By Dr. Raja Muhammad Khan

“We had a very extensive and … a very productive and constructive dialogue … But we have all agreed that results are what will tell the story, not statements at a press conference. We will under promise, but deliver.” These were the wordings of US Secretary of State John Kerry, after  the a tri-partite meeting at Brussels between him, Afghan President Hamid Karazai, and Pakistani Army Chief, General Ashfaq Pervaiz Kayani on April 24, 2013. The meeting hosted by John Kerry, was aimed at synchronization between US, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Indeed, the security issues and “the road forward heading towards 2014, a critical transformational period” were discussed between three countries. No joint statement, a joint press conference or any document made public after the meeting.

With the rapidly approaching drawdown date (Dec 2014), President Karazai and his allies are skeptical about their future. Karazai is neither trusted by Taliban nor his Northern Alliance friends. Owing to his dubious personality, he is neither liked nor trusted by his American friends. There are multiple challenges being faced by Afghanistan in particular and the region in general. Currently, there are two types of the challenges, posed by the US withdrawal: domestic and regional Challenges. Among the Domestic Challenges, instability within Afghanistan is the foremost challenge threatening the region following the US pull out or US opting for itself a role behind the scene. The domestic instability may leads to dissolution of central authority in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, there is neither a political nor a religious personality in Afghanistan who can unite and is acceptable to all factions and groups there.  Neither Karazai nor Mullah Omar has the charismatic potentials to unite the Afghan at one platform. In the absence of any negotiated settlement, there are all the chances that central Government at Kabul may quickly evaporate, giving way to return of civil war, where each group would try to secure for itself the lion’s share.

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According to a report by International Crisis Group (ICG), “There is a real risk that the regime in Kabul could collapse upon NATO’s withdrawal. The window for remedial action is closing fast. The Afghan army and police are overwhelmed and underprepared for the transition.” The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, anticipate that, “After 2014, the level of US support for the Afghan regime will be limited and, after a new phase in the civil war, a Taliban victory will likely to follow.” Then there is a rivalry within Afghan security institutions, primarily motivated by factional and ethnic factors. What is of greater concern is increasing politicization of security institutions, and attempts to use them for domestic political agendas of staying in the power? Then the Taliban threat, the most dominant and animated remains the real one. Under the combat power of Taliban, there is all the likelihood that the non-representative ANSF can face a quick fragmentation.

Alongside security transition to ANSF sequel to NATO pullout, political transition in 2014 is most important. Despite pledges of President Karzai, for a legitimate transfer of power, opposition groups have serious reservations. With a frustrated Karazai, United States, international community and Afghan neighbours would be in doldrums under such a scenario.  Domestically, over the years, NATO has established a parallel force mechanism in the form of new militias, local armed groups like; Afghan Local Police (ALP) and other mushroom organizations to control Taliban insurgency. In the post NATO pullout, these organizations may become a nuisance for their opponents in a future scenario.

Among the regional challenges, the Afghan neighbours, somehow have been backing their favourites, are likely to push forward their proxies – in case the Kabul government shows hpw signs of weakness. Indeed, all Afghan neighbours would like to secure their interests, thus paving way for an infringement. Russia supported U.S and NATO in Afghanistan to fight out militancy in its Muslim majority republics; Chechnya and Dagestan. Russia fears that, Taliban return would radicalize Central Asia, North Caucasus and its Muslim republics. China would like to secure guarantees from the future Afghan setup for not supporting East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) in its autonomous region, Xinjiang. Then, this rising power has heavily invested in the mining and mineral sectors of Afghanistan. Besides having a geographical contiguity with Afghan, China has both geo-economic and geopolitical interests in Afghanistan. All Central Asian neighbours of Afghanistan would like to secure their interests. Nevertheless, all would be interested for a peace in Afghanistan, but none is interested for the return of Taliban.

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Without having, a geographical contiguity, India created for itself sufficient space in Afghanistan in the garb of reconstruction. Indeed, it is very cleverly pursuing its policy, giving peanuts to Afghans in return for strong foothold in that country. India has been able to secure rights to mine Afghanistan’s prime iron ore reserves of biggest iron deposit; Hajigak, besides many other areas. It has a strategic pact with Afghanistan, with the key role of training of ANSF and intelligence services. Pakistan has its reservations of Afghan troops being trained by the Indian military. Training of military means, they would adopt their ideology, mindset and thinking. Indian presence in Afghanistan has always been a source of concern for Pakistan. In the guise of reconstruction, India is using Afghan soil against Pakistan. India is providing training and funding to anti-Pakistan elements from Balochistan and all along western border. Indian consulates are working as a base to create subversion inside Pakistan.

Pakistan sees the region in transition as both an opportunity and a risk in both; short and long-term perspective. The outcome of this transition will largely depend upon the strategic decisions taken today in favour of peace and stability. Pakistan finds itself at the centre of debate and desires to carve a region where regional interests converge and stability thrives thereby creating a space for economic growth and prosperity long desired by the people of the region, especially Afghanistan. In this context, Pakistan sees its relationship with U.S and Afghanistan as critical for redrawing the contours of regional security environment that is conducive for ending the longest conflict in recent history. Pakistan strongly feels, “If Afghanistan is peaceful, stable and friendly we have our strategic depth because our western border is secured … You’re not looking both ways.”  By this very concept, Pakistan does not pursue the policy of controlling Afghanistan, but facilitating in the establishment of peace there.

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At the conclusion of the Brussels’ meeting the US Secretary of State said that, “I think that everybody here agreed today that we will continue a very specific dialogue on both the political track as well as the security track. He also said that, “We have a commitment to do that in the interests of Afghanistan, Pakistan and peace in the region.” On its part, “Pakistan remains committed to continue its positive and constructive role towards a durable peace in Afghanistan. “Pakistan is convinced that a peaceful, stable, prosperous and united Afghanistan is in the interest of Afghanistan, Pakistan and the region.” In the wordings of Mr Jalil Abbas Jilani, the Foreign Secretary of Pakistan, “We are looking forward to a very productive and forward-looking discussion.” Let us hope that, President Karazai reconcile and start thinking for the future of Afghanistan, rather for his own future only.