Is the Afghan conflict over? -The Nation

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In the deafening one-sided interest-centric and ego-prone environment, sane voices are unable to make any inroads. China’s demand that economic sanctions on Afghanistan be lifted and that Afghan international assets be unfrozen and handed back to Kabul remains unheeded. Wang Yi’s four-point solution to the problem has also fallen on deaf ears. Emphasising the need to respect independent choices of development paths and mutual learning among different civilisations, Beijing has detested the imposition of one’s own ideology on others or interfering in the internal affairs of other countries or resorting to military intervention as these measures only bring about continuous turmoil and poverty, and cause serious humanitarian disasters.

Not all is bad after all. The world seems to be slowly coming out of its self-imposed slumber with the major powers agreeing in principle to render assistance to the people of Afghanistan in the face of an imminent humanitarian crisis. Nonetheless, recognition of the Taliban government still remains a far cry from reality. The powerful G-20 has expressed determination to address the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. By observing ‘even if it means having to coordinate efforts with the Taliban’ the Italian PM Mario Draghi has tried to make a distinction between assisting the distraught Afghan nation and according ‘legitimacy’ to the Taliban government. Pointing out the obvious hurdles in the way of disbursing assistance, Draghi hastened to add that coordinating with the Taliban would not in any way mean the recognition of their government. Ankara followed suit by announcing that recognising the Taliban government and providing assistance to the people of Afghanistan are two different things altogether.

Clearly, in the regional context, the biggest question before the world right now is how to render humanitarian assistance to Kabul without recognising the Taliban’s government or involving them in the disbursement process. The crisis of confidence was also apparent after details of a face-to-face meeting among the representatives of the Taliban, the US, the EU and ten European nations held in Doha on October 9-10 were made public. In response to requests made by the Taliban for the unfreezing of Kabul’s $ 9.5 billion or help in averting the humanitarian crisis or according legitimacy to their government, the US delegation focused its attention on security, combating terrorism, protecting human rights and safe passage for its own citizens, other foreign nationals and the ‘Afghan partners’. That the Taliban would be judged ‘on its actions and not only its words’ was just a reiteration of what Washington has been maintaining ever since the change of government took place in Kabul on August 15.

Even the veiled threat that terrorism could return to haunt Afghanistan and the world has not helped in making any dent on the ‘wait and watch’ policy adopted by practically every single stakeholder including China and Russia. Qatar’s caution that ‘isolating Afghanistan and its new Taliban rulers will never be an answer’ has hinted towards the apathy the world has been showing towards the Taliban. However, paradoxically, the fact that even Qatar and Pakistan are waiting for the right moment to formally recognise the Taliban’s government tends to add to Kabul’s apprehensions about its continued ‘isolation’ from the international community.

Under the circumstances, the Taliban might disallow any humanitarian assistance disbursed ‘directly’ to the Afghan people, a step that would earn them additional detractors even at home. Such a scenario would suit all those who wanted the Taliban to fail. Better sense must prevail and in case the world insists on dealing directly with the people of Afghanistan, the Taliban may accept and allow any assistance coming from anywhere and disbursed in whatever manner. Such a gesture might earn them a point or two on the negotiating table of diplomacy and may possibly pave the way for future favours including the question of ‘legitimacy’.

There is no denying the fact that the Taliban ‘exist’ in the eyes of the world. However, if they ever really desire to ‘live’ and wriggle out of the present royally messed-up predicament, they need to come out of defiance mode and transmute appropriately. They need to understand and realise that there is always a method to any politically engineered madness. Winning a war does not necessarily mean you could bypass the prevalent paradigms of realpolitik. A victory in a battleground neither empowers you to circumvent the established banking channels nor does it allow you to gatecrash the economic corridors of the world.

Call it a stalemate or a dead end, the Afghan conflict is far from over. The yawning gap between the respective positions on how to manage Afghanistan’s affairs and consistent lack of understanding coupled with the recent bomb explosions targeting a specific religious faction make it hard to foresee any win-win situation. In fact, things are far worse now than before. Those who wanted foreign troops to leave Afghanistan are at a loss to understand the immediate results of the so-called ‘most irresponsible withdrawal’. Little did they realise that a Taliban victory would bring everything back to square one. From the threat of terrorism to concerns of continued instability in the region to the appalling poverty in Afghanistan to the plight of strategists in finding ways to utilise the revenue streams and trade routes, the South Asian geo-strategic and geo-economic situation remains undeniably untenable. Perhaps, it is time to realign the strategy.