It is rightly said that history repeat itself. The phrase is being proved in Afghanistan this time around. The Taliban insurgents are gaining more and more Afghan territory while having offensive capabilities and attacks against Kabul’s defence forces. The abrupt withdrawal of United States’ troops from the country has given an opportunity to insurgent group exploit vulnerabilities of resisting Afghan forces. The US troops left its central base in Afghanistan ‘Bagram Air Base’ without informing new base commander. Since the withdrawal of foreign troops, Taliban have captured almost 1/3 area of Afghanistan. Even Afghanistan frontiers with Pakistan and Tajikistan are under the control of Taliban. These new wave Taliban attack left the country in a chaos and fear of civil war. On the other hand, Taliban are overwhelmed after the withdrawal of foreign forces. They are considering the withdrawal as victory for the insurgents who fought delicately.
The war in Afghanistan continues destroying lives, due to the direct consequences of violence and the war-induced breakdown of public health, security, and infrastructure. Prior wars and civil conflict in the country have made Afghan society extremely vulnerable to the indirect effects of the current war. Those war effects include elevated rates of disease due to lack of clean drinking water, malnutrition, and reduced access to health care. Nearly every factor associated with premature death — poverty, malnutrition, poor sanitation, lack of access to health care, environmental degradation — is exacerbated by the current war.
While Afghanistan has benefited from investments in health care that may ameliorate some of the effects of war, the results are mixed, with improvement in some areas, such as infant mortality, balanced by continuing or growing needs in other elements of public health. About 241,000 people have been killed in the Afghanistan and Pakistan war zone since 2001. More than 71,000 of those killed have been civilians.
The role of regional stakeholders has increased in Afghanistan after the recent offensive of Taliban. It is the time for all major stakeholder including Russia, Pakistan and China to play their part to convince insurgents for dialogues with Afghan government. Consequently, the Afghan-owned dialogues are the only way forward for bring peace in the war-torn country. Similarly, the political tussle rift between Abdullah Abdullah and President Ghani, strengthen Taliban’s campaign in the country. The hawks in Ghani government still have no peace plan for the country. They need to understand the boiling conflict in the country, which is effecting general masses and their way of life. The uncertainty in Afghanistan will have serious repercussions for other neighboring countries as well. A further military escalation in Afghanistan is unlikely to succeed. Indeed it could be counterproductive for several reasons.
Pakistan’s stability has been gravely undermined by the twin blowback from Afghanistan: first the Russian occupation which bequeathed a witches brew of militancy, weapons and drug proliferation and 3 million Afghan refugees; second the unintended consequences of the 2001 US intervention which pushed the conflict into Pakistan and further fuelled the forces of militancy. The conflicts in Afghanistan and Pakistan are interlinked, but they are also distinct. They are linked by the bonds of Pashtun ethnicity; a broadly shared ideology; common links to Al-Qaeda; two way cross border movement and some mutual support.
The impact of a surge and escalation will have negative consequences for Pakistan and its counter-insurgency campaign. It will lead to a further influx of militants and Al-Qaeda fighters into Pakistan. It will enhance the vulnerability of US-NATO ground supply routes through Pakistan, creating what military strategists call the “battle of the reverse front”. It will also overstretch Pakistan’s forces in having to protect the supply lines. It would produce a spike in violent reprisals on “mainland” Pakistan. It could lead to the influx of more Afghan refugees, with further destabilizing effects in the NWFP and Balochistan. Most importantly, it could erode the present fragile political consensus in Pakistan to fight militancy.
A negotiated and progressive de-escalation in Afghanistan will be beneficial to Pakistan. It will further deflate the ideological appeal and political motivations of the TTP and other extremists. I should however, underline that the prospects of Pakistan’s long term stability cannot be viewed solely through the prism of Afghanistan. This will depend on a number of factors. If such arrangements within Afghanistan can be agreed and a regional compact forged to support this, a UN/OIC peacekeeping force, drawn from Muslim countries, could be inducted to implement this.
If situation continues to soar, the spill over on Pakistan may create unrest especially across the Durand Line. Although, Pakistan Army is effectively working to stop infiltration and cross border attacks, Afghan government must act with responsibility to stop is soil being used against Islamabad. Without both countries’ cooperation, it will be difficult to stop cross-border attacks. On the US part, Biden administrations’ abrupt pullout has created security vacuum, and Taliban are taking most out of it. The US should have consulted their Afghan counterparts before its sudden pullout from Bigram base specially. Their abrupt decision left Afghan people and government stunned. Russia, China, Turkey and Iran are also working pro-actively to facilitate peace talks. On Pakistani side, Islamabad has been playing positive role to facilitate peace talks and efforts to end bloodshed in the country. Pakistan will continue to provide Afghan people and government with its political and economic support for the betterment of general masses. Instead of spreading venom against Pakistan especially to praise their Indian bosses, Afghan political and security establishment must acknowledge Islamabad’s positive role and work jointly to mend political, economic and strategic differences.