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Security Challenges in Afghanistan: International Objectives and Pak-Afghan Ties PDF Print E-mail
Written by Afghan and Pakistani Intellectuals   

Policy Perspectives , Special Issue Afghanistan, 2008

Introduction

This symposium consists of two parts. The first part is based on a presentation made by Barnett R. Rubin, Director of Studies and Senior Fellow at the Center on International Cooperation, New York University, at a seminar hosted by IPS titled “International Goals in Afghanistan.” The presentation was followed by remarks by the session chairperson, M. Akram Zaki, former Secretary General, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of Pakistan.

The second part presents the responses of eminent Pakistani and Afghan politicians, diplomats, intellectuals, security experts and analysts, who were invited by IPS in 2007 to discuss their views on the following three critical questions:*

  • Six years after the ouster of the Taliban by the allied forces, violence is still on the surge. Who is responsible and to what extent? What would be the best course of action?
  • How can sustainable peace be restored in Afghanistan?
  • Recently, Pak-Afghan relations have witnessed a perceptible change. What short and long-term steps do you suggest to expedite this process?

The respondents included:

  • Dr. Farooq Wardak, Afghan Minister of Parliamentary Affairs;
  • Gen. (retd.) Mirza Aslam Beg, former Chief of Army Staff, Pakistan and Chairman, Foundation for Research on International Environment, National Development and Security (FRIENDS);
  • Mr. Ahmad Shah Ahmadzai, former Prime Minister of Afghanistan;
  • Mrs. Fawzia Kufi, Member of Wolesi Jirga, (Lower house of Afghan parliament);
  • Mr. Rustam Shah Mohmand, former Pakistani Ambassador to Kabul;
  • Mr. Rahimullah Yusufzai, senior Pakistani journalist and analyst;
  • Prof. Rasool Amin, former Education Minister and Chairman, Center for Afghanistan Studies, Kabul;
  • Mr. Abdul Ghafoor Lewal, Chairman, Centre for Regional Studies, Academy of Sciences, Kabul;
  • Dr. Azmat Hayat Khan, Director, Area Study Center for Russia, China and Central Asia, Peshawar University;
  • Mr. Ahmad Waheed Mujhda, writer and political analyst; and
  • Col. (retd.) Sultan Amir, former defense official and analyst.

I

 

International Goals in Afghanistan
Barnett R. Rubin

 

Mullah Abdus Salam Zaeef, the former ambassador of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan to Pakistan, has written a book in Pashto in which he repudiates his doubt that al-Qaeda was behind the 9/11 attacks after listening to them boast about the attacks. The Taliban were not directly behind the attacks, but he has recognized that the United States, as a state, has a legitimate interest in not allowing a hostile force to use a foreign territory as a staging ground for attacks against it. This is similar to the Pakistani concern about Indian presence in Afghanistan; they do not want Afghan territory to be misused by Indian agents to undermine Pakistan even though nothing of this nature has occurred yet.

 

But the question that persisted in Zaeef’s mind was: What does America want in Afghanistan? Why is the US willing to implement certain policies that will be vehemently rejected by the Taliban? Furthermore, the Government of Afghanistan and the United States probably wonder the same about the goals of the Taliban — different people claiming to be representative have made different, often irreconcilable, demands in the past.

 

So again, the question begging to be asked, especially by the opposition in Afghanistan is, “What does the United States want to achieve?” To understand this, we must also factor in other actors supporting the United States in Afghanistan. There was a very broad international consensus on the operation in Afghanistan — over 60 countries, along with inter-governmental organizations (IGOs) such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), were signatories of the contract. It would seem that such broad-based support would lend the necessary credibility and legitimacy to the Afghan government to pursue its goals; however, many of these groups have competing and overlapping interests in the country, which has complicated the issue even further. Therefore, it is hard to answer the question posed at the beginning but one can clarify some points that may present a clearer picture about what the international goals in the country are.

 

The problem of contradictory goals of international actors in not a new one, or something that began after 9/11; rather, this situation existed in the past too. Many Americans fails to recognize that Afghanistan existed before 9/11, and it is necessary to mention that during that period, the United Nations (UN) had at least four different policies towards the country.
Beginning with the period following the bombings of US Embassies in East Africa (after August 1998), we can say that the UN had many separate policies towards Afghanistan. After the bombings, the UN imposed sanctions on the Taliban, banning the supply of arms to the regime. The Taliban were fighting against the Northern Alliance and the UN Security Council took up this resolution because the Taliban were providing sanctuary to al-Qaeda.

 

The mandate of the Untied Nations Special Mission in Afghanistan came from the UN General Assembly and it was to act as a neutral bearer of the good offices of the Secretary-General of the UN. The goal was to promote a dialogue among the parties to the conflict, namely the Taliban and the Northern Alliance, with a view to forming a broad-based government in Afghanistan. So, in this case, the policy was to act neutrally with both sides.

 

Then, there were the humanitarian relief missions and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) operating in the country whose major goal was to deliver aid to suffering Afghans. The Taliban provided a certain amount of security to conduct such missions, which had not existed under previous mujahidin setups. Therefore, these missions felt it was necessary to cooperate with them, whether they opposed them or not, and even conducted a study on the repercussions of the Security Council’s sanctions on the common Afghan. The study showed that the sanctions had a negative effect, which led the Russian permanent representative to the UN to demand that the head of the UN humanitarian mission in Afghanistan be fired for conducting a study that could work in favor of the Taliban regime.

 

So, you had one body of the UN with a policy against the Taliban, one party that was neutral and a mediator, one group that had to work with the Taliban, and another group that opposed such cooperation. Of course, people were confused about what the UN desired to achieve in Afghanistan considering the different stances of its different bodies.

 

In those days, the United States was not pushed about the contradictory nature of these policies and felt that counterterrorism was the only important mandate. Now, reasons for the international presence include fighting terrorism, building democracy, empowering women, developing and stabilizing the region, and stopping the flow of drugs. All these problems predate 9/11 but little was done about them until Afghanistan became a strategic threat to the United States. A lot of money, resources and lives could have been saved had early action been taken in the country.

 

The purpose of the War on Terror was to find and kill terrorists and rout terrorism from the region. To destroy the al-Qaeda infrastructure in the country and remove the Taliban from power was the sole objective of the CIA who designed the mission. The Bush administration was adamant not to get bogged down in nation building as the Clinton administration had done in Bosnia, Kosovo and Haiti to the detriment of the US army. It felt that building such areas was not in the strategic interest of the United States; rather, the Bush administration’s interest was to minimize the United States’ own casualties by sending in a small force to destroy the enemies before returning home.

 

However, people in the US State Department realized that Afghanistan was a member state of the UN and not just a terrorist haven. Therefore, something had to be done about the political setup in the country after the ouster of the Taliban. In a State Department meeting on September 24, 2001, people close to Secretary of State Collin Powell asked a number of outside experts to give their opinions about what should be done following the capitulation of the Taliban. Many stated that abandoning Afghanistan in 1989 was a strategic mistake that could not be repeated and, therefore, the United States owed it to the people of Afghanistan to help build the ruined nation. Some of the younger members representing the White House and the National Security Council protested, stating that nation building was not America’s job — President Bush shared this position too. However, the position that a political settlement and reconstruction of Afghanistan was imperative won out, although the primary goal of the Bush administration remained killing and capturing terrorists.

The Bonn agreement was negotiated. Annex-1 of the agreement was especially important because it provided for a multinational security force to be authorized by the UN. Additionally, there was a provision for a UN peacekeeping force in Afghanistan. Since UN peacekeeping forces take six to nine months to commence a mission, and time was of the essence, they have to opt for multinational forces under the British which could start operating sooner.

