By Aziz Koshan*
“Afghanistan as a state can survive if it is strong and democratic” said President Ghani in his latest interview. The President made this statement at a time when “peace-process” is in process, and the nature of the future Afghan State is in debate on the negotiating table. When survival of the state is at stake, it is the ideas that may save the country from falling apart.
The crux of this idea which has been proposed for the survival of Afghanistan is the continuity of the current model which is democratic and its source of its legitimacy being drawn from the Afghan People, and the functionalist approach to foreign policy of the current Afghan government which is to maintain peace though cooperation and common interest of all countries in the region, while currently the mechanism to maintain peace in the region is through arms race and deterrence.
Immanuel Kant the German philosopher introduced the theory of “perpetual peace” in the field of academics in the year 1795. This theory states that a state can only ensure peace only if its civil constitution is “republic” and the consent of the citizens are required in matters of war and peace. Naturally the citizens are opposing to declare war, while favoring to ensuring sustainable peace. on the other hand, a democratic setup does provide alternative mechanisms such as election for a peaceful transfer of power and the means to resolve conflicts nonviolently in order to ensure peace within the state. The world noticed the importance of this philosophy much later in the 20th century when Europe was shattered by the first and the second world War, and millions of people died during these wars and then the world leaders established the United Nations and the European Union based on the Kant’s Philosophy in order to prevent the occurrence of future wars between the states and within the states.
In the entire history of Afghanistan, transfer of power between the Afghan leaders has never been peacefully and it has been through violent means, which has resulted in regime change or a total collapse of the state in anarchy. The first instance of peaceful transfer of power was only in the year 2014, when power was transfer from former President Hamid Karzai to the current President Ashraf Ghani.
The current democratic setup in Afghanistan which was established in 2002, has prevented the repeat of the violent struggle for power and representation of the 1990s which was resulted in a bloody civil war, but violence is not stopped in the country. Taliban are avenging violence against the state since 2001, when their theocratic regime was toppled by the International Coalition Forces. Although this model has the capacity to accommodate different views and diverse identities. As a responsible and democratic state the Afghan government has left the doors open to all the groups to participate in dialogue and negotiation to resolve differences peacefully, at the same time it has also use legitimate force to protect citizens from harm in the last 17 years.
But the Taliban are too reluctant to participate in a democratic process and to present their model and to win the people’s will and to assume power peacefully, but they have totally relied on violent means to sabotage the whole system without the people’s consent. Polls conducted in 2018 reveals that 82.4% of the Afghans have no sympathy for the Taliban with this kind of an unpopular record among the Afghan people in a democratic set up the Taliban are the bad loser, because the Afghans has defied violence and despite the severe violent threat by the Taliban, people’s participation in democratic processes has been overwhelming, only in the presidential election of 2014, voters turnout was seven million out of 12 million eligible voters, or about 58 percent, compare to the 51% voter’s turnout in 2018 election in Pakistan and the 65.4% in the well-established democratic system in India.
Historically an Afghan state never existed in its current geography, neither there has been a continuous flow of civilizations like China or India, rather the empires and civilizations never been defined in the current geography, which should have created a strong base for the current Afghan state. It was only in 1785 when Ahmad Shah Abdali an army officer in the Afsharid Empire of Iran defied the empire and established the current state of Afghanistan, the fomula was not suited in the context of the Afghan society which is diverse, led to the formation a weak state and society failing to establish a common ground to create a binding force to hold the different segment of the society together. Although, this weakness hasn’t deterred the Afghan society to counter the great powers invasion of Afghanistan and to continue living as a free “nation.” This Weakness has caused the Afghan people to pay huge price in order to live as a free “nation” in a region where realpolitik dictates the behaviors of the states in conducting relations. Arms race and deterrence are set to be the main forces to maintain peace in the region. Afghan state has never been able to follow the dominant order which rules the region.
Power politics has been the norm in the region since the partition of India in 1947 and the tense relation with the new state Pakistan and the two states went to war on several occasions, but the 1971 war which led to the partition of Pakistan and gave birth to Bangladesh, while in the course of the war 96,000 Pakistani soldiers in East Pakistan surrendered to the Indian army. The two countries went even further to acquire nuclear weapons to deter each other fear. The fear perception among the two nations is too great that it was Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto the then prime minister of Pakistan to set the tone of survival though strength, he said “we will eat grass but to build the bomb.” After both India and Pakistan acquired nuclear weapons, the nature of warfare has changed from conventional force-on-force battle to an unconventional warfare, and security threat perception has caused the countries in the region to have a military expenditure which is far greater than the rest of the world compare to its GDP share, while neglecting other priorities including the delivery of services to its citizens and poverty reduction, currently the region inhabits 50% of the world’s poor. Weaknes has deterred Afghanistan to follow the same order like the rest of the countries, at the same time refusing to sacrifice its foreign policy rights to the “big boys” like Nepal and Bhutan which has surrendered their foreign policies to India.
The former World Bank employee, and the current Afghan President has felt this hard reality which has been pulling the whole region from utilizing its full potential for economic development trade and its demographic surplus for prosperity and the need for change in the existing order. He initiated a new discourse to turn confrontation in to cooperation and to bring up the geopolitical importance of Afghanistan in the forefront to become the point of connectivity in the region. With the initiatives under taken during his tenure has been to turn Afghanistan in to a bridge to connect south Asian to the Central Asia and ultimately to Europe through various regional projects like the Lapis Lazuli Corridor, the Silk Route and other projects like the CASA 1,000, TUTAP, and TAPI to deliver the reserved energy in the Central Asian States to South Asian countries which are in urgent need to fuel their growing economies. The Ghani Model of Cooperation has been well received by the countries of the region, but there are states who are too reluctant to come out of the classical security paradigm and to face the new phenomenon of triumph of globalization and the liberal world order.
No Easy Peace
The current peace-process which was initiated Zalmai Khalilzad the State Department’s special representative for the Afghanistan reconciliation is aimed at a swift withdraw for the American Forces and for the Taliban is to get bigger international legitimacy and to distract the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) offensive in the winter. The distraction of the ANSF will allow the Taliban to prepare for a strong spring offensive.
On the other hand, Taliban are not conducting talks with the Afghan Government in order to resolve the conflict through dialogue, while focusing on the US and NATO forces to leave the country and to establish a transitional government which is weaker and doesn’t have the required legitimacy. All the moves of Taliban are meant to weaken the Afghan government because they are “too weak to win” this war militarily when the ANSF are being supported by the international troops. Without the international troops to train, advice and to equip the ANSF, and a weaker government in Kabul the Taliban will be able to dictate terms and even to over-run militarily the Afghan Government.
The Taliban are unpopular among the Afghan people and proxies of the neighboring countries following foreign policy goals of these countries are unable to compete in a democratic setup in Afghanistan and they have well calculated the risk of being another Hekmatyar who signed the peace agreement on May 2017 with Afghan Government and has failed to acquire popular support and even his son failed in the parliamentary election of 2018.
*Aziz Koshan is an Afghan columnist and researcher, he got his masters in Conflict Resolution from Jamia Millia Islamia University India. He tweets @AzizKoshan