Notwithstanding, the several peacebuilding, peacemaking initiatives along with peacekeeping, peace in Afghanistan still has been delusional even today. On the one hand, peace talk is going on and on the other, terror attacks are also taking place even with more frequency and intensity. In this sense, Afghanistan can be characterized as the ‘Arc of Turbulence,’ wherein the terror attacks, killings/wounding of civilians have been taking place regularly along with the peace initiatives.
‘Graveyard of Empires’
Throughout the recorded history, Afghanistan had been remained very crucial for the ancient and modern empires. Given the failures and devastation of ancient and modern empires, who had ben trying to subdue Afghanistan, it has been known by the name of ‘Graveyard of Empires.’ Afghanistan has emerged as the eastern part of the Achaemenid Persian empire during the 500 BCE. Alexander the Great of Macedonia had defeated Darius III of Persia in the Battle of Gaugamela in 330 BC. It had also remained the part of the Seleucid Empire and the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom. Followed by many empires like Mauryan Empire, Indo-Scythians, Indo-Parthians, Kushans, Sassanids, Huna and many more. However, it had been remained difficult to overpower the same for long time. It has been argued that many invaders had been assimilated into the tribal culture and structure and adapted their social values, norms etc. Thus, Afghanistan had ruined may empires despite their invasions and assertive postures. This is how, it is known by the name as the ‘Graveyard of Empires’
In the beginning of the 20th , the gigantic empires like the British and Czarist had turned into arch enemy of each other over Afghanistan, which was represented and manifested by the ‘The Great Game.’ ‘The Great Game’ was generally characterized as a political and diplomatic confrontation over Afghanistan including the Central and Southern Asia region between these two major powers. On the one hand, the Czarist Empire/Russia was apprehensive of the British Empires’ strategic forays in these areas whereas on the other hand, the British empire was also apprehensive of the former for her intention of adding “the jewel in the crown” India, to its vast empire. The Great Game’ was coined by the Rudyard Kipling in his novel ‘Kim’ in 1901 and made it popular by highlighting the implications of great power rivalry.
The dictum of history repeats itself is very relevant in context of Afghanistan. The same history was repeated with the intervention of the USSR (1979-1989). Again, Afghanistan had become a battleground for proxy war between the US and Russia., where Russia had to withdrew from the horrendous scene. In the post-9/11, the US has been engaged itself in the vicious circle of Afghanistan violence and turbulence. It has paid very heavy price for its engagements in the Graveyard Of Empire. Now, the US is haunted by the colossal men and material losses. Out of this blind alley, characterized by quagmire, the Trump regime wanted to withdraw from Afghanistan with honor and a dignified way.
Would the US Follow the Same Suit?
As far as Afghanistan is concerned for the US foreign policy, the latter has long term national interests in Afghanistan. For these interests, the US wanted to rein in the terror groups, which can plan and executes terror attacks from the soil of Afghanistan. The ultimate goal of the incumbent regime to ferret out the political settlement between the Afghan government and the Taliban. In order to rein in the terror groups like Taliban, Al-Qaeda and later on the ISIS, the South Asia Strategy has been put in place to end the long ongoing war on its own terms and conditions.
The South Asia Policy is based on the framework of R4+S concept, means how to reinforce the ANDSF by committing sustainable funds, realignment of the U.S. military and civilian assistance and political outreach, regionalize the strategy for expanding burden sharing and coalition efforts; reconcile in terms of durable and inclusive political settlement to the war in Afghanistan; lastly sustain the strategy by maximizing the fiscal, military, and political return on investment. Moreover to put more pressure on the warring groups, Zalmay Khalilzad was appointed (September 2018) as Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation (SRAR) and to ferret out the peaceful resolution to the conflict in Afghanistan. Many other initiates have also been put in place to expedite the peace process.
Till now, no country/major power/empires have been remained successful in their devious designs to subdue Afghanistan. Thus, the British empire also came to an end in the ‘Graveyard of Empires’ Despite being as a major power, Russia has also been failed to sustain its presence and intervention to expand its strategic objectives and ultimately its strategy dashed to the ground. In the current scenario, the US has deeply engrossed itself in the ‘Graveyard of Empires’’. Now the question is, would it follow the suit or come out as a successful in its objectives? Seeing the prevailing scenario, high cost of engagements in terms of men and material losses, it seems that success is not nearby. Till date, the Taliban has not shown any sign of loss, defeat and subjugation.