 

A major purpose of this force was to prevent rival factions from fighting each other and destroying Kabul as they had done in the 1990s. The force was to provide stability under which a government could be set up and function.

 

Unfortunately, the coalition forces remained stationed in and around Kabul for too long and were not able to go out into rural Afghanistan soon enough. In areas where US counter terror operations were too few, there was a resurgence of warlords and law and order problems. By allowing old warlords to regain control of some regions, this has damaged and undermined the entire political process in Afghanistan. Many Afghans are unhappy about it.

 

The second problem was that the Bonn agreement set no deadline for elections to be held in Afghanistan. It was felt that stability and security were necessary prerequisites for holding elections, and elections should not be attempted until these were achieved. However, two unlikely partners —the United States and Iran — pressed for a set date. At this time, i.e. in 2004, the Afghan National Army was just being established and the US Ambassador recognized that it was not possible to hold credible elections in a country where a vast territory was controlled by different militias. In fact, the United States was still using and buying the loyalty of these militias to fight the Taliban. Therefore, a paradox existed between the counter-terrorism mission and the political mission.

 

The US Department of Defense had a vision, which could be considered very narrow-minded, or highly realistic, or a combination of both. It stated early on that it was not the goal of the United States to change Afghan society, as it did not have the capacity to do so, and that the United States should focus on killing the enemy and then quickly leaving the county.

 

However, the realization that terrorism arises from political grievances, lack of proper governance, and so on, made it clear that more than just crushing the enemies was necessary to curb terrorism and future attacks on US interests. Afghanistan, especially after prolonged war, was not capable of rebuilding on its own, and US would have to remain there for as long as was necessary to bring about a stable government in the country.

 

In order to build infrastructure for the state, the economy has to be kick-started, and to stop people from joining armed militias, employment has to be generated — people say that young people have nothing better to do, so they fight, which is why generating jobs through a stronger economy is vital. Unfortunately though, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), IMF, Asian Development Bank (ADB), US Agency for International Development (USAID) and all bilateral aid organizations started working separately from each other instead of coordinating their efforts, and all of them lacked sufficient experience in Afghanistan. Assistance has therefore not been very effective and, in many cases, has not trickled down to the masses.

Finally, there was the issue of drugs in the country. Afghanistan produces about 90 percent of the world’s opium. This statement is sometimes misleading in that it gives the impression that opium addiction is caused by Afghan farmers, which is not the case. As there is demand for opium, someone has to produce it, and this is why Afghanistan is doing so. The Afghan farmers are not breeding opium addicts in Europe; rather, it is the other way around — the demand comes first, and the supply follows. The big problem is the money being made from the drug business. It is used in criminal enterprises that promote corruption and insurgency and, of course, these relate back to the poor anti-narcotic policy in the country. The problem cannot be solved by attacking the farmer’s crops.

 

Afghans are asking themselves, why are these foreign troops here? Mostly, they have supported and tolerated them, but of late they are unhappy with the lack of positive developments in the country. Yet, they are afraid that if the troops leave, the situation will become worse—they fear the past will recur.

 

Not only do the international actors have different objectives, Afghan neighbors such as Pakistan and Iran as well as other powerful states also have interests in the region. There is a conflict between Afghans who have returned from abroad and those that have remained there all along.
There would never have been a war in Afghanistan had 9/11 not occurred. Of course, now that the entire international community has been engaged in the broader goals, they are not willing to stand back and say, “Well, this government has been elected, and even if it is a very corrupt government, let it be ineffective because this is what the people have chosen.”

 

As long as the Taliban identify themselves as an Afghan resistance group with goals limited to Afghanistan, the United States must make it clear that it is not in Afghanistan because it is part of the larger regional goal to station troops in Asia.

 

Chairman’s Remarks
M. Akram Zaki

 

While it is broadly true to say that Pakistan, because of its own security considerations against the Indian threat, has to a large extent followed the American or Western agenda, it has in certain cases succeeded in resisting and following independent lines; for example, it did not send any troops to Afghanistan. So, let there be no doubt about the fact that we view Afghan-istan as our brother, neighbour and friend, and a country with which we have had a long historical relationship. Even now, it is the desire of the people of Pakistan that we should have the best of relations and the government is also making efforts in this regard.

 

It would indeed have been more natural for Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Turkey and the countries of this region to have much better relations. However, a few misunderstandings have unfortunately arisen, due mainly, in our opinion at least, to external presence and agendas in this region. It would certainly make sense for these countries to have interlocking commercial, economic, trade and energy relations, provided the United States’ military presence does not interrupt this natural relationship.

 

As far as the international goals in Afghanistan are concerned, there are some goals that are visible, apparent or have been declared goals by the international community through the United Nations. But one should not forget that there are always some invisible or actual goals of the great powers in such situations, and Afghanistan, where a super power is leading the coalition, is no exception. It is true that the United Nations had given permission for an international security force to come to Afghanistan, but no legitimacy was given to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to enter the region. NATO entered Afghanistan practically on its own, merely writing a letter to the Secretary General informing him that it was going in. So, in legal terms, there are serious questions about the legitimacy of NATO’s intervention in this area.

 

In this backdrop, one needs to analyze what NATO’s agenda has been since the collapse of the former Soviet Union. It has been said by many, including American analysts, that the main reason why Afghanistan became such a source of trouble was the fact that the United States abandoned it directly after Soviet withdrawal, and that, consequently, the current US presence in this area is justified. The reality, however, is that the focus of US interest during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was Europe, where there was a divide between the two great blocs. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the West had an opportunity for expansion in Eastern Europe and for extending its influence in the areas coming out of the influence of the former Soviet Union. So, penetrating eastern Europe and the western part of the former Soviet Union became the primary objectives of US and NATO, for which US left Afghanistan. There was also another change of strategy: the Afghan mujahidin, whose resistance movement that had been built, financed, armed, encouraged and supported by the international community to oppose the Soviet Union, were suddenly rechristened terrorists, and the war on terror was declared a primary policy.

 

The real issue now is the continuing ignorance of the fact that the “War on Terror” cannot be won by military means. I think all those powers that have used armed forces to destroy terrorists in various parts of the world have failed to achieve their objectives as everyone killed in such a war would produce ten more terrorists. And they would multiply. It has been admitted that this has happened in Iraq; likewise, the reaction in Afghanistan is getting stronger. In this context, it is also important to note what the ambassador of Afghanistan has rightly pointed out: “taliban” is an honorable word; it means “students.” Whatever negative image the name may have outside Afghanistan is not shared on the ground by the common Afghan.

 

The coming to power of the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan after the international forces’ arrival has important implications that necessitate political dialogue. Statistically, the Northern Alliance’s dominance certainly reflects less fair representation of the population; Pakhtoons resent the fact that they have not received their due share and therefore oppose the present regime and the foreign occupation. The answer now lies in political dialogue with the Pakhtoons and their participation in the political process inside Afghanistan. While the Taliban, who were previously in control and are most vocal about their objections and views, are considered extreme and therefore marginalized, it should not be ruled out that there are other dissatisfied groups who share many of their ideas. Therefore, the present policy of using force and condemning such groups is not the right approach. In this context, the dawning realization in Afghanistan as well as among foreign troops that some process of dialogue has to be initiated to find a political solution is a positive development.

