Category Archives: War and Peace

Peace in Afghanistan will come at a price

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE U.S. is now trying desperately to pull its forces from Afghanistan. Seventeen years of war is long enough. The human toll has been heavy, with more than 2,200 American lives lost and 20,000 soldiers wounded. This figure doesn’t include the Afghan and Pakistani men, women and children who have suffered. Imperial powers still have to learn that it is easy to jump into another country that is weak and unstable—but to get out is a tougher job. And waging war in Afghanistan has never been a cakewalk for any outsider.

Moves are afoot there to work out a compromise, but the U.S. government has no understanding of how the present moves will change the diplomatic contours of Southwest Asia, the hub of America’s longest war in history. An American negotiator of Afghan origin, Zalmay Khalilzad, has been talking to the Taliban since August 2018.

Although the United States has been a major actor in this arc of instability and conflict, it is now turning to regional powers for help in pulling its chestnuts out of the fire. Donald Trump has done his utmost to revive the stalled peace process first launched in 2011 by the Obama administration. But the current president’s ham-handed approach has burdened him with problems of his own making.

Not realizing the sensitivities of the situation, Trump went on the warpath against Pakistan soon after he entered the White House in 2017. Having decided that Pakistan was the real culprit—“the wrong enemy” (to quote Richard Holbrooke, former U.S. special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan) working against American interests in Afghanistan—Trump proceeded to adopt a mixed policy toward the Afghan conflict that has left him blowing hot and cold.

U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, left, discusses the war in Afghanistan with Pakistani Army Chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, in December. (Inter Services Public Relations via AP)

The U.S. is now trying desperately to pull its forces from Afghanistan. Seventeen years of war is long enough. The human toll has been heavy, with more than 2,200 American lives lost and 20,000 soldiers wounded. This figure doesn’t include the Afghan and Pakistani men, women and children who have suffered. Imperial powers still have to learn that it is easy to jump into another country that is weak and unstable—but to get out is a tougher job. And waging war in Afghanistan has never been a cakewalk for any outsider.

Moves are afoot there to work out a compromise, but the U.S. government has no understanding of how the present moves will change the diplomatic contours of Southwest Asia, the hub of America’s longest war in history. An American negotiator of Afghan origin, Zalmay Khalilzad, has been talking to the Taliban since August 2018.

Although the United States has been a major actor in this arc of instability and conflict, it is now turning to regional powers for help in pulling its chestnuts out of the fire. Donald Trump has done his utmost to revive the stalled peace process first launched in 2011 by the Obama administration. But the current president’s ham-handed approach has burdened him with problems of his own making.

Not realizing the sensitivities of the situation, Trump went on the warpath against Pakistan soon after he entered the White House in 2017. Having decided that Pakistan was the real culprit—“the wrong enemy” (to quote Richard Holbrooke, former U.S. special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan) working against American interests in Afghanistan—Trump proceeded to adopt a mixed policy toward the Afghan conflict that has left him blowing hot and cold.

Initially, Trump’s offensive consisted of a war of words and tweets designed to sideline Pakistan by accusing that nation’s leaders of engaging in “deceit and lies.” Finally, however, he called a halt to the $1.3 billion worth of military aid that the U.S. had been supplying each year to Pakistan, a key actor in the region and a purported ally on which the Pentagon has relied for access to the theater of war in landlocked Afghanistan. Islamabad has been Washington’s key partner in the “war on terror” since the Russians invaded Afghanistan in 1979. Historically Pakistan provided its northwestern neighbor with a vital overland transit route through the port city of Karachi.

Having sidelined a major ally, Trump went on to order his top diplomats to seek direct talks with the Taliban, aiming to jump-start negotiations to end the 17-year war in Afghanistan. It soon became evident that negotiating at the peace table is a different ballgame from fighting a war on the ground. It was then that the American president came to realize the potential role of Pakistan, the progenitor of the Taliban and the protector of the Haqqani network, in facilitating the peace process.

Trump has since had to eat his words and write to Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan to ask his government for help in advancing peace talks with the insurgents in Afghanistan. Trump even spoke of wanting to “have a great relationship with Pakistan.” While the latest statement from the White House says, “I look forward to meeting the folks from—and the new leadership in Pakis­tan, [and] we will be doing that in not-too-distant future,” Khan has been quick to seize credit for talks that have yet to make headway.

Three rounds of talks have already been held between the Taliban and Khalilzad with Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates also in attendance. A deadlock looms large before the negotiators. The fourth round, scheduled in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, later this month, seems threatened by foot-dragging. This is not surprising, as some preliminary issues have yet to be resolved. Who is to speak for the Afghans? At what stage should the real negotiations begin—before or after the withdrawal of foreign troops?

