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Endgame in Afghanistan: Division, Hope and Challenges

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The efforts for kick-starting intra-Afghan negotiations (IAN) faced another roadblock, as Afghan President Ghani’s appointed 46-member High Council for National Reconciliation, is rejected by some influential Afghan leaders. The council is criticized for not being inclusiveness in nature. It is being regarded as ‘one man show’ and fingers are obviously being pointed at Ghani. Some term the council as “Ghani’s favorites”.

The council has 10 members in leadership positions, nine women members, nine high-ranking government officials, and 19 who are an assortment of political figures and former mujahideen leaders. The council is separate from a 21-member negotiating team, which Ghani appointed in March and is expected to travel to Doha, where the Taliban maintain a political office, for the intra-Afghan talks.  However, the council will have the final say and will ultimately decide on the points that the negotiating team takes up with the Taliban.

The problem is that the names were not finalized through across the board consultative process, including the representatives from almost all walks of life. Also, those in the list were not contacted for their consent; their names were announced without them knowing.

Likewise, Afghan people opine that there are many former mujahideen and jihadi leaders. This portrays the picture of one group of militia talking to another group of militia with few government representatives. Women are given a customary role without any impactful decision-making power, while youth have been ignored all together. Does this mean that diverse array of Afghan representation is being excluded and only those are included who possess de facto power in their respective areas?

In contrast, former Afghan president Hamid Karzai in a statement said he will continue his efforts for peace, but rejected his membership in the council, saying he would serve in no government institution. While, Hizb-e-Islami, led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, called the membership of mujahideen and political leaders in the council symbolic and ineffective. 

On the other hand, Abdullah Abdullah, the chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation, in a statement opposing President Ghani’s decree, officially listing members of the council, stated that according to the political agreement it is the authority of the head of the council to appoint its members.

As of now, Karzai and Abdullah both agree that selecting the members of the High Council for National Reconciliation should be after consultations with religious leaders, political leaders, elders, civil society organizations and broad-spectrum Afghan representation including women and youth.

Furthermore, some influential leaders may also be eyeing on the positions of power in the post intra-Afghan negotiations set-up. This may also cause problems in the finalization of high reconciliation council as these leaders may be positioning themselves where they can optimize their self-interests.Having said that, Afghan leaders are capable of resolving these issues and it is hoped this issue will soon witness a closure with a logical conclusion. This ought to happen to negotiate with equivalent bargaining power with Taliban, otherwise the council will be at a losing end in talks, commencing in Doha in couple of days. 

IAN – a bumpy road ahead?

Afghanistan has been badly devastated by war for decades of war and terrorism. The ongoing conflict has affected the physical resources and the social fabric of the country, as well. Now, as a decent opening has been shaped to bring the war to an end and establish sustainable peace, so, it needs to be utilized so that the obliterations being caused by war can come to an end and peace and security can be cherished in the country.

After four decades, a window of opportunity is offering a closure to the war in Afghanistan. After a long time, all parties regarding Afghanistan are on one page. Regional and international consensus about peace has happened and all international groups and bodies believe that if there is any solution to Afghan imbroglio, it is political one – through table-talks.

The aim of intra-Afghan talks is to end the war and bloodshed is the country. Thus, first and foremost objective of the both sides should be trust building and reduction in violence, which will eventually lead to a lasting ceasefire.

All necessary issues such as reforms, protection and empowerment of national establishments, amendment of the constitution, limits to freedom of the people and others should be categorized and prioritized and ought to be deliberated with sheer tolerance and with an open mind. Negotiations over all issues may take several months. Nevertheless, extendedponderingsmust not lead to apathy and discontinuity of talks. Intra-Afghan dialogue should continue until a comprehensive agreement is prepared and signed between both sides.

Regardless of local national, regional and international consensus over peace, there still are elements that consider peace against their interests, hence, create obstacles for it. Such groups and bodies will definitely keep attempting to find ways in order to sabotage the intra-Afghan dialogue.

Transformation of peace efforts into national, regional and international competition can be perceived as another great challenge for intra-Afghan dialogue. As conflicts of interest exist on all levels; many would prefer interests over peace. So, supporters of the peace process and the negotiating team should be sensitive and pragmatic while making decisions.