 

As far as Pakistan is concerned, we do not want to enter the blame game. We really want a stable, peaceful and progressive Afghanistan, because it is in our own national interest to have peace on our frontiers. The very allegation that terrorists take refuge in countries which are weak — just as they took refuge in weak Afghanistan — and now are taking refuge in weaker parts of Pakistan, in a sense absolves Pakistan of charges of encouraging terrorism and sponsoring them from its side of the border with Afghanistan; we are not the promoters but the victims of that terrorism.
One more point in the context of international goals is related to the claim that, without 9/11, there would have been no attack on Afghanistan. It is, however, quite clear that, after the attacks on the US missions in Africa, the planning for an attack on Afghanistan had started. The UN resolutions, the sanctions, and the monitoring resolution preceding 9/11 and, most clearly, the fact that the United States informed some of its NATO allies in July 2001 — about two months before 9/11 — that there would be an attack to remove the Taliban government by September/ October that year are indicators of such a plan. Even President Clinton was under pressure to attack Afghanistan during his tenure. He resisted that pressure until it became unbearable; after that point, although a full-scale attack was not launched, a few scud missiles were fired by Americans into Afghanistan to appease the US Defence Department. Thus it seems that the decision to attack Afghanistan was not made after 9/11, but was linked to calls for the removal of the Taliban and the handing over of Osama bin Laden soon after the attacks in Africa.

 

It is true that the international community has declared its objectives of reconstruction of institutions and the Afghan economy. But let us consider what the dominant elements in actual policy-making are. How much money has the United States and the international community contributed to the reconstruction of Afghanistan and how effective has been the program of reconstruction? And what is the amount of money they have committed to military aspects? Even now, the Bush administration is asking for $190 billion to fight the two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq from this year’s budget. But what is more telling about actual priorities is what proportion of the 190 billion dollars is being spent on reconstruction as opposed to security and military arrangements.

 

One may recall here that, after the Second World War, the Martial Plan was launched in Europe, and Europe became prosperous and an ally of the United States. The lesson is that if you use only force and do not attempt genuine reconstruction, you cannot have peace and stability. It should not come as a surprise that most opinion surveys indicate that the United States is more unpopular today than it was before the war on terror started in the world.

 

II

 

Q. 1: Six years after the ouster of the Taliban by the allied forces, violence is still on the surge. Who is responsible and to what extent? What would be the best course of action?

 

Farooq Wardak: I believe Afghanistan’s geo-political and geo-strategic location is responsible for this scenario. Afghanistan is located in a highly sensitive region; more sensitive regions tend to have more enemies. A number of elements are acting in a hostile manner towards Afghanistan. Therefore, it seems incoherent to accuse a single person or a sole regime for the prevailing situation.

 

This issue has internal and external dimensions; while talking of internal issues, it is important to note that the law and order situation was destroyed completely due to the past thirty years of conflict, therefore, it will take time to restore it to normalcy. Our economic infrastructure was eradicated; social norms and values were abolished; the administrative organ of the government was shattered and corrupted to such an extent that it could no longer be called an administration; the armed forces, police and security apparatus was devastated, and finally we have to wait for them to be rebuilt. The Taliban regime was initially ousted as a result of the war, but it is not possible for a state to continue along the warpath forever.

 

While talking of external factors, Afghanistan’s geo-political and geo-strategic importance has caused problems for the country. Moreover, the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan posed a threat to the interests of some other states, such as Iran, that consider foreign presence a direct threat to their own interests. Pakistan and Russia share the same viewpoint.

 

The above-mentioned factors, both internal and external, are responsible for the current situation in Afghanistan

 

Mirza Aslam Beg: The ongoing “war on terror” in Afghanistan and its backlash in the adjoining areas, particularly Pakistan, has led to regional instability. The war cannot be won by force of arm, but through a pragmatic approach based on a correct perspective that takes into account the fact that:

  • It is a liberation movement and not terrorism;
  • Freedom, for the Afghans, is the strongest element of their national ethos;
  • The madrasa-based resistance movement draws its strength from the concept of jihad — an essential element of duty to God, which cannot be diminished.
  • Afghans are intensely independent and an embodiment of tenacity.

Ahmad Shah Ahmadzai: It is rightly stated that during the six-year presence of foreign forces in Afghanistan, no one has witnessed a positive development that can be commended or appreciated. This is largely due to the fact that foreign forces have been stationed here to fulfill their own agendas and interests. Therefore, they are not concerned about the reconstruction of Afghanistan or the welfare of our people.

 

The allied forces intend to punish and persecute the Afghan masses by keeping them poor and engulfed in ethnic conflict. Naturally, the responsibility for our woes lies on the shoulders of those who, ignorant of the sentiments of the Afghan nation, invited the forces into Afghanistan. These include elements popularly known as Muqawamat or “resistance,” and more specifically, a few people within the resistance, who invited these forces into the country without national consensus on the issue.

 

Conditions should have been placed on the foreign forces that, upon their arrival to Afghanistan, they must engage in development projects that would be decided upon by the hosts. Instead, they were granted unrestricted sanctions, while the “hosts” who invited them are no longer part of the scene and cannot even defend the people of Afghanistan.

 

Responsibility, for sure, lies on those who called, and continue to proudly call, themselves leaders of the resistance. In reality, however, they have created trouble for the country which they cannot cure and certainly the indictment will remain against them forever.

 

Fawzia Kufi: Even after the ouster of the Taliban and six years of the current regime, the situation remains the same in major areas of Afghanistan; in particular, the law and order situation remains unaltered in vast swathes of the country. Allied forces slipped up while dealing with the Taliban; they ousted them physically from power and thought they had won the war while the talib ideology remained in Afghanistan. It is the same talib ideology that paved the way for the Taliban’s reappearance in the political arena of the country.

 

Secondly, the states that vowed to assist Afghanistan in the fight against terror are not acting in good faith. For instance, when President Karzai and the people of Afghanistan pinpointed the sources of terror outside Afghanistan and asserted that they must be neutralized, the international community was unwilling to aid Afghanistan by placing pressure on the states harboring terror.

 

Thirdly, there is a feeling of distrust within the Afghan National Army as the coalition forces have been unwilling to relinquish effective control to them in the war against terror.

 

Meanwhile, the Afghan government and the international community lack a precise and persistent politico-military policy and strategy in respect of the war against terror. Due to this fact, our army remains weak — lacking equipment, short of essential capability and dependent on foreign assistance. The national police are unable to ensure security and maintain proper law and order within the country.

 

Talking about the responsibility for this scenario, I am of the opinion that responsibility lies with the Afghan government as well as with our neighbors. The former is responsible because it failed to properly assemble a comprehensive system of government able to fulfill the expectations of the Afghan nation. The international community is liable because they failed to hand over the leadership to the people of Afghanistan, and tried to represent them; they were not acting in good faith towards them.

 

Responsibility also lies on our neighbors’ shoulders because, unfortunately, Afghanistan lacked a strong, broad-based gover-nment in the past, and invited neighbors to interfere in its internal affairs by pursuing their own economic and political interests in the country.

 

Rustam Shah Mohmand: The tremendous increase in the level of insurgency has taken many observers by surprise. Inevitably, causes and possible responses are being debated.

 

The following factors are contributing to the escalating violence:

  • Progress on reconstruction has been less than anticipated.

There is a gross mismatch between the massive infusion of foreign assistance and the actual expenditure on the ground. This has led to widespread discontent. Lack of financial controls, inadequate manpower resources, and absence of proper monitoring and supervisory mechanisms have tended to slow down progress and adversely affected the quality of works produced. Endemic corruption has diluted the effect of huge expenditures in areas like communications, power, rural infrastructure, education, health delivery systems, etc.

