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The quest for Afghan peace.

Peace has remained elusive for most Afghans ever since the seeds of conflict were sown after the abolition of the monarchy in 1973. In 1978, with the toppling of the Daoud government, armed resistance began to take root. Since then, Afghanistan has never looked back. Just when there was some hope of normalcy returning to the war-ravaged country with the departure of most coalition forces, the situation now looks even gloomier. In the last one year alone, more than 150,000 Afghans left the country as expectations for a better future subsided and uncertainty took hold. Despite the massive infusion of funding into the country over the last 14 years, the socioeconomic statistics are frightening. Unemployment, hovering at 50 per cent, is a grim reminder of the fact that the country is easily one of the poorest on the planet; 90 per cent of its GDP comes from external inflows or spending by coalition forces.

The resistance forces either control, administer or have influence in decision-making in more than 50 per cent of the territory. A proof of that claim (verified by several surveys) is the fact that convoys of Afghanistan's armed forces and coalition forces have to pay taxes to the resistance forces when passing through their territory. Chinese and other foreign companies working in the country on oil, gas and mineral exploration have to pay similar taxes to ensure the security of their employees. Some governors of provinces have to reach an understanding with the local Taliban commanders to ensure their own security. Although groups such as Fidayee Mahaz, the East Turkestan Islamic Movement and the IS control a very small area compared to the Taliban, their presence and activities have cast a shadow over prospects of stability.

This picture of several groups desperately trying to gain influence at the expense of one another has created an acute environment of fear. Right now, what is at stake is not only the unity and integrity of an important country but also the stability and economic prosperity of a troubled region. Afghanistan sits on mineral ores worth more than $1 trillion; it has, besides oil and gas, huge deposits of copper, lithium, precious stones and manganese. The country is a bridge between South Asia and resource-rich Central Asia. It shares a long border with Iran, which is poised to play a major role in the region following its recent nuclear agreement with the US. The Chinese economic initiatives that are being launched in the energy, commerce and other sectors would certainly provide a tremendous boost to the fragile economy of war-shattered Afghanistan if the conflict were to end.

Despite all the gloom, there are three reasons for hope and optimism. First, the Afghan National Army (ANA) has not buckled under pressure in areas from where the foreign forces have departed. The ANA has managed to hold its ground. Second, there is this feeling of war-weariness in the population. More than 35 years of conflict have devastated the country and its people. There is a deep yearning for peace. Third, a split has occurred in the ranks of the once cohesive and integrated Taliban hierarchy. Apart from the fissures that have opened up after Mullah Omar's death, their authority has been challenged by the advent of organisations like the IS.

The elite of the country, with their villas in the Gulf and Europe, would like foreign forces to stay on indefinitely so that they may enjoy the fruits of their 'enterprise'. They would stand in the way of any reconciliation that threatens their position. A bigger obstacle is the belief in a narrative that has been constantly repeated and one which does not seem to find any resonance in the calculations of those who have taken up arms against the government and its foreign abettors. There is this conviction that the country has a viable system that is rooted in participatory democracy, based on the will of the people and reflected in the functioning of parliament. This has not been accepted by the Taliban as they feel that this edifice was constructed by the West. This refusal to accept the democratic structure can be addressed by making the Afghan Constitution a bit more compatible with religious law. The other major roadblock to bringing elements within the Taliban into the mainstream is the continued presence of some foreign forces on Afghan soil. There is also a need to establish a broad understanding between the Taliban and the government, on how the Taliban could be integrated into the political, electoral and administrative landscape. This can be a difficult task, but not an impossible one.

The Afghans have the ability to work out the contours of a broad understanding that deals conclusively with all contentious issues, barring any foreign interference. Pakistan's stake in a peaceful Afghanistan is larger than any other country's. Forcing the Taliban to sit for negotiations is the easy part. But with no consensus on the issues confronting the interlocutors, making any headway is difficult. Most Pakistani leaders have little idea of the genesis of the conflict or what is it all about.

Regional countries have a role to play. Mere pledges that they will not intervene directly or covertly and will not support one group or another are not enough. They should invest in Afghans and Afghanistan. It is time that Pakistan and India take each other into confidence on their roles in Afghanistan. Any objection by Islamabad on India's role in Afghanistan causes severe resentment in Kabul. Islamabad must recognise Kabul's right to foster closer ties with India, a country that has had relations with Afghanistan for over two millennia. - Express Tribune

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Publication:Times of Oman (Muscat, Oman)
Geographic Code:9AFGH
Date:Dec 13, 2015
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