The Taliban are adamant that they are the legitimate representatives of the Afghan people, because it was their government that was toppled by the U.S. and its coalition allies in 2001. But would that scenario be acceptable to Washington? It would amount to the U.S. abandoning its own protege in Kabul and restoring the status quo after shedding so much blood.

The “talks before talks,” as the discussions are termed at this stage, are about looking for answers to difficult questions. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani—unlike his predecessor, Hamid Karzai—has acquiesced to the plan to let Khalilzad talk to the Taliban on his behalf. But would he agree to the U.S. negotiating substantial issues?

The Taliban want all foreign forces to be pulled out of Afghanistan before they talk to the present rulers in Kabul. For Ghani, the dilemma will be how to counter his rivals without American support. Moreover, Kabul’s relations with Islamabad have, historically, never been cordial. The baggage of disputes inherited from colonial times is too heavy to allow close ties to develop.

Besides, the situation on the ground in Afghanistan currently is not favorable for the Kabul administration. According to the Office of the Special Director General of Afghanistan Reconstruction, the Afghan government has control over 229 districts, while the Taliban control 59, and 119 are contested. This hardly represents a walkover for the Afghan government, especially without active American military backing.

Pakistan is viewed as a critical player, because it is believed to provide sanctuaries to insurgents in its territory. Moreover, its influence on the Taliban is immense, encouraging intransigence. Members of the Taliban believe that time is on their side and that if they hold on to this situation, victory will be theirs. Yet at times, the Taliban have been conciliatory within the same framework. They released an American soldier, Bowe Bergdahl, whom they had abducted and gave a political face to their dealings by opening a political office in Doha, Qatar, in 2014. In 2015, they entered briefly into direct talks with Kabul leaders. The insurgents even agreed to a cease-fire on the festival of Eid last year. On the other hand, the Taliban have unleashed terrible violence when they deem it necessary.

Trump will soon learn that negotiating peace with an enemy calls for more diplomacy and finesse than he has displayed.

When peace comes to Afghanistan it will come at a price—one that America and Pakistan will both pay. In the last two years, as Trump moved away from his predecessor’s South Asian policy, Pakistan moved rapidly toward forging new ties—including military relationships—with Russia and consolidating long-standing ties with China and other neighboring states (namely Iran, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Turkey and Malaysia). The bailout packages obtained from some of them, along with China’s “One Belt, One Road” project, will help Pakistan tide over its economic crisis for the time being. But we do not know the secret commitments that have been made in return.

It must be remembered that Pakistan is a security state, and the fulcrum of power rests not in Islamabad but in Rawalpindi, where the military headquarters are located. The nation’s Afghan policy is controlled from there. It is thus not strange that Khalilzad had to call on General Qamar Bajwa, the chief of army staff, during his recent visit to Pakistan.

Because Islamabad has preferred not to reveal much, we will have to wait to learn what the future holds for Pakistan—and also the United States.

Source: Truthdig

Initially, Trump’s offensive consisted of a war of words and tweets designed to sideline Pakistan by accusing that nation’s leaders of engaging in “deceit and lies.” Finally, however, he called a halt to the $1.3 billion worth of military aid that the U.S. had been supplying each year to Pakistan, a key actor in the region and a purported ally on which the Pentagon has relied for access to the theater of war in landlocked Afghanistan. Islamabad has been Washington’s key partner in the “war on terror” since the Russians invaded Afghanistan in 1979, after which Pakistan provided its northwestern neighbor with a vital overland transit route through the port city of Karachi.

Having sidelined a major ally, Trump went on to order his top diplomats to seek direct talks with the Taliban, aiming to jump-start negotiations to end the 17-year war in Afghanistan. It soon became evident that negotiating at the peace table is a different ballgame from fighting a war on the ground. It was then that the American president came to realize the potential role of Pakistan, the progenitor of the Taliban and the protector of the Haqqani network, in facilitating the peace process.

Trump has since had to eat his words and write to Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan to ask his government for help in advancing peace talks with the insurgents in Afghanistan. Trump even spoke of wanting to “have a great relationship with Pakistan.” While the latest statement from the White House says, “I look forward to meeting the folks from—and the new leadership in Pakis­tan, [and] we will be doing that in not-too-distant future,” Khan has been quick to seize credit for talks that have yet to make headway.