  • The system of administration has not been comprehensively revamped, leaving tens of thousands of ordinary Afghans seeking redress for their grievances in the lurch, and causing acute anguish amongst the poorer strata of civil society.
  • Ministers and senior civil service professionals who came from abroad and took up positions of authority have lost touch with the ground realities and there is a huge gap and disconnect between them and the masses. Further, they behave more like visitors and do not seem focused on resolving the myriad problems thrown up by years of chaos and fighting.
  • The parliament, for which elections were held under “controlled conditions,” has not been able to play any useful role in devising any policy that could address the issues/irritants outlined above.
  • More importantly, the fear of B-52s and Daisy Cutters is no longer holding people back. For the common man, the worst has come and gone. US and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces are now viewed as occupation forces. They have not, in the eyes of most people, delivered on any front. Occupation forces must therefore be attacked and forced to leave, many Afghans say. The intense acrimony and hatred for the coalition and NATO forces has been deepened further by the killing of innocent people and destruction of property over the last five years in the course of hot pursuits of an invisible enemy.
  • The treatment, inhuman by all accounts, meted out to Afghan prisoners in Bagram and different jails across Afghanistan, and most notably in Guantanamo, has caused immense hostility towards the occupation forces. Almost all of the Afghans who were captured have been let off after years of intensive interrogations during which they have been subjected to unspeakable torture.
  • The so-called Government of Afghan and now the parliament have not been able to intervene or save innocent civilians from being hounded, captured, tortured and then let off with permanent scars on their bodies, souls and identities.

The above problems provide the backdrop for the resurgence of attacks on government and coalition forces. It is not correct to assume that the resistance is better organized. Paradoxically, in some situations, the very lack of organization proves to be an asset rather than a liability because the pattern, timing, place and intended target are all unknown elements in a confusing scenario of mounting insurgency. The failures of the system stem from the presence of occupation forces. Afghanistan’s rightful sovereignty will be restored only when there are institutions and a government that does not need external props for its survival.

 

Just as people rose against the occupation forces of the former Soviet Union, they have registered their opposition to the presence of the coalition forces. Unless this issue is resolved, Afghanistan will continue to be plagued by internal strife and instability, adding to the grim economic prospects of a war-weary population.

 

There is a fairly widespread belief that the country would plunge into a factional war if the coalition forces were to leave abruptly. This may be true for a short period of time. But soon, popular forces, supported by the people and reflecting the aspirations of the population, would gain ascendancy. It is not possible for a Taliban-like force to return. But under a different incarnation, some of those men could return with a vastly modified approach to issues of public policy, assume control of the affairs of the country, and proceed to build institutions, and ensure peace, justice and socioeconomic development based on rule of law and equity.

 

Rahimullah Yousufzai: I do not think one person, organization or country is responsible for the insecurity in Afghanistan today. There are so many different reasons and factors behind this problem. Now, six years after the fall of the Taliban regime, I think that it is imperative to review policies, given that, primarily, the military option has been utilized thus far.

 

If you recall, in the recent Pakistan-Afghanistan peace Jirga in Kabul, one of the recommendations was to open dialogue with opposition groups. I think the military option has failed; instead of controlling the resistance, it has amplified it to the extent that now there are more casualties in Afghanistan than there were six years ago. One reason this strategy has failed is that there are more foreign troops in Afghanistan today than there were in 2001. Further, the United States is demanding that NATO provide even more troops. NATO member countries are reluctant to provide more troops because it is a very contentious political issue at home. Domestic opposition to deploying more troops is growing in Canada, Australia, Britain and elsewhere.

 

I think that the Afghan people were hoping for a big change — a positive change. They thought that in the post-Taliban period there would be peace, security, employment, and some kind of national reconciliation. None of this happened.

 

There have been some positive changes. For example, more boys and girls are going to school; some of the important roads have been built, like the Kabul-Kandahar road; there are now better health facilities than in the past; and women can work in Afghanistan. Further, employment has increased as the job market has grown and, in fact, more than fifty thousand Pakistanis are currently employed in Afghanistan. There were elections and there is a parliament which can debate important issues.

 

But there have been a number of negative developments too. For example, despite the presence of foreign troops, despite the creation of the Afghan National Army and police, and despite the fact that more resources are available than the Taliban had, peace continues to elude Afghanistan. Afghans feel that promises were not fulfilled, which has led to widespread resentment against the current establishment. Increasingly, Afghans view the Taliban in a positive light because they used all possible means to maintain peace during their reign. Another factor adding to the building resentment comprises of highhanded military tactics, such as aerial bombardment from gunship helicopters and jets, which have resulted in the death of innocent civilians. Further, forced entry into Afghan homes has, in some cases, offended locals, who view such raids as a violation of their privacy.

 

Moreover, the lack of tangible reconstruction projects has led to disillusionment. Money for developmental aid has been utilized in military and security operations. The rehabilitation and repatriation of returning refugees has been a slow and excruciating process for millions of Afghans hoping to build a better future in democratic Afghanistan.

 

The coalition led by President Hamid Karzai is really an artificially created alliance of pro-Western elements and former warlords to secure the American national interest. The Afghan masses despise the warlords, some ex-commanders, communists, and militants, all of which make up this government. In fact, this is the reason why the Taliban emerged and were easily able to capture 90 percent of the country by 1997. Bringing back despised characters of this nature was a mistake.

 

Another major problem is poppy cultivation and the proliferation of drug production.

 

Then, although foreign troops have inflicted damage on al-Qaeda they have not defeated it completely, as Osama bin Laden has not been captured and the Taliban insurgency is spreading from its traditional base in the southwest towards the center of Afghanistan, towards Kabul, and even further north in Kunduz.
Despite the positive developments of the past six years, the final score sheet is negative and until the above-mentioned issues are addressed, Afghanistan will continue to suffer.

 

Rasool Amin: I believe that numerous factors are responsible for the current situation. Discussing each one of them at length requires too much time; however, the primary issue is that, subsequent to Dawood Khan’s ouster from power, Afghan society became divided into factions controlled by various groups. Unfortunately, Afghan factions subscribed to left-wing or right-wing ideologies instead of serving the national interest. Only those subscribing to the ruling group’s ideology were appointed to administrative posts, while everyone else was regarded an enemy.

 

These problems will remain unsolved until Afghanistan becomes the focal point of our struggle; national interests are respected and protected; issues are solved through dialogue and negotiations; and balanced relations are established with all our neighbors.

 

Moreover, unless a government is strengthened — I do not regard the current establishment a government — peace and stability cannot be restored. I consider the neighbors primarily liable for the Afghan dilemma because Pakistan, Iran and even Saudi Arabia, all of which are Islamic states, promoted groups to serve their vested interests. Meanwhile, the USA also got involved in the game due to its anti-socialist ideology or in order to reciprocate the Vietnam defeat. Therefore, I contend that neighbors are primarily responsible for the problem, while the Afghan groups are next in line of responsibility. They should have realized that a warrior receives aid from different sources but this does not imply that the aid should be used in a war of power that leads to the destruction of your own country. Therefore, I consider them secondarily responsible for the problem.

 

To conclude the reply, primary responsibility lies with neighbors, while secondary responsibility lies with Afghan factions who forgot the national interest in the race to serve their own agendas.

 

Abdul Ghafoor Lewal: Factors responsible for the destabilized condition of Afghanistan can be divided into two categories: internal factors and external factors.

 

Dealing with the first category, we could mention the instability wrought by thirty long years of war; the presence of warlords throughout the country and their influence on the government; the aftermath of the war in terms of institutional corruption leading ultimately to lack of welfare projects in various provinces; unjust and irrational division of international assistance and its mishandling, including tactics resulting in remittance of part of the aid back to donor countries, and further, investment in undesired projects. For instance, we are in severe need of establishing highways and productive units, rehabilitating the agricultural sector, building dams and water reservoirs, and developing energy producing projects. Unfortunately, however, funds that should be earmarked for such projects are invested in constructing buildings.

 

Furthermore, various projects are launched that will not serve the interests of the country. Various seminars, workshops, and even billboards are commissioned to promote women’s rights and democracy, incurring huge costs. These measures are taken at a time when we do not have a road system, energy resources, production units and lack an effective, developed and efficient agricultural system.

 

A lack of concentration on these basic needs has resulted in economic inflation and poverty in Afghanistan. Thus, a segment of the population is expressing dissatisfaction with the current state-of-affairs by joining hands with the opposition.

