The just concluded presidential poll in Afghanistan offers hope of a breakthrough for bringing normalcy to that nation. Mr. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai has been declared President and former Foreign Minister and presidential candidate Mr. Abdullah Abdullah or his nominee will act as the chief executive. The executive’s role will be like that of a prime minister while Mr. Ghani will exercise all the powers of the President as specified in the Afghan constitution.
The election was riddled with controversy about rigging. Mr. Ghani and Mr. Abdullah have strained relations. Mr. Ghani belongs to a powerful Pashtun tribe. Mr. Abdullah was born to a Pashtun father and a Tajik mother and was a close confidant of the late assassinated legendary Tajik leader Mr. Ahmed Shah Masood. Despite all these handicaps an uneasy compromise has been achieved through the efforts of US Secretary of State Mr. John Kerry. Both leaders are liberal having good relations with America. Both leaders are opposed to the Pakistan sponsored Taliban.
Despite several negative factors why does the new arrangement offer a slight glimmer of hope? The reason is that the groundwork for Mr. Kerry’s success was laid by the Americans much earlier through the unofficial efforts of former ambassador to India, strategy analyst and powerful lobbyist, Mr. Robert Blackwill. The fact that Afghanistan can be neatly divided into ethnic zones led Mr. Blackwill to propose the division of Afghanistan into two main provinces governed by the Pashtun and all the non-Pashtun tribes in their respective geographical areas. The Pashtuns are mostly in the South, the other tribes are dominant in the North and Central Afghanistan. This proposal gained strength from the demand for creating an independent Khorasan voiced by non-Pashtun leaders within Afghanistan. A more practical proposal was consistently voiced by Mr. Abdullah to create a federal Afghanistan granting a measure of autonomy to the two provinces. The Pashtuns could be compensated for reduction of power in part of Afghanistan by gaining legitimate access to the Pashtun tribes of neigbouring Pakistan provided a federal Afghanistan also develops through new South Asian arrangement soft borders with Pakistan. There are thrice as many restive Pashtuns in Pakistan as there are in Afghanistan.
Obviously for such an arrangement to emerge the cooperation of Pakistan would be required. To get that the Kashmir dispute would need solution. That would require an Indian initiative. Above all the Pakistan based terrorists would have to be eliminated. All this is a very far cry. The recent compromise in Afghanistan is a very small step. But it is a step in the right direction. It needs to be followed up by the leaders of India and Pakistan.