Ashraf Ghani became the duly elected President of Afghanistan. His election and inauguration as President was endorsed by most of the world including the US and Pakistan. A ‘select’ group of invitees from Pakistan attended the ceremony and the Foreign Office issued a clear statement in support of Mr Ghani. This did not stop Mr Abdullah Abdullah from holding a parallel ceremony to also declare himself as the President of Afghanistan because he did not accept the election results announced by the Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan after nation-wide elections held earlier. It remains to be seen how the matter will be resolved because unless resolved the situation can encourage war lords and entities like the IS-K and TTP to step up activities to undermine the agreement between the US and the Taliban. A powerful motivating factor will be US financial and military support to the Ashraf Ghani government and the Afghan Security Forces under the government control. It will be tragic if the divide at the top sets the tone for political divisions and splits in the security forces’ loyalties. The return to a Northern Alliance vs Taliban type situation or a North-South divide on ethnic lines will be a massive backward step.
The Agreement between the US and Taliban though loosely worded and dependent for implementation on the success of an Intra Afghan Dialogue remains the best bet for an end to almost two decades of war with massive loss of life and even more with life changing injuries. Pakistan actively supported with multiple initiatives to bring about the agreement and has the most to gain from a stable political arrangement in Afghanistan and an end to violence. Pakistan would then like to see the IS-K and TTP marginalized because unlike the Taliban these have agendas outside Afghanistan and can be manipulated by those who have been using them to undermine Pakistan. Pakistan would therefore want a good relationship with President Ashraf Ghani and his government and has already said so. Reciprocation from President Ghani would be vastly helpful for progress.
Unfortunately, certain quarters with the Pakistani bee in their bonnet continue to cast doubts and aspersions on Pakistan’s intentions and future role. They cite Pakistan’s support to the Taliban as the major reason for US-NATO inability to achieve total victory in Afghanistan saying that an insurgency that has external support can never be defeated It is conveniently forgotten that initial support for the Taliban came from the US and Saudi Arabia and not just Pakistan. The Taliban had multiple options for ensuring external support and once in control of significant territory within Afghanistan they did not need outside sanctuaries. They had developed a revenue stream and Pakistan did not support them with weapons. Had it done so the outcome of the conflict would have been different. Pakistan, in its own interest had to calibrate its ‘support’ to the Taliban and its declared alliance with the US-NATO for peace in Afghanistan. An outright rejection of the Taliban would have created massive difficulties for Pakistan given the IS-K and TTP presence in Afghanistan. Above all it is Pakistan’s link with the Taliban and its influence over them no matter how limited that has enabled Pakistan to support the process that led to the agreement. Pakistan will probably continue its calibrated response in the post-Agreement phase to bring about the best possible outcome in the intra-Afghan dialogue that is now likely to start. Pakistan has nothing to gain from being a spoiler and therefore negative speculation about its future intentions is not warranted. The focus should now shift to the political dispensation in Afghanistan in terms of power sharing, the status of women, the role of religion and the constitution and future elections. Steps like the prisoner swap and participants in the dialogue need to be taken soonest to get the talks format established. President Ghani needs to focus on the economy and internal security and to strive for the broadest possible international and internal support for his government. Pakistan should extend full support and also urge the Taliban to curb the forces that are responsible for violence in Afghanistan.
(Spearhead Analyses are collaborative efforts and not attributable to an individual)