 

Of course, the Afghan government has flaws and deficiencies, but it can take credit for certain undeniable achievements, including drafting of the Constitution of Afghanistan; convening of two Grand Assemblies (Loya Jirga); establishing a Parliament; and conducting successful presidential and parliamentary elections. Sanctioning free speech, building social units, and construction of some highways are also among successful ventures undertaken by the government. Moreover, the government should be given credit for facilitating investment in some sectors.

 

On the other hand, failures in the government’s account are centered on weak leadership, which has undermined peace and stability in Afghanistan. From a political perspective, the government has relied heavily on some groups with criminal backgrounds within Afghanistan. The people of Afghanistan expressed their antipathy towards these very groups in the past, and the sentiment led to the birth of the Taliban movement.

 

These issues have resulted in the continuation of instability within Afghanistan. But there are also critical external factors. One of the most important is foreign influence in the enduring discord within the country. To put it plainly, the interference of neighbors in Afghanistan, specifically Pakistan’s military and intelligence meddling, has exacerbated internal problems. Even if the Pakistani state apparatus is not involved to that extent, at least, training, equipment and armament facilities of certain anti-Afghanistan elements are located within Pakistani territory and are still operational. This factor could be regarded a vital and, externally, key factor in the continuing Afghan crisis. Certainly, Pakistan is not the only intrusive neighbor; rather, all our neighbors are interfering in our affairs. For instance, from a cultural perspective, Iran is implementing an irrational policy regarding Afghanistan.

 

However, notwithstanding foreign interference in Afghan affairs, the onus for the persisting crisis falls squarely on the shoulders of the current regime in Kabul.

 

Secondary liability lies on the shoulders of the major powers who undertook the task of stabilizing and building a peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan. They initiated the invasion of Iraq in an irresponsible manner; from a temporal perspective, it led to reduced foreign presence too soon after the ouster of the Taliban and, from a monetary perspective, it robbed Afghanistan of funds required for rebuilding.

 

Finally, the people of Afghanistan must take responsibly too as they have played a role in the current crisis. Unfortunately, the Afghan nation lacks social cohesion and even now sees war as a solution to their misfortunes.

 

Azmat Hayat Khan: After the ouster of the Taliban, Afghans were expecting that peace would come to Afghanistan, development would start and a new progressive Afghanistan would be built. In spite of the presence of foreign troops, innocent people continue to lose their lives to insurgents. No real development has taken place and the overall situation has become worse. The same warlords are ruling the country. The writ of the foreign forces is confined to big cities and they are losing the battle for “hearts and minds.” Afghans are suspicious of the foreign forces; they think that their goal is to destroy and occupy the country in retribution for the Taliban’s imposition of shari‘a, which they oppose wholeheartedly. In every operation, innocent people have lost their lives to so-called “friendly fire” or “pilot errors”; Afghans remain unconvinced that their lives are precious for foreign forces and such casualties have pitted the people against the occupier.

 

Thus, the people’s expectations have not been fulfilled. The first priority in Afghanistan is to maintain law and order; the second is to start economic activities — yet nothing has started. This failure has added to resentment against foreign forces.

 

Ahmad Waheed Mujhda: Following the Taliban’s downfall and the arrival of international forces, Afghan masses were anticipating peace and prosperity in the country. Unfortunately, international forces also committed some blunders; instead of curing Afghanistan’s troubles, they inflicted more pain and suffering because of their attitude.

 

The population of southern Afghanistan was specifically targeted, paving the way for the resurgence of Taliban forces in some areas. Thus, a primary cause for the heightened tension in Afghanistan is the mistakes committed by the international community. Moreover, the community mismanaged the reconstruction and rehabilitation process. So-called achievements in the field of rehabilitation, such as democratization of Afghanistan and support for women’s rights, are virtually unperceivable.

 

A huge budget has been allocated for salaries and remunerations of personnel appointed for the above-mentioned purposes, while the genuine cause of improving the standard of life in Afghanistan has been ignored totally. Therefore, we observe that people have not realized any positive change in their standard of living despite the fact that millions of dollars have supposedly arrived in the country.

 

Regarding the question of responsibility, it should be noted that when a state is occupied, a regime is ousted and another is installed by an occupying force, primarily, the occupying force is responsible for the future course of events. When a regime is overthrown with the intention of installing a new one, naturally the responsibility lies on the shoulders of the intervening government. We cannot say, “You came to Afghanistan, overthrew a regime — an action you repeated in Iraq — and yet you are not responsible for the ensuing mess! You are not responsible for the massacre taking place here, you have come to serve us and reconstruct our country.”

 

The international forces were ignorant of the Afghan nation’s expectations at the time of invasion; they did not realize the extent of rehabilitation and reconstruction the Afghan population had in mind. Instead, these forces viewed rehabilitation as nothing more than democratization and securing the freedom of Afghan women.

 

Therefore, the international community is primarily liable for the situation in Afghanistan. They installed a government that is not capable of governing and managing domestic affairs, and consequently it cannot spend the huge budget allocated for Afghanistan.

 

Sultan Amir: The Taliban leadership is still at large. Out of about 35 members who were part of the in the Taliban Shura [Parliament], only three apex members have been captured up till now, one has been killed, and the rest are all alive and at large. These leaders are still continuing the resistance. The writ of the state is restricted to key urban areas, whereas the countryside is where most of the public is. This public is neglected and barely surviving, and is actively participating in the resistance as the leadership of resistance feels no problems to move within the public. Moreover, among the people killed in the military actions that were initially carried out, 80 to 90 percent were innocent, whereas most of the actual rivals remained unhurt. These killings of innocent people added to the hatred and the struggle against foreign forces.

Warlords have been reestablished and are now another factor in the failure in Afghanistan as they create lawlessness in their areas of influence. The fact that the major part of the country is controlled by warlords reflects the vulnerability of its political process, and the resultant insecurity, administrative failure and political volatility.

 

Then, Pakhtuns are not happy with the extent of representation they have been allotted in the government, which is much lower than their rightful share according to the population structure. Other ethnic groups voice their own grievances. Meanwhile, the Uzbeks, ruling elite, warlords and other authorities are not very well conversant with the real issues of Afghan society and grassroots activities and concerns of the population. For the most part, they are expatriates who have been forcibly imposed over the local population and will take time to understand its problems. A number of other activities are also hindering the intruders’ ability to control the war-torn country.

 

It is likely that instability and resistance will continue in Afghanistan, warlords will maintain their power, the drug trade will rise, political turmoil will increase, and the Americans’ stay will be prolonged. Insecurity goes in the Americans’ favor, and they will use it to stay in the area. Secondly, the United States could also deflect its attention towards its next targets, including Iran and Pakistan. (The latter would be pressurized to denuclearize, give up its struggle for Kashmir, and allow this dispute to be decided according to the super power’s own wishes, to pave the way for expanded US presence in the area.)

 

Indulging in wishful thinking, if the Afghan war succeeds and America withdraws, its religious forces will reemerge even stronger, drugs trafficking will definitely be controlled, warlords will perish, and Pakistan will emerge as a hub of development activities.

 

2. How can sustainable peace be restored in Afghanistan?

 

Farooq Wardak: Peace and prosperity comprise a process that can neither be eliminated completely nor achieved all of a sudden. This is a continuous process that requires a persistent, continuous and multi-dimensional effort.

 

As I divided the factors responsible for the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan into two categories — internal and external factors, so I will divide the solutions into internal and external solutions. Among internal solutions are, for instance, strengthening of national institutions, including the military, police and national security; strengthening of technical institutions; and strengthening of the administrative organ, which would certainly improve the chances of achieving lasting peace in the country. Indeed, the more the administrative organ strengthens, the more the chances for peace and stability increase.