Evidence shows, power is still something that many Afghan leaders and officials are keen to hold on to. This thirst for power is a direct challenge for the intra-Afghan talks. Considering the lobbying attempts by the officials and politicians, it can be perceived that power is prioritizing over peace. Recently, some Afghan leaders allege that, some very high-ranking officials close to Ghani have established a cell, which also includes vice president and deputy of NDS, for crushing the political opposition and criticism. They term it as a violation of article 34 of Afghanistan’s constitution, which states “Freedom of expression shall be inviolable”. These Afghan leaders also link the mentioned cell to death threats and recent mysterious assassinations of peace activists and political critics. They communicated all these grievances to President Ghani via a letter; though the letter is silent on the subject if the cell hasa nod from the Ghani himself or otherwise. If true, how can Afghan government legitimize itself within the framework of Intra-Afghan dialogue? How it will take the cover behind the expression of “constitution is supreme’, while the government itself doesn’t respect it.

Another key problem is of ethnic inclusion. If the intra-Afghan dialogue does not address the apprehensions of non-Pashtun ethnic groups, the latter will also become skeptical with the peace process. It will be too much to expect the Taliban to make non-Pashtun groups feel comfortable, as indeed it is to expect entrenched non-Pashtun warlords to cede their power. Still, there needs to be comfortable arrangement for non-Pashtoon ethnic groups too in the future set-up of Afghanistan’s governance. In addition to that, how the interests of various groups, particularly women, religious minorities, and the media, will be accommodated in the future political dispensation, in which the Taliban would have significant representation, is unclear. Women’s groups increasingly fear that the rights and freedom they have come to enjoy would be taken away by the Taliban if they become part of any power sharing equation. They are skeptical as Taliban has made no meaningful concessions on this front.

Lastly, both sides need to show flexibility and humility to not lose this opportunity of peaceful Afghanistan. If this chance is lost then there will be unrest, chaos and perhaps another civil war. It is pertinent to that, for sustainable peace, Taliban have to be part of the power equation in the post-peace Afghanistan for quite some time, else they may resort to violence again if they feel losing control too soon.

The author Saddam Hussein is a Research Economist at Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE), Islamabad. He graduated from the School of Economics, Quaid-i-Azam University (QAU) and also holds Master of Philosophy degree in Public Policy from PIDE. Hussein writes regularly for national and international print media, frequently appears on TV for expert analysis and conducts training workshops on a wide range of thematic areas.

South Asia

BJP’s ‘Akhand Bharat’ Dream is Not Only Problematic, Fascist Also

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Image source: burningcompass.com

On 7th September, Assam Chief Minister (CM) Himanta Biswa Sarma made a very controversial remark about ‘integrating Bangladesh and Pakistan’. Minister Sarma tried to counter Congress’s ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’ and remarked that “India is united. From Kashmir to Kanyakumari, Silchar to Saurashtra, we are one. Congress partitioned the country into India and Pakistan. Then Bangladesh was created. If Rahul Gandhi feels apologetic that my maternal grandfather [Jawaharlal Nehru] made mistakes, if he regrets it, then no point of ‘Bharat Jodo’ in Indian territory. Try to integrate Pakistan, Bangladesh and strive to create Akhand Bharat.” Minister Sarma made the remark at a time when the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina was officially visiting India, hence present in India.

Though it may seem that the BJP leader was trying to ‘tease’ Congress, his rhetoric is a part of BJP’s controversial ‘Akhand Bharat’ concept- a concept of unified India that covers whole South Asia and Myanmar. The concept is therefore quite alarming for the sovereignty of all other South Asian states.

‘Akhand Bharat’ is a concept associated with Hindutva ideology. The concept cherishes for a mythological India that dates back to state formation and pre-partition era. The concept takes ‘Hindu hegemony’ as granted. Hence, the majoritarian concept is supported by right-wing Hindu nationalist parties of India such as Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), Shiv Sena, and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) etc.

In the contemporary world, Akhand Bharat has a contrasting relation with Westphalian order. It tries to override the concept of sovereignty based on ‘so-called’ historical claim and calls for physical expansion- a fascist method to increase land boundary. Even though the concept was considered as radical in its early days, the prolonging BJP rule in the last decade has made it mainstream through like-minded media coverages.

While many cherishes this united India dream, the concept also faces ‘backlash’ from the progressive quarter of India. Unfortunately, the growing majoritarian trend since last decade in ‘World Largest Democracy’ is resulting in wider acceptance of the concept within India as BJP’s public support is skyrocketing. The promoters Hindutva is using India’s democratic culture and manipulating large population to achieve their dream. Assam CM’s latest remark mentioned in the beginning of the article while the PM of the particular country is present, also shows how mainstream the concept has become.

