Afghanistan’s Political Route to Security

Of the multiple developments that have taken place on the Afghanistan front some indicate that the Karzai government and its principal supporters the American government appear to have finally understood fact that without genuine power-sharing security and stability in Afghanistan are not possible. Although early this year ,with US clearance and Pakistan’s mediation, behind the scenes dialogue between the Karzai regime and a faction of the talibaan leadership had begun, clearer contours of the Karzai regimes efforts to reach out and engage with political opponents have now emerged. The recent release of the former talibaan foreign minister Muttawakil has been the first solid indicator of change in Washington-Kabuls security and stability strategy for Afghanistan. The rhetoric against the talibaan has tended to blur this clean departure from the past rabidly anti-talibaan strategy. Kabul is now likely to induct individuals from the former talibaan leadership into the cabinet.

While policy change vis-a-vis the talibaan is the most significant political step taken by Washington-Kabul, other noteworthy political developments have also occurred. For example concrete steps have been taken Eatrly this week a defence delegation in Mazar-I-Sharif to merge two military corps controlled by rival military commanders Uzbek General Rashid Dostum and Tajik commander General Atta Mohammad. Both warring commanders support Karzai . Their support he hopes to use to forge unity. Karzai also has been honoring the former King Zahir Shah as the elder statesman. The new Afghan Constitution was presented to the former King.

There are two basic elements to Kabul’s current political approach to achieving the security-stability objective. One to isolate those political actors who are uncompromising and see the Afghan power scene in black and white terms thus seeking extreme steps. Two to align with those who are willing to compromise and adjust. Indeed Kabuls ability to opt for such an approach has flowed from a change in Kabul’s own thinking. An acutely adversarial and intolerant mind-set towards its political opponents has been replaced by a relatively flexible and realistic mindset.

The change in Kabul’s mind-set has been forced by multiple factors. The inability of the 4700 ISAF men and the US-led force of 11500 troops to improve the security situation in Afghanistan has been the principle factor. In fact there has been a notable increase in sabotage activities over the last few weeks. Attacks on international organizations and the UN office are on the rise. Many human rights and UN organizations have documented the problem of the deteriorating security situation in their various publications.

The most recent has been the November 11 Afghan Emergency Bulletin authored by the NGO Save the Children. It states that the security situation has drastically deteriorated over the past 12 months. Interestingly as the Bulletin points out inspite of this deteriorating security situation no commitments to expand the ISAF or US-led forces.

Within the international community including the United States there appears to be a troop contribution fatigue. Especially in the case of Afghanistan. For Washington the pressures from its Iraq fiasco render it almost incapable of sending additional troops to Afghanistan. In addition the impossibility of delivering security in a highly politically polarized and militarily armed Afghanistan may finally be dawning on the international community. The history of foreign encounters with resisting Afghans has only one lesson for all foreign adventurers; thus far and no more in terms of influence and control.

The evident linkage between security and political reconciliation has sustained itself throughout the US-supported Karazai regime. In recognition of this fact Karazi himself had sought engagement with the talibaan as early as 2002. Infact his offer of general amnesty was an acknowledgement of some degree of political co-habitation with the talibaan elements. Then Washington was not particularly enthused by the idea. It had sought complete political obliteration of the talibaan. Despite Pakistan consistent position that a distinction be drawn between the internationalist talibaan linked to Osaama Bin Ladin and the nationalist talibaan ,Washington refused to engage the talibaan.

Many months later after failing to find Ossama or Mulla Umar , facing increased threat to American lives and opposition to its policies in the muslim world and in Europe, and having got bogged down badly in Iraq Washington is now allowing a more realistic political policy towards the talibaan and other Pukhtun groups.

For Washington the Iraq fiasco spells particular disaster in the forthcoming US elections. The Bush administration, which has already been rejected for another term in a recent CNN poll by the majority of Americans, is now desperate to present Afghanistan as a success story to its own people. American lives and resources have squandered and grand-sounding policies like pre-emptive strikes and regime change have been introduced, European allies have been alienated and international lsaw has been violated. Yet what has been achieved , the Americans may ask. Bush is now claiming that all this has been done to promote democracy. That too appears suspect , as an outcome. The three big prizes promised to the American people were Osaama, Mulla Umar and Saddam Hussain. By all accounts, they live on.

Despite its superiority over conventional military power Washington will be forced to rethink its policies. Adjusting to Libyas Qaddafi and engaging with North Korea was an example. Opting for sanctions instead of attacking Syria or encouraging Israel to do so may be another example of Washington’s forced rethink. Certainly Karazai governments new political approach is a definite example of Washington adjusting to the power of ground realities.

Karzai is a suitable man to implement that policy change. He himself had and even now acknowledges the necessity of power sharing and bridge-building with major political opponents. He is taking concrete steps to engage with the ethic group that was most alienated since the Bonn Agreement. This step along with the process of consensus building and State-building present hopeful developments for Afghanistan. The threat to security from those angered by US intervention in Afghanistan and by those against US policies in the Middle East will however continue. Kabul may be moving in the right direction but the challenges it faces are still colossal. Karzai has to move with wisdom, humility and astuteness.