The Future of Afghanistan *
Dr. V.P. Vaidik
I am quite optimistic about the future of Afghanistan। Afghanistan’s fate is deeply linked with that of India and Pakistan. The history and geography of our region has proved time and again that we can afford to ignore Afghanistan only at our peril. Though Afghanistan appears to be a smaller nation stricken with poverty and ethnic division, it has played a crucial role in the rise and fall of several empires. The latest victim of Afghanistan is the Bush Empire and earlier to it, was the Soviet Empire. The British Empire lost its sheen for the first time at the hands of the brave Afghans. The Afghans shook the British Empire and gave it a bloody nose thrice in the span of 80 years. The Mughals, the Mongols and the Greeks had to swallow the bitter Afghan pill during their own times. The US and India, both are paying the high price for their negligence of Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal. Both have become the victims of terrorism.
The Future of Afghanistan will determine not only the fate of its neighbors but also the world powers because it has become the world capital of the Super State called terrorism. Terrorism is a state without borders. Afghanistan has turned into an Abandoned Sarai for the terrorists of more than 50 nationalities. More than 40 powerful and prosperous nations of the world are trying to salvage the situation but they are far away from their objective, their manzile-maqsood. When I use the term Afghanistan, I am using it here in the ethnic sense. It includes areas on both sides of the Durand Line, including those belonging to the state of Pakistan। I urge the International community to pay more attention to Afghanistan in comparison to several other trouble spots in the world like Iraq, Palestine, Somalia and Kosovo. Why am I asking for it ? There is historical reason for it. Let me deal with it briefly. Later on I will come back to the question of handling the present situation and finding a way out of it.
I visualize Afghanistan as a key to the peace and prosperity of Asia, particularly that of South Asia, Central Asia and West Asia। This would constitute the Sixth Major International Movement from the land of the Afghans. The First Major Movement took place thousands of years ago, when the Aryans spread all over the world from Afghanistan. The Second Movement started with the spread of Buddhism.
The main onus of my presentation today is to explore the possibilities of this Sixth Movement of the Afghan history. How do we bring it about ? First of all, Afghanistan must have a political system which can be called all-inclusive. The Zaher shah Regime continued to thrive for forty years because of its above quality. It included not only Royalists and Democrats but also Khalqis, Parchamis and Shole-e-Jawed. It struck a proper balance between the Pathans, Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras and other ethnicities. Its foreign policy was that of unique kind. It was a different and higher kind of non-alignment. It was not about maintaining equi-distance from the Super Powers but of creating equi-propinquity with them. I have seen with my own eyes the cold warriors of the US and USSR sharing the same table in Kabul to help and advise the Afghan Government. Nobody could blame Zaher Shah and any one of his seven Prime Ministers for being a puppet of any Super Power. Even President Daud's Republic was above reproach as far as this phenomenon is concerned.
Today, despite having an elected Parliament and President in Kabul, can we call this system as truly representative of the Afghan people and all-inclusive ? I am not sure। Not only so-called Taliban but also several Mujahideen elements, the leftists, various warlords, local satraps, the drug mafia and a host of other non-state actors are operating at large in Afghanistan. They have made mockery of governance. The election of the President on August 20 and later on Parliament will hardly solve the problem. By holding Presidential election not before May but in August, the constitutional provisions have been already sidetracked. In such a situation, why don't we have a Grand Loya Jirga elected in the traditional Afghan fashion ? Consensus, rather than division of votes, should be the basis of this new set up. The powers, scope and the role of this Loya Jirga would be far superior than any Parliament. Let this Loya Jirga be the interim sovereign body of Afghanistan and let it appoint a Prime Minister or President, who is answerable to this Loya Jirga. The PM or President should be the head of a real Grand Coalition Government, whose main task would be the reconstruction of Afghanistan and to make it a self-reliant proud nation within next five years. The present disconnect between the President and Parliament should be replaced by a necessary harmony between the Excecutive and the Legislative organs of the Government. The Governor of Afghanistan, should be answerable to its people not to a foreign power. This would be the logical culmination of the Bonn Process. The image of a Soviet or an American or a Pakistani puppet is the undoing of a leader of Afghanistan. I have lots of other ideas about the Constitution of Afghanistan. But I would not take them up now.
Once you start setting up this all inclusive-process, do you think the Taliban would join it ? I don't think so. I have an impression, after discussing the matter with many so-called hard and soft Taliban and their supporters based in Peshwar, Kabul, London, New York and Washington,DC that their main demand is the immediate ouster of the foreign forces from Afghanistan. Can any one fullfil this demand ? Not at all. If you do it, the present set up will crucmble within a few hours as did Taliban in year 2001. So what is the solution ? Please pick up the courage to fix up the deadline. May be one year, two years and at the most three years. Every foreign soldier must leave Afghanistan by the declared deadline. In the meanwhile, a National Army consisting of at least 3 Lakh soldiers should be raised on a war footing. You may not need so many soldiers to control Afghanistan but you would be paying so many unemployed young men to keep them away from the Taliban. The expenditure on an Afghan soldier is 70 times less than on an American soldier. A better equipped, better trained and a better dressed Afghan soldier would be much cheaper than any foreign soldier. The Afghan imbroglio can be solved only by the Afghans and not the foreigners.
