While withdrawing from Afghanistan, the US forces have destroyed or partially disabled as much of war ammunition and military equipment as they could have done in the rush of their abrupt flight. These included planes, warship helicopters, Humvees, vehicles, and modern weapons. The fact that these assets were made useless for the next government reflects their wounded pride and the deep animosity towards the Taliban.
The treasure trove of war equipment surrendered to the Taliban is not what the US leadership bequeathed to Afghanistan, which they felt a sadistic pleasure in rendering unusable as the French phrase – ‘après mois, le deluge – says it all. Their legacy in Afghanistan includes a badly ravaged country swarmed by militant outfits, drug barons, and warlords and afflicted by a broken economy, bankruptcy, political uncertainty, and displacement of population, brain drain, the looming fear of crippling economic and financial sanctions on top of the probable apathy of the Western world.
The problem of Afghanistan, which has been causing trepidations in the world for the past five decades, can neither be wished away nor resolved by shunning, isolating and sanctioning the Taliban regime or starving the people of Afghanistan. The world has witnessed the sorrowful consequences of such policies in South Sudan and Darfur, which were battered by bloodletting and famine. Not long ago, the policy of sanctions caused thousands of innocent children to lose lives in Iraq. In interstate relations, the coercive diplomatic and economic policies have always failed to yield positive results. Instead, they have exasperated chaos. As the sole superpower, the US cannot wash its hands off South Asia. It ill-affords to exasperate political instability in Afghanistan, turning it into a haven for the militant outfits that pose a perennial threat to other South and Central Asian countries. Afghanistan is a difficult country to govern and has the potential of destabilising the surrounding regions. The Taliban have come to grips with daunting challenges caused by the two-decades-long war. They need to be constructively engaged by the international community and helped in overcoming these challenges. The US will further harm its prestige and reputation as a powerful country if it opts to pursue a policy of revenge sanctioning and making the Taliban cringe or masquerading indifference to the worsening chaos in Afghanistan with the Afghan people bearing the brunt of poverty, hunger, disease and lawlessness. After shepherding the country for two decades where human development indexes improved substantially and concepts of human rights, gender equality, universal education, liberal and democratic values strengthened, the US has an even greater responsibility towards Afghanistan today. All the feelers coming out of Kabul indicate that the Taliban would accommodate these concepts in their ideological beliefs. Islam is a flexible faith and enjoins a continuous process of innovative reforms to bring the Islamic concepts in conformity with the changing needs of the time. The women of early Islam have participated in wars, commanded an army of faithful, nursed the wounded warriors and ruled as Queens and advisors to kings in times when their Western sisters did not even have the right to vote.
The US policymakers know that the countries bordering Afghanistan, including Pakistan, Iran, China, Central Asian Republics, and, by implication, Russia, have vitally important stakes in its peace and stability. They cannot remain indifferent to the evolving situation there after the withdrawal of the US and NATO troops. Similarly, certain Gulf States would ill-afford to remain aloof from the situation in Afghanistan. Notwithstanding the US policy of stepping forward or staying back, these countries, willingly or unwillingly, have to engage the new rulers of Afghanistan to stem any anarchy at their doorstep.
However, the fraught situation in Afghanistan could hardly countenance any strategic competition and confrontation among the world powers. This would further aggravate the chaos and retard the return of peace and stability, given the underlying ethnic, tribal, political and ideological fault lines in the Afghan society. An ethnically and politically inclusiveness in governance structures aided by international collaboration is the needed remedy for the woes of Afghanistan. The competition and confrontation would be a recipe for further aggravation of the situation. Thus, Afghanistan is at a crossroads – either to move to peace and stability or again plunge into chaos and lawlessness. The US has frozen the assets of the State Bank of Afghanistan amounting to over $12billion. The foreign financial assistance accounted for three quarters of Afghanistan budget and half of its Gross Domestic Product. The World and International Monetary Fund have stopped financial assistant to the country. Most of the humanitarian assistance to the country has already dried up. The past rulers have slipped away with loads of dollars. The result is that the Afghani Banks have no cash; the local currency has nosedived; there is short of basic food commodities. The country is drifting towards famine and hunger. These challenges are further compounded by persistent threats of sanctions and diplomatic isolation. In this tension-ridden international atmosphere, is the Western world going to create another failed state like Libya, Syria and Yemen. With all their economic resources, Libya and Syria are still teetering under the devastating consequences of war.
Pakistan finds itself in a very difficult situation with a long and porous border with Afghanistan straddled on both sides by an ethnically common population interlinked inseparably with each other by blood relationship, language, civilization and culture. Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai had once rightly called both countries Siamese twins who can live and suffer together. Their problems and woes impact each other more than any neighbour. Pakistan has suffered untold losses because of the war in Afghanistan.
Notwithstanding past mistakes in policy and practice on both sides, Pakistan has to proactively engage the new rulers of Afghanistan, regional countries and Western capitals to help stabilize the political and security situation in that country. This is not the appropriate time to bring in bilateral issues for discussion or exert pressure on Afghan leaders who have other enormous challenges.
The author was a member of the Foreign Service of Pakistan and he has authored two books.