by Zia Sarhadi (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 49, No. 8, Safar, 1442)
While intra-Afghan talks are underway in Doha, Qatar—and that is the good news—every outsider has parroted the line that it must be ‘Afghan-owned’ and ‘Afghan-led’. True, but why then have outside powers been interfering in Afghan affairs for the last forty years? The chief culprit is the US.
Even though the two principal antagonists—the Taliban resistance movement and the US-installed regime in Kabul—are talking to each other, there is no love lost between them. They are far apart in their expectations. The Taliban reject the US-imposed constitution in Afghanistan. They want a constitution based on Islamic law that would reflect the aspirations of the overwhelming majority of people. The regime’s point man, Abdullah Abdullah is clinging to the US-bequeathed constitution because he knows that that is the only way to retain some power and leverage in the country. He has said the regime would be prepared to make amendments to the constitution but not throw it out the window completely.
There is little room for compromise in these two divergent positions. The Taliban are in the driver’s seat. They fought the Americans for 19 years and brought them to their knees forcing them to negotiate with the resistance group. This was the Taliban’s demand all along: direct negotiations with the US and not the puppet regime in Kabul. They ultimately prevailed because Washington could no longer sustain the war despite killing hundreds of thousands of innocent Afghans.
The Kabul regime is in a very weak position. Its foreign backers continue to use such side issues as ‘women’s rights’ and ‘minorities rights’ to undermine the Taliban. The most hypocritical statement was made by Indian Foreign Minister Subramanyam Jaishankar when the talks first began. He said the Doha talks should “respect national sovereignty and territorial integrity of Afghanistan, promote human rights and democracy, ensure interest of minorities, women and the vulnerable, effectively address violence across the country.”
Jaishankar is part of a fascist regime that has systematically targeted minorities and women in India. The 185 million Muslims and 200 million Dalits are attacked and murdered by regime-backed vigilantes. And the Modi regime of which Jaishankar is a part, has been involved in conflict with each of its neighbors. It takes gall for him to talk about minority rights and democracy when his own regime is viciously trampling upon them!
The Taliban side led by Abdul Hakim Haqqani, who had served as Minister of Justice in the Taliban government (1996-2001), has stuck to the demand that they would settle for nothing less than a proper Islamic constitution. They have categorically rejected the current constitution and view it as a foreign-imposed document reflecting occupation and subjugation.
The resistance group has said that they would respects the rights of women including their right to education but it would be within the framework of Islam. The West and their Afghan puppets have a different view of women’s rights. They want to impose western standards on Afghanistan. While some Afghan women may have accepted these values, the overwhelming majority of Afghans reject such western notions.
The same applies to the rights of minorities. Afghanistan is a patchwork of tribes. The predominant ethnic tribal group is the Pashtuns that make up the Taliban rank and file. While no precise statistics are available, it is believed that they constitute more than 50% of Afghanistan’s population. The other ethnic groups are Tajiks, comprising about 18-20% of the population (Abdullah Abdullah is a Tajik while Afghan president Ashraf Ghani is a Pashtun), Uzbeks make up 10-12% while the Hazaras (the country’s Shia population) the rest.
Historically, the Tajiks and Uzbeks have usurped much larger share of state resources and positions in government than their numbers warrant. Not surprisingly, they want to retain these privileges, an attempt resisted by the Taliban in the current talks.
As a landlocked country, Afghanistan is dependent on its neighbours for transit facilities. Two countries in particular have been badly affected by more than 40 years of war in Afghanistan: Pakistan and Iran. Both also host millions of Afghan refugees and would like to see them return home. This may be an unrealistic expectation since many Afghans have, over the 40-year period, settled in these countries. This is especially true of Pakistan where the Afghans have established colonies and opened small shops selling goods. A large part of the transport business in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province is also in the hands of Afghans.
It is interesting to note that Afghanistan’s northern neighbors—Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan—do not host any Afghan refugees, or at least not in significant numbers. The burden of looking after the refugees has fallen on the shoulders of Pakistan and Iran, both countries experiencing severe economic challenges for a variety of reasons.
Iran and Pakistan want peace in Afghanistan so that their societies can begin to move toward some kind of normalcy. Two countries are preventing peace from being restored: India and the US, for separate reasons. Delhi has used Afghanistan as a springboard for terrorist activities in Pakistan. It would like to continue this policy although with the intra-Afghan peace talks, Indian mischief-making has been somewhat curtailed. It would, however, be unrealistic to expect that India would give up entirely. It has cultivated close links with the US-backed rulers in Kabul that have hitherto shown great hostility to Pakistan. There are also close links between Indian and Afghan intelligence agencies, again directed against Pakistan.
The US, on the other hand, while anxious to get its troops out, will not abandon the country entirely. American officials have at various times said they will continue to have intelligence assets in Afghanistan. These will be used against Iran, Pakistan, China and Russia.
Thus, looking at the future, Afghanistan is not likely to achieve peace anytime soon despite the ongoing talks. Terrorist groups like ISIS and Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) are using Afghan soil to carry out terrorist operations in Pakistan. The latter has called upon the Afghan government to rein in these terrorist outfits. It has so far failed or refused to do so.
If the Taliban come to power—and there is little doubt that they would—the terrorist outfits would be put out of business. The region can then hope for some peace and tranquility. That day, however, is still far away.