The Dilemma of Afghanistan: In Search of a Solution

The war in Afghanistan did not solve any problems. Indeed, it has complicated the situation even more. First of all, the war could not improve internal security as desired by the international community. It has in fact worsened stability and security in a highly sensitive area. For this reason, the withdrawal plan announced by President Obama is a necessary step in the restoration of politics and in permitting the Afghans to decide their own future. The most important aspect of the plan is the decision to assess a strategy. Obama can succeed in putting an end to the concept of a borderless, timeless and permanent war. Mikhail Gorbachev, the last head of state in Soviet Union and the one who planned the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghansitan, has simply argued: "Victory is impossible in Afghanistan. Obama is right to pull the troops out. No matter how difficult it will be." It is absurd to continue to destroy lives and resources.

Political negotiation is the only alternative to finding a sort of "diplomatic settlement" to secure the future stability of the country. The negotiations should definitely involve all the players including the Taliban. It is well known that each ethnic group in Afghanistan relies on a regional or global power, and that these powers pursue their interest in Afghanistan through their these proxies. So in order to find a lasting solution, it is also necessary to take into account a number of regional problems. The Taliban claim to represent Afghanistan, yet their presence is mostly in the southern area among Pashtuns (nearly 40 percent of the population). Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks, Aymak and other anti-Taliban ethnicities make up 60 percent of the Afghan population. Contrary to common belief, not all proud Pashtuns feel that they are represented by the Taliban. There are many anti-Taliban groups among the Pashtuns, too. In short, the Taliban do not represent the majority of the population in Afganistan.

The Taliban themselves are combination of various, even competing groups. While a small faction within the Taliban are devoutly religious, sooner or later they must understand that religion is a moral choice. For the Afghan Taliban, it is not difficult to see that they are being used as a geopolitical instrument by external powers while being surrounded by smugglers, drug traffickers and criminals both within and outside of their borders.

Therefore, to achieve stability in the country it is necessary:

1. To better define and render more acceptable the Durand Line as the official border with Pakistan, and to bring the regional-global disputes within a national frame, thus Afghanizing the conflict. It is an open secret that thousands of Taliban insurgents travel to Pakistan when they need a break from the fighting in Afghanistan. The reason is simple: the Pakistani soldiers are friendly and the border is hardly controlled at all .

2. To pursue the federalization of Afghanistan and hold elections in a federal context. In the event of Taliban victory, it would be necessary to designate the South to the Taliban and thus accept Taliban control in an autonomous southern region (Southernization). To Pashtunize the anti-Taliban movements, in order to circumvent any further conflict and to remove the flag of patriotism from the hands of the Taliban, thus allowing the noble and proud Pashtuns to decide whether they want to live with the brutal policies of the Taliban, or try the alternative and democratic solution.

There remains the problem of external powers. It is well known that the Pakistan-Saudi axis is providing the Taliban with logistic support and Wahhabi ideology nourished by petro-islam. Even in these days, Pakistani security officials are expressing frustration because they have not been included in Afghan President Hamid Karzai's recent opening to the Taliban, warning that a sustainable peace agreement will not be possible without their support. The Pakistani Army supports the Quetta Shura & the Haqqani Network and continues to consider Afghanistan as its geopolitical depth. It also believes that it is possible to use Afghanistan and Jehadis against India in the dispute over Kashmir.

Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf admitted in an interview with Spiegel that Pakistan had trained underground militant groups to fight against India in Kashmir. The Jihadi linked to al-Qaeda may have put some pressure on India, but this has also damaged both Saudi Arabia and Pakistan on many levels. The Taliban commander in Kunar, like others recently interviewed, said he remained opposed to the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan and had no plans to stop fighting them. But he added, of the Pakistan's spy agency, "the ISI wants us to kill everyone -- policemen, soldiers, engineers, teachers, civilians -- just to intimidate people," the commander said. The Pakistani establishment should begin to understand that the country is losing its best traditions, which were tolerance and the coexistence of various religions, as the Jehadists who are transforming the whole country into an arena of sectarian wars.