However, this fascist concept and Hindutva ideology is bringing adverse impact for India both internally and externally.  Internally, it is contributing in the growth of right-wing politics in India. The radical interpretation of Hindu Supremacy is also dividing the population of India creating a ‘Us vs. Them’ narrative which is detrimental to India’s federation also. For instance, when the BJP government scrapped Article 370 for Kashmir revoking its semi-autonomy, the right-wing parties were quick to acknowledge it as a part of building Akhand Bharat. In the same way, when former Pakistani Cricketer Danish Keneria expressed his desire to visit ‘controversial’ Ram Mandir(Temple) in Ayoddhya, the temple trust’s chief also used the concept saying that “Pakistan is a part of Akhand Bharat and Hindus living there are our brothers. If he (Kaneria) wants to visit Ram Mandir and offer prayers, then he is most welcome,”

As India is a federal union among total 36 states and union entities, the Hindu Majoritarianism poses threat to its social harmony and makes other religions minority. It also poses a threat to its social harmony by fueling hate-speech, Islamophobia and misinformation- popularly known as ‘WhatsApp University’.

Externally, the concept creates fear over sovereignty for other states included in Akhand Bharat map. There is always a fear in the back of the mind that India may have a ‘Kautilya-like’ long-term strategy to annex them. The annexation of Sikkim serves as an example for their fear, even if the case may be different. It is also a disrespect to the idea of sovereignty and self-determination for most small South Asian states. The Spillover effect of growing hate-speech and Islamophobia in India also adversely affects South Asia’s communal harmonies.

Again, this fascist concept also keeps a fear of physical expansion alive in South Asia- an overall peaceful region. The concept is also problematic for small South Asian states who tries to maintain a warm and balancing relation with India for their strategic calculation.

However, the fear is also not irrational considering BJP leaders’ so-called master-plan. Last year, Tripura’s CM and BJP leader Biplab Deb created a controversy by revealing that BJP has plan to expand its footprint by establishing government in Nepal and Sri-Lanka.  Such ‘expansionist dream’ is also contradicting to existing wisdom of international relations and law.

In conclusion, India is not only the world’s largest democracy but also has the role of ‘Powerhouse’ in South Asia. It’s ruling party’s such expansionist dream is a symptom of fascism and is only comparable to Mussolini’s great Roman empire and Hitler’s Lebensraum. Hence, the growing fear of physical expansion is rational. Therefore, Akhand Bharat and related speeches by top right-wing leaders are not only problematic, fascist also.

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South Asia

Floods; A Challenge to Comprehensive National Security of Pakistan

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Starting mid-June 2022, flooding and landslides caused by heavy monsoon rainfall have brought widespread destruction across Pakistan. © WFP/Saiyna Bashir

Pakistan is encountering one of the major catastrophic occurrence in the present day history. The colossal floods, along with the glacier melt, have prompted 33% of the nation to submerge underwater with more than a million individuals being displaced along with a loss of above 43 billion.  The rising recurrence of floods, outrageous rainfall, and heatwaves have moved environmental change from a hypothetical conversation to an intense burden on the country and its people. Looking at the human perspective, the losses are too grave to quantify. However, in political terms, they address the missing area of climate security in the state’s national security paradigm, which could present existential difficulties for Pakistan.

Pakistan’s comprehensive national security is under stress by the adverse consequences of outrageous weather events across different areas. It isn’t just about financial security versus traditional security any longer. Comprehensive National Security can never be comprehensively achieved because national power comprises of all components and assets that facilitate the state to pursue interests. Hence, all these components, resources, and areas form the crux of what we call comprehensive security. Subsequently, to address the existence of multiple threats, an extensive perspective on national security is expected with an equivalent focus on all areas, while prioritizing climate security because of its seriousness and immediacy. The grave economic losses may be quantified in the long run but societal and political impacts also cannot be ignored. Pakistan’s representative of UNICEF, Abdullah Fadil reposts that “At least 18000 schools have been damaged in the flood, which have affected an estimated 16 million children. Many children are now at heightened risk, without a home, school or even safe drinking water. There is therefore a risk of many more child deaths.” International experts, humanitarians and Social workers visiting Pakistan have termed it as one of the largest catastrophe of the modern history. South Asian expert Michael Kugelman states “that the only hope within the flood victims is the International aid but it is slow to come”. The international world needs to respond to the aid appeals as a collective responsibility rather than a favor to Pakistan because the climate change crisis is largely driven by the world’s most industrialized countries.