I am sure the Taliban will listen to this call and respond। I say this on the basis of my own experience of negotiations with them. Somebody must negotiate with them. It does not mean that the State should abdicate its responsibility to protect law and order in Afghanistan. In fact, the strength of the foreign armies should be doubled at the earliest. The policy of doing too late and too little will be disasterous.
I am aware of the anxiety of the Nato countries. They are dying to withdraw their forces from Afghanistan. Afghanistan is proving more cumbersome than Iraq. We must find a way out. I had suggested a way out in the Month of July 2008 in an article published in Nav Bharat Times, an Indian National Hindi Daily. I received a warm response from several high quarters। It is, perhaps, sheer co-incidence that the Nato Commander General David Patraes is repeatedly laying emphasis on the regional solution, which I have been advocating for several months. In my humble view, it is time to find a regional solution to the Afghan problem. The well augmented western forces should be replaced by the regional forces. It may be done within a year or so. By regional forces, I mean the forces of the neighboring countries including India and Turkey. These Asian Jawans will take care of the Afghan sensitivities quite adequately. The upkeep of these soldiers will cost hardly 10% of what is spent on a Western soldier. The Western powers can underwrite the cost of operation. Is it not a matter of shame that sacrifice of the Western armies have stopped earning the laurels from the Afghan people. Their image is nosediving like that of the Soviet armies. A few friends in Kabul told me that some of them are hand in glove with the drug traffickers and warlords. My own view is that the Western armies should quit Afghanistan before they are decimated by the people as they did during the first Afghan War.
The replacement of Western armies by the regional armies should be effected on the basis of the consensual request by the Afghan Loya Jirga or the Parliament। This will have more legitimacy than the Bonn Process. The key to success of this plan lies in the hands of Pakistan. The Pakistani Parliament and Government should welcome this move. Without the support of Pakistan, no such move can succeed in Afghanistan. If the Obama Administration can bring about reconciliation between two warring parties in Pakistan, why can't it use its good offices to see that India and Pakistan join hands together to fight and uproot their common enemy, terrorism. This initiative will completely change the politics of the sub-continent. What the Western armies could not achieve in seven years, the regional armies can achieve in seven months. Once Afghanistan stabilizes, Pakistan would like to seek the economic depth in Afghanistan rather than the strategic depth.
What Afghanistan needs today is the massive dose of economic assistance। The Western powers have spent more than 120 billion dollars in Afghanistan during the last seven years. Hardly ten percent of this amount has gone as development assistance. Even this assistance was not administered by the Government of Afghanistan. The ratio has to be reversed and the real authority to utilize the assistance should be put under the control of the Government of Afghanistan. The foreign assistance and the army operations controled by the foreigners have subverted the Afghan sovereignty and denuded the Afghan Government of its legitimacy. An average Afghan wants to see his government built in his own image that is a sovereign and proud institution. This is the real indigenisation of the Afghan reconstruction process.
The political reconciliation in Pakistan augurs well for Afghanistan. The New situation might ease the recently built tension between India and Pakistan. It is for the first time in the history of South Asia, that India, Pakistan and Afghanistan are friends of the same power. Even Iran is keen to help Afghanistan. Obama is sending right signals to Iran. The Jaranj-Delaram road built by India near the Afghanistan-Iran frontier has immense geo-political potential for Afghanistan. This is the best opportunity to reorganize the entire area of Ancient Aryana spread from Arakan to Khurasan (Myanmar to Iran) and from Tibet to Maldives. This one large family of 1.25 billion people can emerge as an island of peace, prosperity and cooperation. The bright future of Afghanistan will brighten the future of India and Pakistan too. I am very optimistic.
(Dr. Vaidik received his degree of Ph.D. from Jawaharlal Nehru University on “Afghanistan’s Relations with the USA and the USSR” about 40 Years ago. since then Dr. Vaidik has visited Afghanistan innumerable times. He has been knowing almost every top Afghan leader personally from king Zaher Shah to Hamid Karzai। He has also been in touch with the Leftist, Mujahideen and Taliban leaders. He has been advising the Indian Prime Ministers on Afghanistan. He has three books on Afghanistan (in Hindi), several research papers and dozens of articles. Dr. Vaidik has been the Editor of PTI-Bhasa and Nav Bharat Times (The then largest circulated national daily). He has been a delegate to the UN in 1999.