Why is it that every policy change is doomed to failure in Afghanistan? From the community-security and reach-out policy to the fight against drugs, all have shown little success so far.
Gen. Petraeus has come to Afghanistan with the latest commitment of success. After fierce opposition from the Afghan government, his proposed Public Protection Force has been approved by the Afghan cabinet. This approach is based on the successful model of Iraq, where Sunni militia groups were armed to fight against al-Qaeda. In the Afghan government, there was intense opposition to the program of arming locals as a Public Protection Force to avoid Taliban insurgency spreading. President Karzai’s ambitions are more of setting a ground for the post-American Afghanistan, regardless of whatever results. There are no signs of success so far that his proposed reintegration of Taliban will work out.
Coming to Arg (the Afghan Presidential Palace) for a second term in a controversial election, Karzai has been moving close to Iran and Pakistan. In June, when the interior minister and intelligence chief were asked by the president to resign, the most common commentary in Kabul newspapers were that the move is to placate Pakistan regarding the Taliban reconciliation, as NDS (National Directorate of Security) Chief, Amrullah Saleh was the fiercest Pakistan-critic voice in the Karzai Administration. Some politicians in Kabul even fear Karzai will attempt to grab power for long after NATO withdrawal, by calling a National Jirga and bringing some amendments in the constitution. And it’s quite possible!
Again the fundamental question is: why after billions of dollars spent and thousands of lives sacrificed, is Afghanistan becoming a quagmire for the U.S. and NATO? Why is it that Iraq is gradually getting stability while Afghanistan is deteriorating with a new story each day of failure? Recently there have been talks about a de facto division of Afghanistan. The U.S. policy thinkers are now discovering the options suggested nine years ago by many in Afghanistan. And it comes at a time when the situation is at its worst. If there was such serious thinking in Washington in 2001, things would have not been at its worst.
Renowned Pakistani journalist Ahmad Rashid in an article on the Financial Times website has mocked former U.S. Ambassador Robert Blackwill’s suggestion of de facto partition of Afghanistan in volatile Taliban-influenced South and peaceful North and Hazarajat. Ahmad writes “Not a single Afghan will ever support such a demand.” Really? Ahmad Rashid analyses from his world of knowledge about post-Taliban Afghanistan, which he has not visited for the last couple of years. He should know that the slogan of Latif Pedram, a presidential candidate rival of Karzai in last year’s election, was for a federal system in Afghanistan demanding division of regions in the country. And there are ethnocentric “nationalist” groups even advocating for a full partition.
Today Gen. Petraeus is applying the Iraq model of Sunni Awakening under the label of Public Protect Force in Afghanistan after years of growing insurgency. Pentagon and Washington know now that the insurgency is of the same nature in Iraq and Afghanistan, ideologically and operationally. But the strategy will only work when other parallels are successful, too.
The political system and civilian government is a measuring parallel for the success of military operations in Afghanistan. The administration in Kabul is a fragile and corrupt one, and fundamentally very different from the system successfully working in Iraq. The key of success in Iraq in fighting insurgency was Sunni Awakening in addition to a stable federal parliamentary political system. Amidst the discussions of alternatives in Afghanistan, federal parliamentary system would be the best way to avoid a bloody partition. As Mr. Blackmill says, “there is no quick, easy and cost-free ways to escape the current deadly quagmire.” Leaders from Afghanistan had suggested it long ago in 2002 during the Bonn Conference and later. And recently, it has not only been Latif Pedram calling for a federal system, but the strongest rival of Karzai in the election – former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah was calling for a parliamentary system. And allies of Karzai in election, who left Karzai’s side recently, Muhaqiq and Dostum, have been calling for a fundamental change in the system. Recently in a TV talk in Kabul, Muhaqiq was saying “we demand decentralization of power, you name it federal system, parliamentary or whatever…”
A central system is against the nature of Afghanistan for centuries. A strong central government has never had control over all parts of the country in history. Even today, under a strong presidency and central government, Karzai due to his political weaknesses cannot remove a rival Governor of Balkh, Mr. Ata, who often talks against Karzai in public.
Such a system would be the only solution for the so-called reconciliation and reintegration program with insurgents. Taliban want a share in power, and they fight under the slogan of Sharia and religion. Some ministries and offices in Kabul would not bring them for a settlement. If local people of an area want to be ruled by Taliban, billions of U.S. dollars and the least-corrupt official appointed from Kabul would never win the hearts and minds of people. It’s impossible for Taliban to burn down girls’ schools, if the majority of local people are against it. Simply, let people be ruled by Taliban in the areas the people want them. And the little population who don’t want to live under Taliban can move to other provinces. Some of the southern provinces could go under Taliban if they take part in elections in a federal system with provincial autonomy. And this can be the only possible deal for workable negotiations.
Taliban insurgency is now spreading to the peaceful parts of country. Most peaceful provinces like Bamyan, Badakhshan and Daikundi were in headlines the past week for casualties. The Iraq model of Gen. Petraeus is incomplete unless the political system in Afghanistan is like that of Iraq. For saving Afghanistan and the efforts made in the last nine years, it’s extremely important to bring fundamental changes in the whole strategy and system in Afghanistan.
Already there is a rise of ethnic sentiments in Afghanistan after the calls of reconciliation by Karzai. Political leaders in North and Hazarajat are saying to launch a mass campaign. The best way to avoid a bloody partition like that of Ahmad Rashid’s country (partition of Bangladesh from Pakistan) in 1971 is to change the system in Afghanistan. The attempts of negotiations with Taliban will not work unless they receive an attractive offer of rule in some provinces of South under a federal parliamentary democratic system. It’s an honorable roadmap for the U.S. withdrawal from a stable Afghanistan.