Afghanistan: Great People, Not Great Game

The Great Game theory on Afghanistan is once again gaining ground significantly with regional players India and Pakistan being the main antagonists this time. Their interests are clashing as they set about imposing their exclusive vision upon a nation which has been in conflict over the past thirty years. Sadly in the 21st Century the human costs of the so called Great Game are not being evaluated by either side as well as the key international players, United States and NATO. 

The Great Game was of course played out by intelligence agencies of Czarist Russia and Great Britain in the 19th Century, a Game which no side won but which had placed the Afghan people as a pawn in the overall competition. Post Partition British India, Pakistan sees itself having donned the mantle of leadership in this part of the region while India has strong cultural roots with Afghanistan stretching over centuries. More over the rise of fundamentalism and extremism in the region is a serious and justified concern of New Delhi. 

The Afghan people caught in the cleft stick of regional and international competition need some succour, but it appears that unless India and Pakistan come on same page there is not much hope ahead. Now with General Kayani who is said to be a believer in the, “Strategic Depth,” theory propagated by Pakistani Establishment in the Chair in Rawalpindi (HQ of the Pakistan Army) over the next three years, is there any hope for the people of Afghanistan remains to be seen. On the other hand Indian analysts need not see every move such as the Trade Treaty between Pakistan and Afghanistan as a part of Great Game, but as a measure to improve export potential of the country by providing it a large market in New Delhi. 

Against this backdrop long term commitment of the USA is a welcome development and structuring the same based on level of security capacity of the internal forces and the regional dynamics will prove the right formula if at all there is a formulation for such conflicts. However it is evident that there are likely to be many possibilities and therefore this would remain a much debated and discussed issue over the years. As of date it remains to be seen how long the commitment lasts but 2014 will be a safe bet. NATO is also committed for the period despite resistance back home. 

The Taliban on the other hand just as domestic opinion within the countries would seek confrontation till the foreign forces are on the ground and therefore this is the dilemma posed for timing the withdrawal, for the Catch being the Taliban will resist till foreign forces are there in the country while any premature withdrawal will only provide them an opportunity to edge their way into Kabul. 

Viewed against this backdrop, the gains and losses from the Kabul conference are now evident, with the gains being far more than the possible adverse fall outs. The international community has accepted the reality in Afghanistan and has reinforced the commitment which will ensure that peace and stability will return if this commitment is long term. The year 2014 is now another marker set which is about 3-5 years away and reinforcing the commitment would be the main driver to bring about change. Some of the key gains were as follows:

  • Setting of a more realistic target date of 2014 for transfer of security responsibility to the Afghan security forces. 
  • Deciding pull out of troops on state of security effectiveness of the Afghan forces based on a sober assessment rather than a date as indicated by the NATO secretary general. 
  • The conditions for the reconciliation and reintegration remain with the Taliban that of acceptance of constitution and renunciation of violence and ties to Al Qaeda's network of terror which is what is generally being demanded. 
  • Increasing the number of national programmes rather than distribution of the aid in penny packets. 
  • Commitment of approximately 6.5 billion dollars in aid for the next two years. 

Some key problem areas identified include the following:

  • Pledging assistance is less than 50 percent of nearly 13 billion dollars.
  • Security situation will have to improve dramatically by 2014 to enable commencing a pull out for which reintegration of Taliban is essential while the Taliban is likely to reject the deal.
  • Afghan security forces need to be bulwarked as infiltration of Taliban elements is evident with the past two attacks of fratricide. 
  • Support of the international community security wise beyond 2014 once date has been announced remains a question mark if there is need for additional period of deployment.
  • Implementation of the reintegration plan will also require support of other ethnic communities in the country including the Tajiks and the Uzbeks, presently these appear to be estranged. 

Looking from the New Delhi’s point of view, India’s stand on Afghanistan appears to have been vindicated and there is now a consensus on primary concerns of the country that is the integration should be inclusive and include all sections of the Afghan society rather than on selected spectrum. The markers set out are that of giving up violence, cutting off all links with terrorism - whether jehadi or state-sponsored - and accepting the democratic and pluralistic values of the Afghan Constitution, including women's rights, all these being anathema to the Taliban.  

There were some concerns in the Indian strategic community post London conference of possibility of a speedy pull out from Afghanistan and thus highlighted the need for continuance of commitment which has also come about. Now India will be closely observing implementation of the reintegration and reconciliation plan of the Afghan government and hoping that it would be all inclusive. In the mean time a forward movement towards peace with Pakistan would create the right regional atmospherics giving a signal of hope to the Afghan people, rather than a message of Great Game without any winners.   


More By  :  Col. Rahul K. Bhonsle

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