The 2022 floods in the country have uprooted entire communities, finished occupations and revenue generation sources, and have drastically expanded migrations inside the country and levels of urbanization. Assume relief projects are not comprehensive and the impacted population feels that they have not been accommodated Post-catastrophe which they themselves didn’t create.  Considering all this, their confidence in the legitimacy or administering authority of the state could be antagonistically affected, creating threats of mass unrest. Destroyed homes, displacement within the country, and temporary camp-like arrangements have a potential of posing critical identity challenges and meanwhile create financial instabilities among impacted communities. Such aftereffects severely hurt the societal and political segments of security, undermining comprehensive national security. Such extreme climatic disasters account for short term reliefs along with long-term impacts on the resources of state. Increased displacement within the country, increased poverty with unemployment rate on the surge creates huge risks which directly impact the comprehensive national security. Violence against women tend to rise, Children drop out of school as there exists no infrastructure, food security is challenged, health security is badly endangered and quality of human life declines in a worst possible way. Extremists, Proxies and non-state actors may capitalize on resentment felt by the displaced. In short, human security is challenged in all basic forms.  So when human security is challenged, how can a state achieve comprehensive national security which itself places human as a center point.

Another challenge which is indirectly affiliated with the climate change is directed towards military. Pakistan’s military has played a crucial and a comprehensive role in flood through its rescue efforts, humanitarian relief and rehabilitation process. Military has rendered sacrifices in these flood operations especially when a Corps Commander along with senior officers embraced martyrdom in the Lasbela district in Balochistan while overlooking relief activities. The IPCC report itself states that Pakistan’s Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) will only increase over time. Military resources being expended to HADR will obviously take away military’s attention away from hardline security issues and put it under increased management stress in times to come.

It can be asserted that the comprehensive national security is under stress by the negative impacts of horrific weather incidents across the various sectors of the society. It isn’t only about economic security versus the traditional security anymore, because today what constitutes the national power and comprehensive national security isn’t only the traditional and economic security but all societal elements form a collective part of this comprehensive framework. Thus, a comprehensive outlook of national security is required with equivalent focus on all sectors, with a priority on climate and food security due to its immediacy.

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Political Scientist: Taliban Rule will not bring Afghanistan to the Stability and Development

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The evidence suggests that the Taliban movement cannot stabilize Afghanistan and does not want to fight international terrorism that threatens the region and stability globally.

The day before, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres issued a report on Afghanistan, citing increasing security problems. For example, the paper states that foreign terrorist groups remain in the country. “The security situation reveals a worrisome trend in recent months, particularly the series of attacks by ISIL-K, recurring armed opposition clashes with Taliban de facto security forces and the continuing presence of foreign terrorist groups in Afghanistan,” the UN Secretary General’s report says. The report also declared that the US statement on the elimination of Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in Kabul “highlighted the ongoing ties between the terrorist group and the Taliban, which go against the latter’s obligations to combat terrorism.”

At the same time, the Taliban claims that there are no more terrorist groups in Afghanistan. “We will never allow anyone to pose a threat from Afghanistan to other countries,” Interior Ministry spokesman Abdul Nafi Thakur said.

It should be pointed out that the leader of Al-Qaeda was destroyed in the guarded central district of Kabul, where international organizations, diplomatic missions and administrative facilities are located. It is pretty tricky to assume that the leadership of the Taliban movement was not aware of the presence of this terrorist. If the Taliban security forces did not know that Zawahiri was hiding in Kabul, they would not control the situation even in the heart of Afghanistan. If we assume the opposite, the Taliban’s policy of supporting or, at least, reluctance to fight international terrorist organizations is apparent. Recall that the Taliban promised the international community to fight international terrorism more actively in exchange for humanitarian aid and possible recognition of their regime in the future.

Moreover, it gives the impression that the main sponsor of the Taliban, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, has lost control of the movement. It is obvious that organizations similar to the Taliban cannot function successfully without foreign economic, military and political assistance. The Pakistani military, particularly the ISI, took part in creating the Taliban movement in the 1990s and patronized them all this time. It is known that there are many Islamabad henchmen in the Taliban leadership, and either radicals or Pakistanis do not hide close ties and contacts. However, neither the Pakistanis nor other players can exert pressure on the Taliban. At least, the political pressure that is being exerted now by the international community is not enough: the Taliban do not show a desire to begin the fight against terrorism.

In the theory of political science and international relations, I am unaware of cases when similar regimes have gained success and contributed to the long-term development of their countries, societies and regions. In this regard, it can be considered that the Taliban and their patrons must significantly and profoundly transform their guidelines, ideology and management strategies. Otherwise, as experience shows, in the future, similar regimes end badly, which affects the stable development and position of their countries and nations.

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