During my week-long stay in Jalalabad and Kabul, traveling to far-flung areas and interacting with the Afghan diaspora, I didn’t come across a single person who harbors an iota of optimism. Instead, I practically observed the phenomenon of “dead men walking” – as the men on the streets and market centers seem to have absolutely resigned to their fate, nervously awaiting a certain wave of death and destruction – or a fight to the finish among Afghans.
Here is an obvious reason for the current state of affairs. Afghans are disheartened by their leadership – both President Ghani and the Taliban. The common perception is that the Afghan leadership has squandered the opportunity in the intra-Afghan peace talks to resolve the conflict by stubbornly sticking to their respective positions.
The optimism and hope generated by intra-Afghan dialogue have long faded away. Taliban and the government interlocutors, no doubt, kept on putting their heads together for nine long months at Doha in Qatar, however, “no progress” is the only message they sent back home during this period. The U.S. government’s announcement of withdrawing forces by September 11 this year has proved a proverbial ‘last nail’ in the ‘coffin of hope for peace.’
“The fear of a bloody internecine conflict is so imminent that majority of those who have the money and foreign documents have already left the city (Kabul)…. They have gone abroad, shifting their families, businesses, and money,” says a senior government official talking at a restaurant in the posh Shahr-e-Naw in Kabul.
There are two types of people currently staying in Afghanistan: those who could not afford to shift their families abroad; or those who are in power and in the government.
Afghans are very unhappy with the U.S. and her allies’ behavior, saying they are repeating history by turning their back on Afghans in the time of need.
“This war has not been started by Afghans,” says Fareedon Khan, a member of Afghan Wolasi Jirga at his residential complex spreading over almost 600 kanals at Goshta, a district in Nangarhar along the Pakistan border.
“The Americans came here and took up the fight with Taliban,” says the influential Khan of Mohmand – a tribe living on both sides of the border.
Now after years of fighting, killings of hundreds of thousands of Afghans, destroying infrastructure, the Americans are leaving behind a Taliban militia even more powerful with the strong perception of defeating a superpower.
Taliban is still a dreaded phenomenon and contrary to some perceptions greatly feared by almost everyone. During my week-long stay, I did not come across a single Afghan man or woman having a positive view of the key stakeholders.
The very mentioning of ‘Taliban’s coming’ is enough to generate a sense of extreme fear, reminding of the years of suffering, torture, and torment the common man underwent during the militia’s regime in the nineties. Ironically, the common prevailing perception in Kabul about the militia is that they are ‘Pakistan’s stooges’. Rest they are referred to as savages, violent and anti-Afghan society. This perception is widespread.
Similarly, the present top leadership of the Afghan government and the other aides are equally unpopular and disliked. For them, many believe that the current conflict has turned into a lucrative business. Contrary to the suffering of Afghans, for the ruling elite, this war is an opportunity to amass wealth, settle their families abroad and buy properties in foreign capitals; hence, they don’t seem interested in any political settlement.
Talks of widespread corruption, nepotism, and bad governance are common. The majority of ruling leadership and government officials have their families abroad and have no stakes in Afghanistan. ‘They will catch the first flight and run abroad if the situation turned worst’ is a commonly heard statement.
The ready scapegoat and handy expediency for the ruling elite to be popular and staying afloat is ‘Pakistan bashing’. Islamabad must read the current anti-Pakistan diatribes of the top Afghan leadership and clique with this background in view.
The ruling lot comprises inexperienced and novice men and women with no family or social background – a trait religiously accepted and practiced in the Afghan tribal structure. No doubt, circumstances have catapulted them to exalted positions in state affairs; it does not mean they represent the Afghans’ collective psyche and social feelings.
In Kabul, the present top man’s team is commonly referred to as “Facebookiyan.” The widespread perception is that their mental level is not better than that of ‘teenagers’ and they focus more on social media reactions, hence, resorting to statements, speeches, and reactions bed rocked with abusive, rude and offensive vocabulary against the opponents. Some say there is always a rate race among the present team members for attracting more ‘likes’ and ‘thumb up signs’ from the social media followers, the majority of whom live abroad.
Sadly, in Afghanistan the anti-Pakistan narrative is widespread but it does not mean Pakistan has no friends on Afghan soil. Despite all I observed, the majority of the Afghans are still looking towards Pakistan and the country is their most favorite destination. In Afghanistan majority of parents want their kids to study in Pakistan for a number of reasons. They know that English medium education in Pakistan would open doors for them to the entire world, unlike Iran and Turkey etc. Likewise, the traders and businessmen despite hurdles see Pakistan as the easy route for outside trade. So in Afghanistan, one cannot find a single trader and businessman who would talk against Pakistan, and dislike those who are creating rifts in Pak-Afghan relations.
So while reacting to the accusations of a bunch of present government officials, who have mostly settled abroad and will go back once the situation normalizes or worsens further, Pakistan has to keep in mind the vast silent majority which is looking at Pakistan as their second home.
Pakistan has to tread the Afghan path with extra care while dealing with the emerging situation. The stage seems to be perfectly set for repeating what happened in the past after the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan.
Then the chaos followed, now the chaos is imminent. After Geneva Accord when the Soviet forces left Afghanistan, everyone followed including the U.S. and the West.
One must remember, in 1988 in Geneva an accord was signed between Pakistan and Afghanistan to end the bloody prolonged conflict between the then Mujahideen and President Dr. Najeebullah.
Interestingly, the decade-long war was between Afghan Mujahideen and the Afghan government but the ‘agreement’ was signed with Pakistan. Once the Soviets withdrew, the rest made a beeline leaving Pakistan all alone to deal with the warring Afghans. And what followed afterward needs no further mentioning here.
The stage is almost the same except for minor changes in characters and their positions. Mujahideen have been replaced by Taliban, Dr. Najeeb by Dr. Ashraf Ghani, and Soviet Union by the U.S. Pakistan is the constant character that had to bear the burden in the past, and again has no choice but to share the looming fate of Afghanistan in the future, too.
President Ashraf Ghani is demanding to sign an agreement with Pakistan, as Islamabad signed with Dr. Najeeb, to settle the conflict. The trap seems to be set for Pakistan again.
Like the Soviet Union, the U.S. is in a hurry to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan. It has already signed an agreement with the Taliban. Washington is leaving Afghanistan in a very bad shape with a high level of bloody conflict between the warring Afghans. The U.S. has already started exerting its push and pull on Pakistan, asking Islamabad to make a deal with Dr. Ashraf Ghani for settling the conflict.
The demand is quite interesting; what Washington and entire Europe failed to accomplish in a span of two decades with its entire military might and political clout, Pakistan has to deal with its hands tied, image bruised, and internationally isolated. Maybe the mighty United States of America wanted to shift the burden of its failure to Pakistan in the wake of imminent bloodshed.
The writer is associated with a private TV channel in Islamabad.
This article first appeared in Hilal. Click here to go to the original.