Lasting solution to Afghan crisis

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Lasting solution to Afghan crisis

Ghani’s invitation to the Taliban for peace talks is a last-ditch effort to establish peace in war-torn Afghanistan. The need is to strengthen the security forces and intelligence agencies

Afghanistan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani took a bold step on February 28 when he offered peaceful negotiations to the Taliban to put an end to the internal strife that has continued since the past 16 years. He agreed to give several concessions to the Taliban, including discussions about the presence of foreign troops, release of prisoners, fresh elections, review of the present Constitution, recognition to the Taliban as a lawful political organisation. Besides, he also promised them passports and permission to open offices in Kabul.

Ghani, who put forward the proposal at the Second Kabul Process Conference for Peace and Security Cooperation where officials of 25 countries had gathered to ascertain ways to end insurgency, also mentioned that negotiations could be held in Kabul or at any other place.

The fact that Ghani, who always used words like “terrorists” and “rebels” to refer to the Taliban, offered unconditional peace talks to them, indicates that he is under pressure and has realised that he is in no position to control or exterminate them. Taliban leaders acknowledged that they have been facing pressure from friendly countries to come to the talking table. The Afghan President renewed an offer of talks with Pakistan to participate in the negotiations and said that friendly countries must influence Pakistan to participate in the negotiations.

Meanwhile, forces of the US-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization enhanced air strikes on terrorist hideouts in Pakistan to weaken their strength so that they could come to the negotiating table. US drone attacks killed few top terrorist leaders, including Mullah Fazlullah, leader of Pakistan’s Taliban. Although bombardments damaged the terrorists’ bases, their control on land was not minimised. They continued with their attacks on the Afghan security forces and carried out terrorist activities not only in the suburbs but also in Kabul.

Day by day, law and order situation is worsening and the Taliban is capturing new areas. The Afghan National Security Force (ANSF) is in no position to control the rising influence of terrorist outfits like the Islamic State (IS). Besides, the ANSF is suffering from rampant corruption, forces are ill-trained and weapons have become obsolete. The IS pays more wages to its cadre than the ANSF. As a result, many soldiers have abandoned ANSF to join terrorist outfits.

The Government in Afghanistan also announced the extension of a unilateral ceasefire with the Taliban before its expiry on June 20. In a televised interview, Ghani stated that his Government was ready for “comprehensive negotiations” but terrorist outfits refused to extend the ceasefire and made it clear that operations against the security forces would resume. Several world leaders, including Saudi King Salman Abdulaziz, welcomed Ghani’s decision to renew the ceasefire. Prime Minister Modi, while speaking at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, too appreciated President Ghani for announcing a unilateral ceasefire.

Analysts are of the view that the Taliban feels that they are winning and foreign forces are so fatigued that they will either go back or their numbers will be slashed. As ANSF is in no position to counter them, they would enhance their area of control. Hence, there is no need for them to negotiate. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction also confirmed that the control of the Government in Afghanistan has decreased since 2009 and the control of militants is on the rise.

Ghani is desperate to negotiate with the Taliban as the IS is posed to increase its influence in Afghanistan. After the IS was uprooted from Iraq and Syria, it is now trying hard to establish itself in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It has constituted its arm in Afghanistan called the Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISKP). This means the establishment of the Islamic Caliphate that will be governed by Shariat. The idea of Islamic Caliphate has attracted a large number of fanatic Muslims who are in abundance in Afghanistan and neighbouring Pakistan.

Several world powers consider that the growing influence of the IS in Afghanistan will be detrimental to them as well as to world peace. The US feels that if the IS becomes powerful in Afghanistan, the situation will become worse than what it was when they  were ruled by the Taliban. With a large population of Shia Muslims, Iran has direct threat from the Salafi IS as they allege that Shias are not true Muslims. Russia has a sizable Muslim population and the IS will assist them in revolting against the Government. China is also facing revolt in its largest administrative region, Xinjiang, where Uighur Muslims are fighting for independence. The IS would certainly assist Uighurs in their fight for the establishment of an independent Muslim country.

Pakistan, which is creating trouble in Afghanistan, does not want the IS influence to increase as several terrorist outfits in Pakistan will openly support the IS. Several Western countries too are against the IS strengthening its base in Afghanistan as disenchanted Muslim youths in their country can work as ‘lone wolves’.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping held a two-day  informal meeting at Wuhan in April this year. Apart from taking several crucial decisions, they decided to launch joint economic projects in war-ravaged Afghanistan.

The coming together of the two countries came as a major jolt to Pakistan which diligently wants to keep India away from Kabul. Beijing’s agreement to a joint project with India is indicative of the fact that China accepts India’s justifiable role in Afghanistan.

It is expected that both India and China will start joint projects in other counties as well. Afghanistan is just the beginning. China has always wanted to increase its influence in Afghanistan. For the first time Beijing tried this with Islamabad but because the latter was involved in carrying out terrorist activities in Afghanistan and there were several unmistakable evidences that sinister Inter-Services Intelligence was assisting diverse terrorist outfits, especially the Haqqani network, it was not possible.

China also held a trilateral meeting of Foreign Ministers of Afghanistan, Pakistan and China in 2017 but Beijing realised that India was a better partner as it had a positive image in Afghanistan. If India and China work together in Afghanistan it may bring peace to the war-torn nation. China will also force Pakistan not to assist and shelter terrorist outfits involved in carrying out terrorist activities in Afghanistan.

Watchers in Afghanistan claim that the Taliban is not only divided, disjointed and faction-ridden but also fully undisciplined. Hence, not only is negotiation difficult but implementation of the agreement looks seemingly impossible.

The Afghan Government must strengthen the ANSF and equip it with latest weapons. The intelligence department must be reinforced and it should be able to gather actionable intelligence. Officers and staff should be highly motivated although it is difficult to get actionable intelligence in disturbed areas.  Security forces can break the backbone of the terrorist outfits if they get intelligence at the right time. If ANSF becomes stronger, the Afghan Government’s dependence on foreign forces will be reduced. This is the need of the hour.

(The writer is a member of United Services Institute of India and Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis. Views expressed are personal)

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