How Pakistan And The United States Can Provide ‘Plan B’ For Afghanistan
ISLAMABAD: “For the foreseeable future, efforts to achieve a comprehensive, negotiated peace agreement will not be successful. Without a Plan B therefore, Afghanistan is headed towards a chaotic civil war […] It will take the international community to make such a Plan B possible but not more so than two countries: the United States and Pakistan”. These were the views of Dr. Marvin G. Weinbaum, Director of the Afghanistan and Pakistan Program at the Middle East Institute, Washington, D.C, during his address at a Public Talk on “How Pakistan and the US Can Provide a Plan B for Afghanistan.” The event was organized by the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI) under its Distinguished Lecture Series. Policy makers, diplomats, academics and students were present on the occasion.
Dr. Weinbaum said that the US has tried a political solution for Afghanistan for the past 10 years based on the premise, strictly speaking, that there is not a military solution – at least one that the international community can guarantee. Plan B is based on a compromise – i.e. an agreement that features, above all, a power sharing arrangement in which the Taliban in one form or another would be invited to join. In order to reach this agreement, it was necessary to have extended negotiations. Until last year, the problem was mainly to make the conflicting parties sit down. Once this was achieved, the Taliban have come to the conclusion that a diplomatic outcome was also possible and it would be in their interest. They have the understanding that the US above all is dedicated to leaving and that the insurgents’ goal to make all foreign forces leave the country was a possibility. They watched as the Afghan political system started to come apart, and they now see that that they could realize their objective, both politically and diplomatically, while still maintaining a requisite military campaign. “The Taliban have always wanted peace, but peace on their terms,” Dr. Weinbaum said.
Dr. Weinbaum also spoke of the nine rounds of negotiations, which he said had nothing to do with peace in Afghanistan, since there was no truce and no concessions that would end the conflict. The idea that there has to be a diplomatic solution came about after it emerged that if this conflict goes on, regardless of reaching a side deal between the US and Taliban, the danger of destabilization is very real. He also said that what was particular about the conflict in the 1990s was the unity of command on both sides, which renders the applicability of that scenario to the present situation useless, since neither side has that cohesion. For Dr. Weinbaum, what we have today is an extensional conflict. It is the clashing of irreconcilable values. Plan B necessitates looking at a realistic picture. It is a renewed dedication to the Afghan state and to the strengthening of its institutions that the international community have lost sight of by thinking that there is a shortcut out of this conflict. A chaotic civil war will have an external element in the form of neighbouring countries and a radical regime in Afghanistan will energize radical elements in Pakistan. A major incentive for Pakistan is that Afghanistan-India relations depend upon Afghanistan needing a counter-weight to Pakistan. Afghanistan’s reliance on India declines if its own security rises. But all this refocusing cannot happen without the Afghans themselves.
Earlier, in his welcome remarks, Ambassador Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, Director General ISSI, said that a critical first step towards the peace settlement is a credible intra-Afghan dialogue amongst all political and warring factions in Afghanistan, especially between the two principal stakeholders, namely the Afghan government and the Taliban. It is imperative that both parties deliberate on all aspects of the peace settlement, i.e. how to ensure a credible and sustained ceasefire, a responsible and measured withdrawal of foreign forces, a participatory future political setup and major and regional powers acting as guarantors of the peace. He went on to say that Pakistan and US have a crucial role to play in the future of Afghanistan, and that Pakistan is convinced of the continuing imperative of an urgent resumption of the peace talks.
The author is a reporter based in Islamabad.