Editorial: War and peace in Afghanistan

Is Afghanistan on the brink of a socio-political change? A definitive answer to the question is not possible but recent developments on the ground and the talk in the corridors of power in Kabul do suggest that something that didn’t happen in last 15 years may happen anytime soon.

Of particular relevance are recent episodes that lend an entirely new dimension to the situation in Afghanistan. One, the United States dropped its most lethal non-nuclear weapon on the suspected hideouts of the Islamic State in Afghanistan, earning former President Hamid Karzai’s rebuke that his country was used as testing ground even when the ISIL is a “tool of the United States”.

It is, however, not known whether or not that bombing succeeded in wiping out those hideouts and eliminating nearly a hundred ISIL militants as claimed by the Afghan government. Two, the Taliban stormed an Afghan National Army base near Mazar-i-Sharif killing some 160 troops in a daylight attack. The attack on a hospital in Kabul by the Islamic State in March was no less brutal, but the one now sets the record of the highest killings at the hands of insurgents in a single incident since the Taliban were ousted from power by the US-led Nato forces in 2001.

And equally conspicuous was the reaction of Afghan public to the perceptible intelligence failure that led to the deadly strike on the military base, compelling the defence minister and army chief to own responsibility and step down. Of course since the withdrawal of foreign forces two years ago the Taliban are on the rise; they are effectively in control of about 43 percent of territory and have acquired potential to launch as massive an assault as this one on a military base, which is part of a corps headquarter. If that’s the beginning of the Afghan Taliban’s ‘Spring Offensive’ how that would close it’s any body’s guess. Will it be more blood-soaked than last year’s when some 6,700 security personnel lost their lives and 12,000 were wounded at the hands of the insurgents?

Whether “a few thousand” more American troops demanded by the US commander of Nato forces in Afghanistan, General Nicholson, is the answer to the rising clout of the Taliban, his seniors in the Pentagon have no comment. President Trump has decided a review of US policy in Afghanistan, awaiting input from Defense Secretary Jim Mattis who was recently in Kabul though the secretary does vow “another tough year” in Afghanistan.

General Nicholson believes it was the Pakistan-based Haqqani network that carried out the attack on the military base. Another official alleges that Russia provides weapons to the Taliban. The consistent denial on the part of foreign commanders in Afghanistan to accept that Taliban are good and big enough to be defeated on the battlefield is the real issue. But they would not accept it.

They tend to ignore ground realities as they tend to obtain. If tens of thousands of Nato troops could not defeat Taliban then how will “a few thousand”? The time of winning war against Afghan Taliban is long past – they must be engaged in a constructive dialogue. Taliban are the reality and they are rooted in Afghan soil and Afghan hearts. They are already in control of half of Afghanistan. Except for the US generals, everyone wants to negotiate with the Afghan Taliban. It is Pakistan that set the stage for an intra-Afghan dialogue and now it is Russia whose ambassador in Kabul insists it has no “hidden agenda” as it is unreservedly committed to a peaceful and stable Afghanistan.

It is therefore one’s hope that President Trump, who has the recognised capacity to astonish the world, would also astonish his own generals in Afghanistan by triggering a genuine move towards an intra-Afghan peace process by inviting Taliban to the negotiating table. -Business Recorder