A peaceful, stable Afghanistan cannot be imagined without Indo-Pak collaboration

By Manzar Imam,

New Delhi: Conventional discourse on Afghanistan is focused on fractures. While the fact is that today’s Afghan government is more inclusive in its composition than it was in any time in history. Therefore, lessons need to be learnt and policies formed accordingly. These views were expressed by Jayant Prasad, former Indian ambassador to Afghanistan who was speaking in a panel discussion on “Reclaiming Afghanistan” organized by Himal South Asian, a review magazine of politics and culture, in collaboration with the Faculty of Social Sciences, South Asian University (SAU) at Akbar Bhawan on Friday, 28 March, 2014.

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Prasad said that Afghanistan had been an arena of institutional engineering and military experimentation since last three and half decades. The US invasion happened in response to 9/11, but its immediate results were achieved without deployment of the US army there. The US claims to have knocked down 33,000 to 40,000 Taliban despite the assessments present which stated that there were 15,000 and 30,000 Taliban in 2005 and 2008-09 respectively. Where are they coming from now? asked Prasad, who has also served as India’s ambassador to Nepal. He said that it’s a paradox that the greater the number of foreign forces deployed in Afghanistan, more is the number of people killed there.

L-R: Aunohita Mojumdar, Siddharth Varadarajn, Amb. Jayant Prasad, over the mike, and Omar Sadr.

About the future of Afghanistan post withdrawal of international forces and forthcoming presidential elections, Prasad suggested that Afghanistan needs to practice patience as no instant results are going to come. Moreover, Afghanistan needs to continue to provide the people with food, fuel and fire power. He added that building security and a sustainable governance structure were very important with an inclusive discourse by including disgruntled groups.

There is every chance of steady improvement after some initial deterioration if the international community stands behind the new government in Afghanistan, said Prasad who served as India’s ambassador to Afghanistan during 2008-09. About India taking up some development and humanitarian projects, and Pakistan being apprehensive about it, the ambassador said, “We do not want to do anything which creates paranoia in Pakistan”. Whatever the outcome of the elections, sensibly taking and tuning into Afghan voices is critical and most important, concluded Prasad.

Veteran journalist Siddharth Varadarajan said that other than being member of SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation) and sharing great social and cultural similarities with Iran, Afghanistan, among many other things like history, social linkages, etc, also shares the typical problems which are common in other South Asian countries in areas of gender, water, energy, infrastructure, transport etc. Addressing them though difficult is not impossible, he said.

The former editor of The Hindu said that it was essential that India and Pakistan made sensible strategic choices that were good for Afghanistan when they harbor some grounded and some unfounded fears about each other. Pakistan’s suspicions revolve around the fear if India will “gang-up with pro-India forces in Afghanistan” and have some kind of “encirclement”. India’s concerns are due to the safe haven that Taliban and some other extremist groups are enjoying not necessarily directly from the Pakistan state, but certainly by some so-called non-state actors. These fears need to be addressed, he added. He also suggested that the countries of South Asia should not cling to rigid visa policies.

Speaking about the post-2014 Afghanistan, Omar Sadr, a PhD scholar hailing from Afghanistan highlighted the complexity of the issues given the fact that nation-building, state-building and peace-building processes in Afghanistan were assumed as foreign-brought. He said that these were problematic propositions also because that takes away the subjectivity of the people.

He talked about the factors as to how the international community would take Afghanistan in the post-2014 scenario and raised the issue of international donors backing out from their commitments. The SAU scholar termed the US role as significant in setting democratic process in Afghanistan. He said that Afghans were in a dilemma of zero sum games of certain regional powers of South Asia, Central Asia and West Asia, leading to suggest creating a network through which both great powers and regional powers were tied down. Countering Prasad he said that bypassing Pakistan will create problems. He called elections more important than mere withdrawal of troops.

Earlier, the discussion started with an introductory note by Prof. A. Liyana Sasanka Perera, Dean Faculty of Social Sciences, SAU. Kanak Mani Dixit, editor of Himal South Asian made opening remarks, and Associate Editor, Aunohita Mojumdar, coordinated the discussion. A special issue of the magazine’s print quarterly entitled “Reclaiming Afghanistan” was also launched. Faculty members and students of SAU and other universities of Delhi, social activists, persons from media, academia and other public domains were present.

(A freelance journalist, Manzar Imam is a post-graduate research scholar at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. He can be reached at [email protected])