Thank you for remembering Afghanistan and inviting me to share my views and thoughts about the current challenges in Afghanistan and potential perspectives and possibilities for peace.
I would like to take the next 20-25 minutes to look back at the Afghan conflict, some of its root causes, the current challenges in Afghanistan based on my contacts within the country and the Afghan diaspora, and finally propose what can be achievable given the current disastrous situation the Afghans are in. I must also highlight that the situation inside Afghanistan cannot be analyzed independently of the regional and global politics for Afghanistan has always been the victims of Realpolitik and its people have paid the heaviest price for geopolitics.
After the fall of the Afghan government, Anas Haqqani tweeted the following:
We made history again. The 20-year long occupation of Afghanistan by the United States & NATO has ended tonight. I am very happy that after 20 years of jihad, sacrifices & hardships I have this pride to see these historic moments. I pray for the souls of all the martyrs of Jihad.
Anas is the son of Jalaluddin Haqqani who fought both the Soviets and the US. What he says is important to highlight here, he celebrates Jihad and its win. His statement is factual because he is celebrating the West’s investment on the concept of Jihad proposed by Zia-ul-Haq in the late 70s to defeat the Soviet Union. Jihad won as a political and military tool, because the West nurtured it during the cold war and allowed it to exist during the war on terror.
It is also known as a fact today that most of the Jihadi groups that ruled Afghanistan in the past 20 years were on intelligence payrolls, they were created for destruction as militant or militia groups and they were not created or nurtured for governance.
In years of War on Terror, in my exchange with some Westerns development aid experts, advisors and diplomats, I was often told that “The West was responsible for institutional building and not nation building”. However, institutions are built by people and if those people are the Jihadis the West supported in the Cold War to remove the Taliban from the scene, it was not institutional building but rather an act of revenge based on reactionary miscalculations. The Bonn Conference exemplified this rushed, reactionary decision to involve those elements of Afghan decision makers that were previous Mujahideen and loyal to the US interest, to the surprise of Afghans, even the King was sidelined from the Afghan politics and was used as a pawn.
The Doha agreement once again was replacement of one Jihadi group by others, who over 20 years of War on Terror were responsible for guerilla warfare, bombing, suicide bombing, looting, and kidnapping- in simple words destruction. The biggest sacrifice and price are paid by Afghans whose opinions were never considered and Afghans who were progressive and open minded.
I would like to share two anecdotes that will confirm how the West did not want to create space for open minded, progressive Afghans. In 2008, while talking to a German diplomat, I asked why the West doesn’t make use of the military expertise of my father’s military officers to fight the Taliban aggressive come back. His answer was, with the current US government that might not be possible. Your father’s military officers were trained by the Soviets.
During the recent peace process before the Doha Agreement was signed, I visited Berlin and spoke to diplomats who were keen that I participate in Qatar. I remember telling them, in what role do you wish that I participate, and their answer was whatever that you please. As a civil society member and someone who has researched reconciliation, it is important that we have representatives from all Afghans in the talks, be it those who left the country because of the leftist take over, or those leftists who left the country because of the Mujahideen or those Mujahideen that were ousted due to Taliban. I was told we are not here for social engineering, and I told him I don’t want you to do social engineering, that is up to us, I want us to have space for all Afghans including the leftist, progressive, open minded and from all walks of life, monarchists to leftist.
Today, while my people are hungry and are taken hostage by Taliban, girls are not allowed to attend school, women are marginalized, progressive youth are abducted and killed, the policy makers in the Western capitals tell us that beside the Taliban there is no alternative.
Prof John Paul Lederach in his books on peacebuilding and reconciliation has often reiterated that reconciliation will give fruit when people have safe space to exist and voice their thoughts and feelings to move from a divided past towards a future that can be shared. Sadly, none of the stakeholders in Afghanistan allowed this to take shape and today, once again it is the educated, progressive and open-minded Afghans that are refugees, member of diaspora community or in hiding within the country. What does that tell us about foregin policy when the forces of a society that are responsible for transformation and change are extinguished and sidelined.
