By S. M. Hali

Afghanistan is a country on the mend. It was high time that some light appeared at the end of the tunnel for the war ravaged country torn by strife and turmoil following the Soviet occupation in 1979, tribal wars and its invasion by US led forces in 2001. The October 2001 assault on Afghanistan comprised some of the heaviest bombing of the country with the US air campaign using the dreaded Daisy Cutter bombs mowing down Afghan women, children and men. The Taliban, who were defeated were not down and out. They regrouped to conduct a guerrilla war, forcing the NATO and ISAF to declare a drawdown of forces commencing in July 2011, to be completed by 2014. Meanwhile, the average Afghan was caught between the internecine warfare conducted by a resurgent Taliban and the international forces. The incessant use of drone attacks by the US also took a heavy toll of the local population. Efforts by the allies and development projects to win the hearts and minds of the Afghans bore little fruit; neither did much touted military operations to uproot the Taliban.

A decade later, the occupation forces have come to the conclusion, that they cannot deploy their forces for an unlimited period, after sacrificing 2,860 troops and incurring a cost of $491, 807, 675, 588 in Afghanistan. The US public as well as elsewhere in Europe, allies are calling for their troops to return home. During the recent Bonn Conference, there were demonstrations calling for the immediate withdrawal of troops, forcing the hand of the allies.

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The Bonn Conference focused on three issues: civil aspects of the process of transferring responsibility to the Government of Afghanistan by 2014; the long-term engagement of the international community in Afghanistan after 2014 and the political process that is intended to lead to the long-term stabilization of the country. In the run-up to the Bonn Conference, a two day seminar was held at Beethoven Halle, Bonn to bring about debates by the Afghan Civil Society Forum. Among the issues highlighted, the plight of women who are increasingly targeted in an unstable Afghanistan was discussed. Women emerged at the forefront to talk about their grievances and discuss proposals to address their concerns, once international forces withdraw. It was heartening to observe the enlightened and eloquent Afghan women present their predicament. I was in Bonn as an observer and attended these debates and the Bonn Conference itself. Whereas the Afghan women are enjoying greater freedom today, yet a lot needs to be done to improve their lot. The international presence of 1100 participants at the Bonn Conference took cognizance of the quandary of the Afghan women. Despite greater emancipation, Afghan women are a long way from freedom from oppression. The case of Gulnaz came to light while the Bonn Conference was progressing. Gulnaz was raped by her cousin two years back and is suffering incarceration despite being the aggrieved party. She is suffering a hpw twelve year sentence of imprisonment along with her daughter Moskan, a result of the rape. The ruling and statement outraged many, including American lawyer Kimberley Motley who has been practicing law in Afghanistan for three years and decided to take on Gulnaz’s case.  Motley helped Gulnaz gain a pardon from Afghan President Hamid Karzai. But the pardon came with a caveat.  A press release from the presidential palace stated that the president had decreed her release “taking into consideration the consent of both sides for a conditional wedlock. In other words, she was free to go—if she agreed to marry her rapist, who is already married. The presence of international forces in Afghanistan has made little difference to the archaic laws of the land, which force women like Gulnaz to lead lives of suppression and ignominy.

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Meanwhile, the London Convention, Istanbul Summit and the Bonn Conference have charted the path for an intra-Afghan process with regional support. This political process envisages progress on two levels: the reconciliation of the country’s various population groups must remain a process that takes place inside Afghanistan. Renunciation of violence, cutting of ties to international terrorism, and respect for the Afghan Constitution including its human rights provisions are essential guidelines. At the same time this process must be secured by Afghanistan’s neighbours and the regional powers. The stabilization of Afghanistan is set in the context of the political stability of the entire region, to which all countries in the region contribute.

With the realization that has set in amongst the international community that they cannot afford to withdraw from Afghanistan leaving it in the lurch like they did in 1989 after the Soviet retreat, Afghanistan may yet have a positive future. The roadmap to the endgame in Afghanistan is treachery and precipitous. It has to be charted carefully. Washington has unceremoniously dumped the pre-conditions it underlined at the London conference. US Vice President Joe Biden has declared that the Taliban “per se is not our [U.S.’] enemy.” The Taliban have been permitted to establish a political office in Doha, which is a positive development but one has to be wary of some of the other concessions likely to be given. For example, the possible release of Taliban Commander-in-Chief Mullah Mohammad Fazal from Guantanamo Prison. Mullah Mohammad Fazal is alleged to be the dreaded butcher of Shiah Hazaras in Afghanistan who had reported slaughtered around 5000 Hazaras including women and children in ethnic cleansing in the August-September of 1998 and left to rot on the streets of Mazar-i-Sharif to be eaten by wild dogs. His release will be much to the chagrin of the Shiah community of Afghanistan as well as Tehran.

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An important consideration is handing over the responsibility for security to the Afghan National Army and local security forces. This is an uphill task, which will necessitate hardcore training and ample funds to sustain the Afghan security forces beyond 2014. Failure to pay and feed them can lead to another debacle. Afghanistan is definitely on the mend but requires careful handling.

 

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