Peacemaking in Afghanistan
Peace and prosperity have been maintaining long distance from Afghanistan. In order to end the ongoing civil war and terrorism, the international agencies, major powers like the US, Russia , China; and including the regional powers have been making several efforts for peacemaking in Afghanistan. After the withdrawal of Soviet Union from Afghanistan, the Geneva Accord (1988) and the Bonn Conference (2001) were put in place for the socio-economic and political reconstruction of Afghanistan. President Hamid Karzai (7 December 2004 to 29 September 2014) had constituted the National Consultative Peace Jirga (NCPJ), which was intended to bring all stakeholders on one platform like the tribal elders, officials, and local power brokers to deliberate and discuss peace-making and peacebuilding by reining in the terrorism and fundamentalists.
The ‘Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process’ (HoA-IP) was another milestone in peacemaking and peace-building, which has been going on since 2011. Recently, Russia has played an important role to bring the Taliban and the Afghan government on one platform. Beyond doubts, these steps have been taken with good intentions, however, regrettably, all the initiatives have not been successful to achieve the concrete results in terms of peace, stability and security of the country.
In the same series, the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG), comprising of the US, Pakistan, China, and Afghanistan, was another peacebuilding step taken particularly in the post-withdrawal of the ISAF. Under the umbrella of QCG, several rounds of talks had taken place for outlining the roadmap for peacemaking. However, Afghanistan’s intelligence and media keep on suspecting the role of Pakistan and the finally Taliban refused to share the platform. The recent meeting of the QCG, held in Beijing (10-11 July) emphasized on the political settlement and establish peace, stability, and prosperity in Afghanistan. It also envisaged for the start of intra-Afghan peace talk between the Afghan government and Taliban, through the framework of Afghan-led and Afghan-owned negotiations.
In this long series of peace talk and negotiations, the Doha Peace Talk (7-8 July), took place which was endorsed and sponsored by Qatar and Germany. It was attended by the various sections of Afghanistan political and societal sections. The talk emphasized on the withdrawal of foreign troops ultimately leading to the permanent cease-fire, whereas on the other hand, the Taliban assured that Afghanistan soil will not be used against other countries. An intra-Afghan dialogue, Afghan-led and Afghan owned peace and reconciliation process would be used for political settlement of the ongoing war. SRAR Zalmay Khalilzad called these talks, “have been the most productive of the rounds we’ve had with the Talibs,” whereas the Taliban also echo the same views by saying that they are, “happy with progress.”
Wounding the Peace?
Of course, it would be irony to say that peace is being wounded in Afghanistan as terror attacks, killings of civilian and men in boots and beret from ANDSF and NATO have been taking place regularly. Against this backdrop, the moot question is, what is/are the outcome/s of the peace talks. Recently on the one hand peace talks are going on and on the other hand, terror attacks have also been taking place consistently. The Doha peace talk took place on 7-8 July, 2019. Within the time period of 20 days, several horrendous attacks have taken place. On 18 July, the Taliban attacked on the Afghan Police HQ, in which at least 11 people killed and about 90 were wounded. By the same, another attack near Kabul University was carried out in which 10 people killed and 33 were critically wounded in the explosion. On 25 July 2019, it is reported that more than 50 people have been killed in a series of attacks across the three Afghan provinces, including capital Kabul, wounding the peace efforts making in the direction to put an end to the 18-year of long war. President Ashraf Ghani disclosed that about 45,000 Afghan security personnel have been killed. As per the data given by the South Asia Terrorism Portal in respect of killings/wounded between 2018 to July 17, 2019, the total killings of the terrorists/insurgents/extremists (17370), security forces (2025), civilian (1360), and the including not specified (301) amounts to 21,056.
In this situation, at last, it is concluded that Afghanistan had been remained a ‘graveyard of empires’ in the history, however, in the backdrop of several agreements, conference, peace talks, programmes and initiatives, killing of terrorists, security forces, civilians have not been stopped, rather the same has increased exponentially. Seeing the current scenario of violence, turbulence, killings, terror attacks/activities etc., Afghanistan more or less seems to be a ‘graveyard of peace’. From graveyard, how peace can be revived, and resuscitated, likely to be a major challenge not only for afghan government and people, rather for the other stakeholders who have been making efforts to in this direction Afghanistan.
*Dr. Bawa Singh is teaching at the Department of South and Central Asian Studies, School of International Studies, Central University of Punjab, Bathinda, India