 

Moreover, we must try to improve our economic infrastructure and create employment for people so that their energy is utilized in constructive activities instead of destructive behavior.

 

Among external solutions, we must improve relations with neighbors, especially Pakistan. The process of confidence building with Pakistan must be taken seriously. This strategy will decrease the threat our country faces from our eastern and southeastern border.

 

Mirza Aslam Beg: To explain this phenomenon, I shall narrate my conversation with Commander Jalaluddin Haqqani, and the reply I got from Mullah Umar. It was in February 2002 that I met Jalaluddin Haqqani, Taliban’s popular military commander and a prominent fighter of the war against Soviets, who informed me that they were coordinating with the Taliban leaders to jointly wage the war of liberation against the occupation forces. I suggested to him that war would cause greater death and destruction in a country already devastated by two decades of war. Rather, they should follow the American agenda for reconstruction and democracy, because by becoming a part of the democratic process, and by virtue of being in majority (Pakhtuns), they would form the government and achieve what they want to achieve through war. He listened and gave no comments, but promised to convey the same to Mullah Umar. After a couple of months, I got the reply:

“We have decided to fight till the occupation forces leave and we are free. It is not in harmony with our traditions, national honor and dignity to collaborate with the occupation forces and their agenda. We shall fight till the occupation forces leave, and we are free to choose our leaders and system of governance.”

 

Ahmad Shah Ahmadzai: In the current scheme of events prevalent in Afghanistan, the foremost step that must be taken to ensure peace and prosperity is the withdrawal of the allied forces from Afghanistan. This step must be taken first, followed by the formation of a national consensus assembly by the Afghan nation. Subsequently, steps must be taken towards running the affairs of the country.

 

However, if it proves difficult to withdraw Western forces in the first place, then another option available is to deploy Muslim forces instead of NATO forces. This would be a transitional period to gain the confidence of the Afghan masses.

 

We will, meanwhile, carry on a reconciliation process to discuss development and establishment of a new system in the country. The presence of Western forces is indeed a major hurdle to the stability and peace in the country. To gain an enduring peace in Afghanistan, the foreign troops must withdraw.

 

Fawzia Kufi: Initially, we need determined and sincere political leadership with a comprehensive, farsighted strategy for Afghanistan.

 

The second requirement is that the rural population be given access to the same basic facilities that the urban population enjoys. Unfortunately, the people of Afghanistan lack this right even today.

 

Rahimullah Yousufzai: The issues discussed in response to the first question have to be resolved for sustainable and enduring peace in Afghanistan. It will only occur when the people are happy and satisfied; if they are disappointed or frustrated, there can be no peace. The hearts and minds of the people must be won over by creating an atmosphere conducive to national reconciliation and limiting the use of force.

It is necessary to address the various stakeholders and actors involved in the current problems. Such people need to be engaged through discourse and negotiations, not threats and violence. They may have some conditions and reservations but this is part of the process; once these are addressed, a way forward may be sought. A number of such conditions simply amount to posturing and once their proponents have been spoken to on the sidelines, I feel that many among them will be willing to set aside preconditions and come into the mainstream. Some radical groups are vociferously opposed to everything when they are in opposition, but when they come to power, they become responsible, realize that whatever they said cannot be achieved, and moderate their message. Such actors can be won over by diplomacy.

 

I believe that Hekmatyar falls into this category and as much as he talks about routing out the foreign occupation forces, if he is in power, he will realize that a Taliban-style government cannot be set up again because foreign troops will engage and push them out once again.

 

Rasool Amin: I believe the first step to be taken towards establishment of peace and stability in Afghanistan is dialogue; the rest can proceed collaterally with it, but dialogue must take precedence.

 

I stated before that perpetual peace can only prevail if we solve our internal differences through dialogue. In the second phase, we must work for normalcy of relations with neighbors, including Pakistan. In my opinion, negotiations between various Afghan factions as well as cooperation with neighbors — with the condition that they assist us in establishing peace and reconstructing Afghanistan — will pave the way for enduring peace in the country. In addition, neighbors must be explicitly informed that their external and internal problems should not factor into relations with Afghanistan.

 

The undeveloped rural areas of the country must be given special attention and development must not be confined to urban areas alone.

 

A fourth important factor is transparency of the government and elimination of superficial divisions. I believe that the best method for achieving this end is to reform the government.

 

Abdul Ghafoor Lewal: First, power must be delegated on the basis of political conscience, which will enable the legislature to be a broad-based forum representing the entire nation. Political affiliations on the basis of race or language are poisonous and may result in the dismemberment of the country. The government must work as a team with a sense of mutual trust. If this occurs, it is immaterial whether the government is broad-based, multi-ethnic or otherwise because a professional and expert executive has to follow the president.

 

Second, boosting political awareness at the grassroots level will help eliminate foreign meddling in our internal affairs. The nation must protect and preserve its sovereignty itself.

 

Then, we must invite our international allies to rectify their flaws and familiarize them with Afghan culture. This way, we can prevent them from committing an act against the values of Afghanistan and Islam. International forces must accompany and assist us until we are finally able to cope with our problems. However, they must coordinate with us, while respecting our culture, our religion and our values.

 

Further, economic reforms in Afghanistan must take the shape of institutional rehabilitation: we must focus on institutions; we must utilize our geo-strategic location for our interest; we must endeavor to connect South Asia with Central Asia. Economic growth is correlated with peace and stability and both must concurrently receive due consideration.

 

The millions of dollars donated for Afghanistan need not be wasted on painting walls and hanging multi-colored billboards. They should also not be wasted in launching futile and useless programs for ‘gender awareness,’ which cannot produce any advantageous results. Moreover, these funds need not be misapplied in workshops and seminars for praising and appreciating Western democracy.

 

Instead, this aid must be utilized in establishing industries, agricultural reforms, generating electricity and other forms of energy, and other essential commodities. At present, unfortunately, the millions of dollars of aid is utilized behind desks, shown on laptop screens and utilized on the same screens. Aid must move to the field and get expended there. These are various factors that could assist peace and security across the country.

 

Azmat Hayat Khan: Sustainable peace can be restored, provided that the foreign forces respect Afghan culture, the Afghan social structure and Islam. Afghans are a respectable nation and must be treated as such. They know how to solve their own problems. They have their own social structure which is thousands of years old. In every village, the tribal elders are revered and responsible for a number of decisions.

 

Unfortunately, Western forces have their own ways of achieving their goals and have ignored the tribal elders in a bid to promote their own interests. The West-sponsored jirga (assembly) has largely been un-successful because foreigners have not taken into account the change that has taken place in the country’s social structure, due in part to the Soviet war. Rural Afghan elders should be taken into confidence when making decisions about the country. A bottom-up approach towards development will be more fruitful than the current top-down approach; only locals understand the problems of their districts and, with foreign aid, can propose effective means to tackle them.

 

Security must be ensured before economic development can occur. But paradoxically, foreign troops cannot ensure peace as they have been rejected by a large segment of Afghan society and their presence is prolonging the insurgency. These troops, along with liberal Afghans, are acting against Afghan social customs and Islam. Kabul does not represent all of Afghanistan; the regime there should understand the values of the rural masses that make up the core of Afghanistan. Only then can it make a difference.

 

The third point is that foreign states that are investing in Afghanistan must not underestimate the crisis; if they do not act seriously, the fire burning in Afghanistan will ravage them as well.

 

Ahmad Waheed Mujhda: A major cause of the war in Afghanistan is the mistrust amongst various Afghan races and tribes. We were unified as one Afghan ‘army’ during the jihad against Soviet occupation and perhaps this alone was the most important factor in our victory.