Three rounds of talks have already been held between the Taliban and Khalilzad with Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates also in attendance. A deadlock looms large before the negotiators. The fourth round, scheduled in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, later this month, seems threatened by foot-dragging. This is not surprising, as some preliminary issues have yet to be resolved. Who is to speak for the Afghans? At what stage should the real negotiations begin—before or after the withdrawal of foreign troops?

The Taliban are adamant that they are the legitimate representatives of the Afghan people, because it was their government that was toppled by the U.S. and its coalition allies in 2001. But would that scenario be acceptable to Washington? It would amount to the U.S. abandoning its own protege in Kabul and restoring the status quo after shedding so much blood.

The “talks before talks,” as the discussions are termed at this stage, are about looking for answers to difficult questions. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani—unlike his predecessor, Hamid Karzai—has acquiesced to the plan to let Khalilzad talk to the Taliban on his behalf. But would he agree to the U.S. negotiating substantial issues?

The Taliban want all foreign forces to be pulled out of Afghanistan before they talk to the present rulers in Kabul. For Ghani, the dilemma will be how to counter his rivals without American support. Moreover, Kabul’s relations with Islamabad have, historically, never been cordial. The baggage of disputes inherited from colonial times is too heavy to allow close ties to develop.

Besides, the situation on the ground in Afghanistan currently is not favorable for the Kabul administration. According to the Office of the Special Director General of Afghanistan Reconstruction, the Afghan government has control over 229 districts, while the Taliban control 59, and 119 are contested. This hardly represents a walkover for the Afghan government, especially without active American military backing.

Pakistan is viewed as a critical player, because it is believed to provide sanctuaries to insurgents in its territory. Moreover, its influence on the Taliban is immense, encouraging intransigence. Members of the Taliban believe that time is on their side and that if they hold on to this situation, victory will be theirs. Yet at times, the Taliban have been conciliatory within the same framework. They released an American soldier, Bowe Bergdahl, whom they had abducted and gave a political face to their dealings by opening a political office in Doha, Qatar, in 2014. In 2015, they entered briefly into direct talks with Kabul leaders. The insurgents even agreed to a cease-fire on the festival of Eid last year. On the other hand, the Taliban have unleashed terrible violence when they deem it necessary.

Trump will soon learn that negotiating peace with an enemy calls for more diplomacy and finesse than he has displayed.

When peace comes to Afghanistan it will come at a price—one that America and Pakistan will both pay. In the last two years, as Trump moved away from his predecessor’s South Asian policy, Pakistan moved rapidly toward forging new ties—including military relationships—with Russia and consolidating long-standing ties with China and other neighboring states (namely Iran, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Turkey and Malaysia). The bailout packages obtained from some of them, along with China’s “One Belt, One Road” project, will help Pakistan tide over its economic crisis for the time being. But we do not know the secret commitments that have been made in return.

It must be remembered that Pakistan is a security state, and the fulcrum of power rests not in Islamabad but in Rawalpindi, where the military headquarters are located. The nation’s Afghan policy is controlled from there. It is thus not strange that Khalilzad had to call on General Qamar Bajwa, the chief of army staff, during his recent visit to Pakistan.

Because Islamabad has preferred not to reveal much, we will have to wait to learn what the future holds for Pakistan—and also the United States.

Source: Truthdig

Continue reading Peace in Afghanistan will come at a price

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Love thy neighbour

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE disputes between India and Pakistan have cast a long and dark shadow over their relationship since the two countries stepped out of colonial bondage in 1947. The circumstances surrounding their birth made it inevitable that ill feelings would mar ties and make coexistence difficult.

But did it have to be so forever? This question is now being asked by sane and rational people on both sides of the border. Even after seven decades that saw a major reconfiguration of the map of South Asia through three wars and the breakup of Pakistan, this question has a strange urgency to it. Continue reading Love thy neighbour

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New American Strategy in South Asia Targets Pakistan

By Zubeida Mustafa

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s return to Washington after a hectic week in South Asia and the Middle East leaves us speculating on the purpose and result of his mission.

World attention was focused on his exercise in diplomacy for no other reason than that his trip was a follow-up on President Donald Trump’s announcement in August of a new South Asia strategy. Continue reading New American Strategy in South Asia Targets Pakistan

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Flipping pages

On the same page?

