Afghan endgame: ‘Political transition more important than US pullout’

KABUL: (MEP) – The international community is focused on the military transition in Afghanistan after the US troops pull out in 2014. No one talks about the political transition the country will undergo in the wake of presidential elections that will be held in April, Ahmed Rashid said in his lecture at the Forman Christian College on Wednesday.

The lecture, Afghanistan 2014: The End Game, focused on the crises Afghanistan could face following the US withdrawal. “No one can be exactly certain about what will happen in Afghanistan after the pullout and the focus remains on the military transition,” he said, “The biggest question should be whether Afghanistan will have free and fair elections.”

Rashid said even though President Hamid Karzai will not be eligible to contest the election in 2014, he would want a successor who could secure his interests. “If the elections are rigged, the way they were in 2009,” Rashid said, “it would damage the political transition of the country already grappling with a host of challenges after the US pulls out.”

Rashid said Afghanistan also risked an economic crisis after 2014. “A lot of people who opposed the Taliban might flee the country,” he said.

Afghanistan had been self-sufficient in food since the late 60s till the War on Terror began. There were almost 9 million children enrolled in schools, he said, and women constituted 40 per cent of the education and health workforce.

Rashid said that almost 80 per cent of Afghan government’s budget depended on foreign funds. “I wonder whether this aid will still be available after the US leaves,” he said, “There hasn’t been an international commitment in this regard, and even if there is, it won’t last more than a year.”

The region has failed to understand how important it is to end interference in Afghanistan, he said, the pullout will create a power vacuum in the country. The problem of international inference in the country needs to be addressed before the US pulls out.

He said that Afghanistan was largely dependent on other countries for basic amenities, including food.  However, reconciliation with the Afghan Taliban after the US’ withdrawal will be a great challenge. “The Afghan Taliban was more predisposed to peace talks than the Pakistani Taliban,” he said, “The Afghan Taliban, exhausted with the war, have no reason to continue fighting after the US leaves.” He said they also knew that further conflict within the country will only serve to antagonise the Afghan people.

“Provided the election is held smoothly, talks with the Taliban will centre mainly on issues of power sharing including integration into the armed forces and political circles,” said Rashid.

“The Pakistani Taliban are in no mood to hold talks,” he said, “They are sitting on their high horse expecting the state to surrender.”

He said the Pakistani Taliban were ‘international terrorists’. “They are more dangerous than the Afghan Taliban who are at war with the US,” said Rashid, “We need to differentiate between the two types of Taliban first and then formulate a comprehensive strategy involving use of force and dialogue to reach a reconciliation.” Talks without that would be futile, he said.

Published in The Express Tribune

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