 

The enemies of Afghanistan realized that they could never defeat a united Afghanistan and therefore decided to sow disunity among the myriad ethnic groups here. We can see that, following the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, racial tensions increased. People divided themselves along tribal lines and each considered his tribe superior to the others. Moreover, they indulged in internal wars, which indeed undermined the sense of unity in Afghanistan.

 

To reconstruct the country, it is essential that all Afghan races and tribes come together, united as they once lived in the past. Unity through brotherhood enabled them to withstand common enemies, earn victories in war, and bear the pain of defeat. Thus, they must negotiate and arrive at a common consensus, agreeing to trust each other while ridding the collective psyche of the idea that life in Afghanistan is a zero-sum game.

 

A sense of national solidarity must regenerate in Afghanistan to ensure perpetual peace in the country. Peace cannot be measured by or equated with a ceasefire; it must begin in the minds of the warriors to be lasting. If this happens, we will certainly have an opportunity to secure everlasting peace in Afghanistan.

 

Sultan Amir: Lessons from Afghan history should be deduced and the ground realities correctly recognized. The Afghans’ social and cultural tradition must be kept in mind, as well as the fact that they seldom take dictates and never compromise over religious faith.

 

The Taliban still continue their resistance in the hills. While the form of Islamic reassertion may change, the Taliban will continue to wield Islamic influence which will color the thought processes and policies of the Afghan ruling elite and the masses alike. Although it appears farfetched that the previous lot of the Taliban will re-emerge in their original form in the near future, their ideas will continue to inspire the coming Afghan generation. However, it will be the power wielded by the mix of Islamic idealism, good governance and Afghan valor that will keep the spirit of the Afghan nation alive, whatever form it takes in the future.

 

3. In recent days, Pak-Afghan relations have witnessed a per-ceptible change. What short and long-term steps do you suggest to expedite this process?

 

Farooq Wardak: I believe we have many ways to deal with this issue but the most effective and short-term method, suggested by the Afghan President, was the Joint Peace Jirga. Although we observed some reservation on the Pakistani side — Pervez Musharraf did not attend the opening ceremony — after a lapse of three days, the Afghan and international community observed that this jirga had indeed been a positive mechanism. Musharraf also realized this fact and participated in the concluding session.

 

So, if this process continues, that is, we consider and respect each other’s welfare and opt for a common strategy against terrorism, believing in securing a peaceful neighborhood, the environment of trust and confidence, although feeble at the moment, will improve and strengthen in the future.

 

Mirza Aslam Beg: The message [given above] is loud and clear and also spells out the steps to be taken to find peace in Afghanistan:

  • A time frame for the withdrawal of occupation forces as the prerequisite for dialogue;
  • Dialogue, discussion and agreement on:
  • Transfer of power,
  • Restructuring of national institutions,
  • National reconciliation,
  • Peace agreements with the neighboring countries, particularly with Pakistani tribes of the border belt, who have traditionally played the role of arbiters in Afghan affairs;
  • UN role in peace-keeping; and
  • Payment of reparations by the United States and its allies for an unjust war and total destruction of Afghanistan.

Ahmad Shah Ahmadzai: Principally, differences must not exist between Afghanistan and Pakistan because it is not possible for them to live in hostility since they share a long border. It is essential that they live in understanding and enjoy peaceful relations.

However, the issue is not simple. It must be considered from two perspectives: that of the nation, and that of the government.

West-leaning governments are ruling both Afghanistan and Pakistan and have succumbed to the dictates of the United States. This, indeed, is an embarrassment for both the nations. The nations live in a sense of brotherhood and affection. I cannot imagine a single percent’s difference between an Afghan’s and a Pakistani’s view of the issues. The difference we observe is due to Western influence at the government level.

 

Thus, we have to pray to Almighty Allah and strive to convince the governments on both sides to abandon their cowering compliance with the dictates of strangers. They must realize and respect their own national interests and not that of alien states.

 

If the leaders of Pakistan and Afghanistan realize and respect their national interests and sentiments, and the feelings of their people, then I believe bilateral relations will improve further. To this end, the people must convince their governments or oblige them to consider their national interests and not the requests of the United States and the West.

 

Fawzia Kufi: It does not seem accurate to say that we have a political problem with Pakistan. We do, however, have a military problem with the Pakistanis; a military problem related to an ancient political system which, for 200 to 300 years, could not be solved through jirga.

 

The Peace Jirga was indeed a political achievement; nonetheless, it could not suffice to ease the tense situation permanently.

 

I believe in the political and economic integration of those territories that lack proper demarcation and exist on the fringes of the state apparatus. Neither government should influence or pressurize them. Notwithstanding this suggestion, the resident population of these areas must enjoy the right to decide which state they prefer to join.

 

Another important point is the establishment of diplomatic ties and bilateral cooperation between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Until today, relations remained limited to the economic sector and largely favorable for Pakistan as Afghanistan became a dumping ground for Pakistan’s textiles and, therefore, its ‘cloth market’. Our President proudly contends that imports from Pakistan have increased. However, I do not believe that these imports can benefit us anymore. We must closely measure the quantum of our exports to Pakistan. Further, we must assess the extent to which this issue helps us in our self-reliance. Relations between the two states must exist bilaterally and must remain based on reciprocity. Neither state should have an unfair trade balance.

 

Rustam Shah Mohmand: Unless the fundamental complexion of the situation changes, Pakistan has to do business with the present regime and promote its agenda of greater economic cooperation, robust cultural linkages, political understanding and a vigorous participation in Afgh-anistan’s reconstruction. Sadly, there are considerable obstacles to surmount. For a people-to-people relationship, an essential ingredient is the existence of goodwill on each side.

 

There is an urgent need to take several measures to arrest the growing hostility towards Pakistan and reinforce the positives in an effort to build an edifice of durable ties.

 

The crucial point to note is: How could Pakistan weaken the Karzai government in the establishment of which it was a party?

 

Pakistan must continue to stress its position and proceed cautiously but firmly in further strengthening economic, cultural, educational and trade linkages with Afghanistan, so as not to be left behind other regional players who are equally keen to establish a foothold in Afghanistan.

 

But the full potential of our relations will be realized only when there is peace and an Afghan government that reflects the aspirations of the people. Frankly, that can come about only when the resistance to the government fades away, which itself is contingent upon either the complete and total defeat of the insurgency or the withdrawal of coalition forces.

 

History bears witness that insurgencies rooted in faith, enjoying widespread local support, facing alien forces, cannot be destroyed. Sooner or later, the issue of the occupation forces stay to be addressed and resolve.

 

As long as the occupation forces stay in Afghanistan, the resistance will continue and the blame game will go on, depriving the two countries of opportunities to make concerted efforts to reduce poverty, illiteracy, disease and restrictions on the movement of men and goods; ensure better quality of life for their populations; and work together to establish societies based on rule of law, respect for human rights, pluralism and democracy.

 

It follows from this analysis that the issue of the presence of coalition forces can be ignored only at the peril of peace and stability. No genuine movement towards peace, stability and prosperity would be possible without removing the most intractable irritant, and that is the presence of coalition forces. Many options could be considered if this basic requirement is accepted, such as induction of peacekeepers from Islamic countries for a transitional period, holding of elections in which all Afghans can take part, inaugurating a new era of national reconciliation, etc.

 

Rahimullah Yousufzai: As long as the war on terror persists, al-Qaeda elements continue operating in the region and foreign troops remain stationed in Afghanistan, Pak-Afghan relations will suffer. Suspicions and tensions exist but both sides must realize that many foreign factors are involved in the region, which do not necessarily want peace between the neighbors.

 

Referring to foreign elements, al-Qaida is largely Arab and Central Asian. Further, troops from 37 different countries are involved in the allied effort. Thus, the border region between the two countries remains a continued source of stress, especially because no Afghan government has recognized it as the official boundary between the states.