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

Our country’s history predisposes us to dwell on the tensions of the civil and military relationship and the resultant impact on our politics. Implicit in the spasmodically yet doggedly publicized affaire of Dawn ‘Leaks’ is the underwriting of the thought that the armed forces and the civil government are/may/will be at cross-purposes; or that one or both of these bulwarks of the state may have conflicting currents within them: A more perilously confusing state—domestically and internationally—than the frank impropriety of civil government being subservient to military diktat; or the armed forces blatantly flouting or choosing to act independently of civilian policy’s direction and directives. Continue reading Flipping pages

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Enough is enough

gun-logo

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE turnout at the walk organised last Sunday by Citizens against Weapons (CAW) was heartening. Started in 2014 by some concerned citizens, the campaign is catching on. I had joined them at a rally on an intersection of a busy area in Karachi two years ago. There were then barely 50 protesters. On Sunday, there were 400 or so.

One of them, activist Naeem Sadiq, whose motto is ‘say no to guns’, has been working on this goal for a decade. He and his colleagues want to rid the whole country of guns and the message is gaining adherents as a larger number of people — that does not include our rulers — begin to understand the significance of deweaponisation in ending violence. Continue reading Enough is enough

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Peace women

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE Tehreek-i-Niswan and Sheema Kermani have always been at the forefront when matters of peace are at stake. Many performances by the Tehreek have been directed at protesting the brutality of violence against and oppression of women. Hence it was quite in keeping with its character that the group convened a ‘peace table’ on Oct 15, at the Karachi Arts Council. Here hundreds of women and also men assembled to reinforce the widely held, but unimplemented, belief that female involvement in peacemaking improves the chances of lasting security.

A landmark resolution (1325) was adopted by the UN Security Council 15 years ago calling for women to be included in decision-making positions at every level of peacemaking. It has so far made a nominal impact. The head of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, admits that globally “women’s participation at peace tables is still symbolic or low”. Continue reading Peace women

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Arms and the man

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE sense of insecurity that hangs heavy in the air in Karachi is almost palpable. Even when life is following its near normal routine — the jostling crowds, the unruly traffic and the noise — the uneasy feeling persists.

For me this normality is not reassuring. Unpleasant memories of traumatic experiences of yore lie hidden in the subconscious. The sight of an armed guard reminds me of the gun-driven violence that stalks the city. It is the gun that has been held twice to my head to rob me when the day was so beautiful. The last time this happened was a few years ago when my peaceful morning walk was interrupted by three armed youths on a motorbike, out to steal my pedometer — worth not more than Rs100. Everyone I meet has a ‘gun story’ to tell. Continue reading Arms and the man

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Facing challenges in bringing peace to Karachi

By Zubeida Mustafa

I will not be over stating if I say the challenges to a peacemaker in Karachi are phenomenal and nearly insurmountable. I have been asked to speak on how you as teachers can help your students to cope with stress and trauma that has become the norm for Karachi’s youth. If you want to promote peace and the cause of children you must be familiar with some basic facts yourself, even though the information is for you to enhance your understanding of the dynamics of the Karachi situation. Thus you can become the model that your students so badly need to help them cope with the dilemmas violence creates in their minds. It will also equip you with the knowledge you need to answer your students’ questions which will be inevitable if you follow the approach suggested by experts.

There are numerous factors that have reduced the state of law and order of this megalopolis to what it is today. If you look at the number of people who are killed – and that does not include natural deaths or road accidents – you will be stunned by the humungous loss of life. Continue reading Facing challenges in bringing peace to Karachi

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A Visit to Vietnam

By Rabab Naqvi

geust-contOnce you step out on the streets of Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, it is hard to believe that this is a country that was devastated by war not long ago. My cousin, Rashida, responded to my email from Vietnam, “I am glad you are having a nice stay in Vietnam. My mind still carries the war ravaged scenes of that country of 40 or 50 years ago”. To find remnants of war today one has to go to the War Museum and the Cu Chi tunnel complex.  Hanoi, which was bombed during the war, buzzes with life. Amidst restaurants, hotels, shopping plazas and bazaars pretty women and handsome men scurry around. Vietnamese are blessed with good looks and good figures. Men and women both drive motorcycles on roads and highways. Vietnam has the highest number of two-wheelers per capita. Whole families somehow manage to fit on one motorcycle. It is amazing how they can carry an incredible amount of stuff of varying shapes and sizes on a motorcycle. It appears to be their main mode of Continue reading A Visit to Vietnam

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We are to blame

By Zubeida Mustafa

LAST Tuesday’s carnage by the Taliban in Peshawar has left the nation in grief and shock. Such was the enormity of the crime — more than 130 young lives snuffed out brutally — that the emotions it stirred have yet to subside.

The post-Peshawar reactions are intense. But will this be a watershed event? Many think not. Public attention has already started to wander. The discourse is changing. The lifting of the moratorium on the death penalty that has led to a spree of hangings has invited Continue reading We are to blame

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