Further, if Saudi Arabia is to be considered the birthplace of al-Qaeda, it is at the same time being damaged by al-Qaeda. It does not appear to be a matter of fact that all the Saudis want to continue to live solely according to past traditions. Many Saudi citizens also have aspirations to political and social rights and freedom which can be guaranteed only by a modern state and not a sectarian one. A modern state can only be achieved by isolating radical ideologies. So, the third point required for stability in Afghanistan is:

3. To support civilian rule in Pakistan and reforms in Saudi Arabia. In this context, the Pakistan-Saudi axis could also agree to withdraw their support of the Taliban. This would mean the end of the Taliban as a political movement.

India is going ahead with soft power in Afghanistan and is apparently working toward stability. India is a democracy based on ethnic and sectarian balance. It is under pressure from the Jihadi movements like Lashkar Taiba and others which are linked to irredentism in Kashmir. Moreover, Jihadists also live among 160 million Indian Muslims. Yet India does not work hard enough toward a Kashmir solution and it is also responsible for raising tensions. Finding a stable solution for Kashmir should mean isolating Jihadism. Eliminating Jihadism means less Hindu nationalism and a better condition for democracy in India. So a further point needed to ensure stability in Afghanistan is:

4. To work toward closing the Kashmir wound.

China does not yet feel Jihadism to be a real challenge. This is not only due to the fact that the Muslim minority (like the Uygurs) in China does not even reach 2% of the population. China, as part of its competition with India, has shown understanding with the logic of Pakistani army, which is neither the logic, which is followed by Pakistan's civil government, nor the logic of its people. The China Daily suggests that accepting Taliban as "key players" in the process of reconciliation. Pakistan handed over the de facto control of the strategic Gilgigit-Baltistan region in the northwest corner of the disputed Kashmir region to China. Since Bin Laden appointed its own emissary to China, there are also many Chinese Jihadists in the tribal areas between Afghanistan and Pakistan. China is gradually coming to the realization that radicalism is an epidemic that would easily pass from one sect to another. China understands that its investments in Afghanistan and in the region can not be safe with the Jihadists at work.

Russia, another regional player, knew Jihadism in the years of the Soviet Afghan occupation and is becoming better acquainted with the Jihad today through the insurgency in Chechnya. Jihadism could put Russia under terrorist pressure and trample the fragile regimes of Central Asia. So Russia, together with the countries of Central Asia, seems to have a common interest in stemming sectarian radicalism.

The other most influential player in Afghanistan for historical cultural, ethnic and geographical reasons is Iran. Most ethnic-cultural components of Afghanistan are indissolubly related to Iran. Sir Olafe Caroe the colonial governor of the North West Frontier of Pakistan and the author of The Pathans: "Asia from the Tigris to the Indus is one country . The spirit of Persia breathes over it."

Iran has long been a supporter of the Northern Alliance and would not tolerate a Taliban return to power also for doctrinal reasons. The Iranian position in Afghanistan is independent from governments and belongs to the deeper soul of Iranian society. Iranian politics seem to posses contradictory aspects, but Iran, for its historical vocation and for contingent reasons, is for stability in Afghanistan. Yet today, the Iranian positions in Afghanistan (as well as in Iraq and throughout the entire region) are subject to US-Iran relations which have been characterized by mutual mistrust for more than three decades. Iran is on the same side as the U.S. supporting the Northern Alliance against the Taliban regime. Today, Iran together with Western democracies, supports the Karzai government. Despite ongoing concerns over Iran's nuclear program and allegations of arming militants in the region, Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in the region, says Washington and Iran could coalesce around stabilizing Afghanistan.

Yet in the case of a military attack against Iran, the country could bet on every horse in the race. So another important point for stability in Afghanistan is:

5. To recover Iran in favor of democracies through intensive diplomacy .

All the players (global and regional) must keep in mind that after the American withdrawal, a de facto international withdrawal, and the creation of a power vacuum and ungoverned space must be avoided.

The clearest lesson of the 9/11 attacks was that global security cannot be disentangled from security in the world's ungoverned spaces, ranging from Afghanistan to Somalia. The lack of international interest in Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal in 1989 allowed the Taliban to rise, and created space for Al Qaeda bases in Afghanistan. International players must learn this lesson as its bottom line. Al Qaeda and other international terrorist groups cannot be allowed a safe haven in Afghanistan, regardless of their political terrain.