Afghanistan has become quagmire rendering responsible conflict conclusion and exit of the US forces from the country very difficult. The vertical ordering of states in international system, like pyramid, can help explain the destabilizing effects that the preponderant power at the top of pyramid has on different regions of the world.
The position and post-WWII organization of the international political and economic system by the Western states spearheaded by the US was done for ensuring the top position for the United States of America in pyramid of states. Liberal economic model aimed at expanding international trade and flow of capital under globalization ensured accumulation of wealth at the top of the pyramid. Squandering of wealth through waging open ended intrusive wars has seriously weakened the economic power that the US used for buying political capital for structuring legitimacy of the US as the leader of the world.
The international system hegemon holds the capacity for intervening and influencing the politics of different regions of the world. It’s the wastage of wealth through unwise wars not globalization that lead to rise of other states and relative decline of the US. The continued Afghan War, undoubtedly the longest war that America has ever waged around the world and has spent billions of dollars for manufacturing the desired outcome, brought destabilization effects on states bordering Afghanistan, especially Pakistan.
The inability of the US for responsibly concluding the Afghan War increases the imperatives for Pakistan for bringing broader reconciliation among different competing factions within Afghanistan through negotiations and diplomatic efforts.
The primary objective of the continued US counter terrorism mission in Afghanistan after drawdown is weakening the ability of Afghan Taliban to dislodge the political system installed through regime change. NATO is conducting Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan for training, advising, and assisting Afghan forces for bringing security and stability to the country.
General John W. Nicholson, Commander of the US forces in Afghanistan in recent testimony before the US Senate Armed Services Committee stated the focus of the US forces in Afghanistan was protecting the main population centers not the territory. He essentially downplayed the importance of large swathes of Afghanistan that Taliban control because majority of that area is sparsely populated. American led diplomatic initiatives for making Afghan Taliban part of political process have failed to deliver results because of absence of strong commitment on part of the US for continued dialogue involving main stakeholders.
The problem starts with the US terming Afghan Taliban as enemy and sanctioning their leaders. The tactical objective that the US is trying to achieve in Afghanistan is weakening Afghan Taliban in battlefield to the extent that they dare not to bargain the terms of reconciliation. Keeping in view the nature of irregular warfare and the advantage Taliban have for being the people of the land, realization of such a military objective seems very unrealistic. Reassessment of the US military objectives in Afghanistan is necessary for charting achievable political purposes.
Pakistan has suffered the most because of destability in Afghanistan. Being neighbor, Pakistan has crucial stakes for bringing peace and stability in Afghanistan through supporting Afghan reconciliation process. Pakistan has maintained that reconciliation process should be owned and led by Afghanistan. Targeting of highest Afghan Taliban leadership by the US derailed the diplomatic initiatives that Pakistan worked hard for making them meaningful engagement for eventual resolution of the issue. Pakistan has influence over some factions of Afghan Taliban but such influence is often overrated and huge expectations are made by the US from Pakistan for bringing Taliban to negotiations table. The US often blames Pakistan for its military and political failures in Afghanistan.
Even the nominal presence of fighters in Afghanistan who have pledged allegiance to so called Islamic State (IS) is very serious threat to countries of this region. The possibility of terrorists who went from Central Asian Republics to fight under the banner of IS returning to their countries is serious security concern for Russia. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is on official visit to Russia. Russian president Vladimir Putin and Hassan Rouhani are expected to exchange views on situation in Middle East. While supporting Bashar al-Assad both countries are fighting against IS and other extremist groups in Syria.
Pakistan has been making sincere efforts for convincing Afghan Taliban leaders to participate in 12 nation talks in April about peace and stability in Afghanistan to be hosted by Russia. Increased diplomatic efforts for bringing peace to Afghanistan by Russia shows the focus it has now on South Asia. Absence of the US from these talks raises serious questions about prospects of Moscow led peace process delivering results. For meaningful result oriented talks, Afghan Taliban should be accepted as political stakeholders and the names of their leaders should be removed from UN Sanctions list.
While the current US administration is embroiled in self created domestic controversies, the military leadership of the US will continue to implement not successful military strategy in Afghanistan. Importance of regional diplomatic initiatives increases manifold but eventual resolution of conflict in Afghanistan will require strong diplomatic support by the US for any such initiative. Though Pakistan and Iran have historically supported different factions that battled for control over different areas of Afghanistan, the presence of common enemy makes convergence of interest on Afghanistan more probable. Such convergence will enhance the possibility of forming shared positions for brining peace and stability to Afghanistan by regional states. The concerns of those states sharing borders with Afghanistan must be recognized and addressed.