Afghanistan at the cross roads

By Saikat Kumar Basu

Since time immemorial Afghanistan has been a flashpoint of human history in Asia. From the

days of the reign of the erstwhile Persian Empire till the time of invasion by Alexander,

Afghanistan has continued to see bloody battles that stretched into the Colonial Era and the

period the Great Games between British and Russian Empires, World Wars, the infamous

Russian occupation to the seizing of political power by the Taliban. However, the crises of

the helpless Afghan people and Afghanistan as a nation has never found the platform for

much needed long term peace and stability necessary for the development of the nation.

While rise and fall of great powers have been witnessed across all the continents inhabited by humans except Antarctica; unfortunately Afghanistan has continued to suffer amidst

continuous power struggles between global, regional and local geopolitical crises.

With the turns of history, the Afghan people have been hoping for some peace and stability in their country. But most unfortunately almost every time the fate of Afghanistan has been a constant, dreadful, ceaseless fights or in other words incessant power struggles between

various groups and stakeholders. One must feel like asking the question as to why this has

happened so many times for Afghanistan. The most plausible answer lies with the strategic

geopolitical location of Afghanistan. On one hand Afghanistan lies on the ancient Silk Road

that connected the East (Asia) with the West (Europe and North Africa). On the other

Afghanistan serves as a multiple gateway or as an important entry point to vast territories of

South Asia (the Indian subcontinent), steppes of Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan,

Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia), the river valleys of China and Eurasia.

No wonder that Afghanistan has been a tragic historic flash point and the perpetual

battleground for global, regional and local powers from medieval to modern times.

The Great Game played by frontier forces in the form of proxy battles between the contesting

global powers of the time-British and Russian Empires lead to loss of the lives of many

Afghans in addition to turning out as mass graves for both Russian and British soldiers. The

multiple Anglo-Afghan wars proved costly for both sides and deceitfully forced Afghanistan

to sign the unacceptable Durand Line agreement that separated the Pashtun communities

across Afghanistan and British India forever. The current standing international border

between Pakistan (born out of the partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947) and

Afghanistan has thus remained an important point of tension between the two neighbouring

countries. The British always feared the aggression of the Russian army and lived in

perpetual fear that there would a clash of the titans across Afghanistan that actually never

happened during that period. However, the same fear of the US and her Western allies

including Great Britain came back later during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. The

proxy war fought by US and her allies using Pakistan and Afghan rebels against the Soviet

forces finally forced the latter out of the country in 1989 after paying a heavy price that also

contributed towards the final dissolution of the erstwhile Soviet Union. There is no wonder

that it has given rise to the phrase about Afghanistan as the ‘graveyard of empires’.

The rise of Talibans in Afghanistan made global headlines and the country went through a

period of hell. The attacks on the twin towers brought the US back to Afghanistan with direct

involvement to eradicate the Talibans since 2001 and they got permanently stuck. There are

now talks regarding withdrawal of the US army from Afghanistan after almost two decades

of bloody guerrilla warfare; but no road map has yet been established. The US learnt the hard

way why Afghanistan is called the graveyard of civilizations and empires after incurring

heavy military loses in almost two decades of intense territorial and aerial fights, guerrilla

warfare, and ambushes that drained the US ground troops operating in Afghanistan severely.

Taliban still continue being a major political and military force in Afghanistan and holds a

significant portion of the country under their control. Pakistan continues to be a perpetual

pain for Afghanistan providing covert logistic support to the rebellious Talibans and

providing them sanctuary inside Pakistan to carry out multiple attacks on Afghanistan round

the year. The Central Asian countries as well as the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC)

have been switching allegiance from time to time; but officially favoured a peaceful

Afghanistan for the long term economic development of the country and the region.

However, they had not actively participated in the long term peace talks or neither supported

Afghanistan genuinely.

The real difference to Afghanistan’s future could be made by countries like India, Iran,

Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, the US, China and Russia. Unfortunately each of these countries have

their own long term conflicts with another making the peace process challenging for the

victim named Afghanistan. The strong animosity and mistrust between India and Pakistan,

Iran and Saudi Arabia, the US, China and Russia as also the strong economic competition

between them has been proving detrimental towards the peace process in Afghanistan. There

is no doubt that India, China, the US and Russia have made investments in Afghanistan and

have been trying to help the country; but since they are unable to work on a common

platform due to divergent interests, conflicts and strong competitions among them; a

collective force to establish peace in currently non-existent. Various peace groups or forums

lead by the US, China, Russia, India and Pakistan have been trying with their own specific

agenda in mind and in spite of several rounds of meetings no long term peace equations could

be formulated till date. While some groups supported sharing power with Talibans others

vehemently opposed it. As a consequence no concrete platform could be established to give

any long term relief to the unfortunate people of Afghanistan.

Without direct cooperation from Pakistan, the immediate neighbour a long term peace

process could not be established in Afghanistan. Under the cover, Pakistan continues to haunt

and bleed Afghanistan on almost a weekly basis. With the increasing military, economic and

diplomatic difference between the US and Pakistan increasing; and a subsequent China and

Pakistan cooperation increasing is making the peace equation a long distant dream to achieve.

The ideological war across the Middle East and North Africa is keeping Iran and Saudi

Arabia engaged in their own power struggle with very little or almost negligible participation

in the multi-nation peace dialogue. India being pushed as a strong competitor for China by

the US; and the massive lack of trust between two super powers like the Russia and the US is

putting Afghanistan at cross roads in the peace talks and negotiations. If all the contending

sides and stakeholders would have been able to take a holistic view and kind enough to step

back a little to allow the other side some respectable space; the peace bargain would have

been fruitful. But that does not seem to be the order of the day. Under these circumstances,

the peace process in Afghanistan seemed to be caught in the cross roads with no clear long

term resolution visible in the immediate future.

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