan and Central Asian States, are supportive of a political solution. Instability in Afghanistan will spill over in neighbouring countries and Pakistan and Iran would be the worst affected. Moreover, if the Taliban impose their writ, external support would be denied.
The writer is a retired lieutenant general of the Pakistan Army and a former federal secretary. He has also served as chairman of the Pakistan Ordnance Factories Board.