From the recent SIGAR report to the book called the Afghan papers, corruption in the Afghan administration is held as one of the main reasons for the collapse of the Afghan government.
What is important to note here is that Afghanistan was a poor country and dependent on aid be it during Monarchy or the Republic or during peace times and war. In the 20 years of the War on Terror despite 400 trillion dollars in aid, the Afghan economy was a war economy driven by presence of NATO and ISAF forces. The Afghan economy was shaped to serve the foreign military through contractors and war. I am not surprised the Afghan so called leaders were responsible for 30% of loot because in their nature since they existed, they were on different intelligence payrolls, but the US and some of its allies also benefited from the war economy in Afghanistan. If this was a just world and accountability also applied for the rich, we would have enquiries set to understand what percentage of 400 trillion made its way back to the Western economy with interest.
Throughout the 20 years, Disarmament, demobilization and reintegration attempts initiated by UNAMA failed. Efforts for transitional justice in 2007 led to amnesty for all the warlords who governed the country. War continued, innocent Afghans were killed, and Afghanistan kept getting rearmed. Today the fact that the Taliban has special military unit for suicide bombing, the Haqqanis are opening religious Haqqania madrassas should be a loud alarm for all those who seek peace and human security in the world. The legacy of the West is to leave an armed Afghanistan in the hands of Jihadis that were built for destruction.
Afghanistan – a catalyst for peace or war
In its recent and modern history, Afghanistan has been influenced by world affairs, whether it was during the Napoleonic wars with Tzarist Russia or British India and Russia and in 20th and 21st Century the stakeholders of the Cold War and War on Terror in the region and world. Through-out its modern history, Afghanistan has lived in peace when it has kept the nuanced, balanced, semi-neutral state of being. You can see such examples during Habibullah Khan Reign during world war one or Zahir Shah’s reign during world war two. The Swiss ambassador in Pakistan, Benedict De Cerjat on June 2, 2021 wrote an article in the Dawn newspaper called “ Pursuit of a neutral Afghanistan: the Swiss Way”, which should be considered as a possibility to explore regional peace and see Afghanistan as a catalyst for regional peace and prosperity, considering most of the countries in the region are nuclear states in Afghanistan. But what Ambassador De Cerjat doesnot reflect on is what internal conditions should Afghanistan entail for such neutrality to function. For example, currently, the Taliban have adopted Zahir Shah’s 1960s constitution. One of the reason the left and the right-wing parties became opposite poles of the superpower rivalries was the fact that King Zahir shah did not want political parties to be active despite changing the monarchy from absolute to constitutional.
Additionally, Afghanistan is a multiethnic, multireligious society. Indeed, the majority are Sunnis, but Afghanistan has also been the land where Shais, Sikhs, Hindus, Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians and Buddhists have lived. The forty years of war and support of the Jihadi military instruments have disposed the Afghan society of its plurality, that is the Sikh, Hindu, Jewish community have been done away with.
If Afghanistan is to be a catalyst for regional and global peace, international community will ensure to open space for progressive, educated and open-minded Afghans to have their legitimate space in governance. The abundance of UN treaties on arms trade and non-proliferation to which Afghanistan and its regional neighbors are party must be reviewed. the UN must seriously consider its disarmament and anti-terrorism strategy for Afghanistan negotiating with all the major stakeholders of the Afghan conflict. This can be an opportunity to also explore the neutrality status for the country.
Any kind of inclusive government must create space for civil society, social and political organizations from all walks of life, allow women to have equal say in decision making and ensure spaces for dialogue and healing. This is possible when the foundation of transitional justice is implemented. The question arises as to how this could be possible when most of the Western countries involved in atrocities of the War On Terror are not held accountable and the US President rather proudly says that he has ZERO accountability towards Afghanistan.
When Afghans within the country call and say that the Americans are still in Bagram, corruption is still there under the Taliban, Pakistanis and Chinese are here, women teachers have no means of income, girls are restricted at home and suicide bombings are on, the message the international community is giving to the Afghans is that WAR HAS NOT ENDED, a new phase is taking shape.