 

The border is 2,500 kilometers long and very porous. People easily cross the border without any travel documents. It is a very difficult border to secure and, because of close ties between people on either side of the border, many can go through unhindered.

 

There is a history of lack of trust and suspicion between the states. If you recall, Afghanistan was the only country which objected to Pakistan’s membership in the UN in 1947. The Durand Line issue has existed from the very start but Sardar Dawood’s confrontational politics ruined relations to a greater extent during the 1970s. Pakistan used Islamist leaders like Ahmad Shah Masood and Hekmatyar to pressure Dawood and they took refuge in Pakistan around 1975. And then after the communist Soviet invasion in 1978, the Afghan mujahidin were given sanctuary in Pakistan, and Peshawar became the headquarters of the resistance.

 

Pakistan became a frontline state in the war against the Soviets. The war was over but the region was faced with its repercussions and consequences. Opposition leaders always seek a Pakistani passport when the going gets tough in Afghanistan. So when the Afghan Congress was in power in Kabul, the mujahidin were in Pakistan. When the mujahidin came into power, the communists came to Pakistan and they were given refuge. When the Taliban came to power, the mujahidin commander took refuge in Pakistan. Now, the Taliban are hiding in Pakistan but Pakistan should not give refuge to those that oppose the Afghan government.

 

There is some leftover historical baggage from the times when Afghanistan and Pakistan would provide refuge to anti-state elements of the neighboring country. Some feel that if the Afghan government gets too strong, it will resume its interference in Pakistani affairs. Of course, the Afghans already blame the Pakistanis for some of their woes.

 

Trade between the two countries has grown dramatically. There is a large increase in Pakistani exports to Afghanistan. Pakistan has benefited from the Afghan reconstruction as fifty thousand Pakistanis are currently working there. Pakistani cement, other raw materials and goods are being exported to Afghanistan. Afghan exports to Pakistan have also increased. Strong economic ties can bolster bilateral relations. Moreover, there should be more state-sponsored cultural exchanges, social exchanges and other such programs. In the past, relationships were limited to government-level exchanges but the refugee influx, as well as the current rebuilding of Afghanistan, has resulted in people-to-people ties. I am hopeful that relations will improve, but as long as foreign troops are stationed in the region, and al-Qaeda continues to bankroll the insurgency, tensions will persist between the neighbors.

 

Rasool Amin: I have always asserted that there is no better option than to have peaceful and sound relations with our neighbors. Moreover, in my opinion, the Joint Peace Jirga was not sufficient; Pakistan, Iran and India are all very important for us. Thus, we must have experienced and qualified diplomatic missions in these states, who strive to bolster bilateral relations.

 

We must enjoy friendly relations with Pakistan, both at government level and with political parties such as the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Muslim League (ML), Awami National Party, and other religious parties. For this purpose, we must try to create a friendly environment and build bilateral trust.

 

Commercial ties must be strengthened; exchange of students and academic staff, sports events, etc., must be hosted in both the states. If we have a strategy and are determined to enforce and implement it, it is probable that lasting peace will gradually be attained. Determination and courage are, however, prerequisites for this process.

 

 

 

Abdul Ghafoor Lewal: In my opinion, verbal sparring in the political arena amounts to nothing, as does each country’s indictment of the other in the media. These acts can work to influence circumstances, but not the original policy of a state towards the other. Likewise, joint photo sessions with warm welcomes and firm embraces cannot improve the prevalent political situation.

 

What is important is the intentions of policymakers on both sides, and specifically, the grounds that have led to distrust among the two states. These issues must be resolved through bilateral negotiations.

 

Pakistan intends to install a friendly government in Afghanistan in order to protect its interests, which are mainly economic; Pakistan wants to keep Afghanistan under its influence so that it can find a route towards Central Asia. Pakistan looks forward to establishing a market for its products in Afghanistan and wants to utilize Afghan water resources.

 

On the other hand, Pakistan strives to annihilate Indian influence in Afghanistan and, on a larger scale, it would like Afghanistan to remain a milch cow by keeping it unstable and in a state of perpetual war. This way billions of dollars of aid can be siphoned into Pakistan’s coffers.

 

Keeping in view the above-mentioned elements, we can conclude that unless Pakistani policymakers start acting in good faith towards Afghanistan by reconsidering their policy towards the latter, the mere change in tones and claims of good wishes will remain mere exhibitions and will not result in anything.

 

Although we cannot expect foreign powers to stop interfering in Afghanistan, we must strengthen our own country and withstand these machinations on our own. We should strengthen Afghanistan to the extent that it can resist foreign intervention and respond in kind if the need arises.

 

Azmat Hayat Khan: Pakistan and Afghanistan share old historical, cultural, linguistic and religious ties. There is no way one can do without the other. There is an anti-Pakistan bias among those that made up the Northern Alliance, especially with regard to the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) and the Pakistani military. I do not understand why, when a NATO commander says, “We have captured, intercepted arms and ammunition,” the Afghan government is willing to point a finger at Pakistan, but ignores other elements. There are still a number of Afghan refugees living in Pakistan, of which a large number are well-educated and involved in business. I consider it a unique case in world history that so many people came to a poor province and were accepted without violence and respected and honored as well.

 

Individual relations between Afghans and Pakistanis continue to be excellent. No matter what anyone says, Afghanistan cannot live without Pakistan, and vice versa. They say, you can choose your friend but you cannot choose your neighbour. Furthermore, repatriated Afghans have a high regard for Pakistan.
These nations have to come to some understanding and there are lot of possibilities between the two, in spite of the accusations. We have a lot of trade; the figure is something like $6 billion unofficially and, if you stand on the border, you see thousands of people crossing from one side to the other. So, we must realize that we cannot live without each other, and strive to improve bilateral relations.

 

Ahmad Waheed Mujhda: It is evident that common problems have existed between Afghanistan and Pakistan but, unfortunately, neither country has tried to solve the issue in a proper manner. Neither country had the foresight to realize that a fire in one would spread and eventually engulf the peace of the other. However, time altered this attitude, as Afghanistan realized that constantly accusing Pakistan for meddling in its affairs was not a sensible course of action while Pakistan was facing its own crisis.

 

On the other hand, Pakistan also realized that Afghanistan was already drowning in problems of the same nature that it was facing. Therefore, I contend that at least a relative understanding between the two states has emerged, decreasing the ongoing verbal war between them. Another factor that has reduced the tension is Afghanistan’s understanding that Pakistan, obliged by its interests, is not the sole power interfering in its affairs.

 

Kabul has come to know that several other states are involved in this problem; Russian ammunition has been seized from the Taliban besides Iranian and Chinese weapons, implying that a multi-player game is being executed in Afghanistan. The Afghan Defense Minister has explicitly stated that several states are involved in equipping the insurgents and are therefore responsible for Afghanistan’s problems.

 

I believe that the issues cannot be solved by the two countries’ affronting and abusing of each other. When we realize the existence of a problem and accuse a neighbor for it, we ignore the internal dimension to the problem, and naturally move further from solving it.

 

Pakistan’s problems must be kept in mind; equally, Pakistan should not forget the issues Afghanistan has to confront. Meanwhile, bilateral visits of high-level officials and cooperation in political, economic and military sectors could help improve the overall scenario and build a spirit of trust.

 

Sultan Amir: Pakistan could play a pivotal role in reestablishing Afghanistan but, unfortunately, the Afghan leadership is not very receptive. If a strategy is devised of selective moral cooperation with Americans, it could solve the problem of Afghanistan and Pakistan could befriend Afghanistan.

 
 

* Interviews of Afghan respondents were conducted by Mr. Ahmad Zia Rahimzai, IPS correspondent in Kabul.
 
 

Dr. Rubin was present at the meeting.

 
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