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Foreign forces are to blame for Afghan conflict: Rustam Shah

Updated April 18, 2019

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Rustam Shah Mohmand. — White Star
Rustam Shah Mohmand. — White Star

KARACHI: There is only one reason for the Afghan conflict: foreign forces. And if Pakistan and Afghanistan are to have good relations for a lasting peace in Afghanistan, Pakistan has to review its India-centric policy.

This was the point that Rustam Shah Mohmand, former ambassador of Pakistan to Afghanistan, put emphasis on during his talk titled ‘The Afghanistan conflict: emerging dynamics and impact on Pakistan’ at the Pakistan Institute of International Affairs (PIIA) on Wednesday evening.

Mr Mohmand said what he was about to say might not be liked by some people. He then gave a historic perspective on the Afghan issue by asserting that most conflicts in the world were unnecessary, underlining that the country faced British imperialism in the 19th century, Russian invasion in the 20th century and US invasion in the 21st century.

RUSTAM Shah Mohmand speaks at the PIIA on Wednesday.—White Star
RUSTAM Shah Mohmand speaks at the PIIA on Wednesday.—White Star

Mr Mohmand said there were many theories about the 9/11 incident (who carried out the attacks and whether any Afghan was involved) that made the US invade Afghanistan. In 2001, the attack was launched and seven or eight months later President Bush announced that Afghanistan had been liberated, and “the liberation continues”. During the invasion unspeakable crimes against humanity were perpetrated. Taliban supporters were arrested, and 3,000 people (mostly innocent) were choked to death in containers. More than 200,000 civilians had been killed, villages decimated and markets blown up chasing invisible and visible enemy.

Urges Pakistan to shift focus away from India

Mr Mohmand asked: “What has the war delivered?” Ninety per cent of Afghanistan’s GDP comes from either foreign funding or spending by coalition forces inside the country. Domestic revenue is five to seven per cent of the GDP. Malnutrition in children is 39pc and unemployment is 45pc. People are leaving the country illegally in large numbers. Non-depleted uranium was used in bombing Tora Bora. Scientists believe because of that for the next 200 years particles of non-depleted uranium will be in the air, causing diseases such as cancer. Also, there is an increase in the menace of drugs.

Speaking about the potential of Afghanistan, Mr Mohmand claimed it’s huge. There are natural resources, the most precious of which is water. The Kabul River contributes 21pc to the Indus River system. But there is no agreement between Pakistan and Afghanistan on how to share that water.

Shedding light on Pakistan’s issues with Afghanistan, the ambassador said they included sharing of the Kabul River water, and if Afghanistan’s mineral wealth was exploited, Pakistan should have its share because Pakistan has technology, and 1.4 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan. But problems have risen sometimes because of the short-sighted approach by Pakistan.

For example, he said, Afghanistan requested that Pakistan allow its territory for trade between India and Pakistan. Pakistan rejected the request. If Pakistan allowed trade both countries would have depended on Pakistan. India and Afghanistan were forced to look for other ways. The trade between Pakistan and Afghanistan plummeted. With the fencing of the border, the trade would diminish further. We already have negligible trade with India. Where will we go in the 21st century? India and China have many problems but the trade between them has crossed $85 billion. “No country in the world would suffer as much from Afghanistan’s instability as Pakistan. And no country in the world would gain as much from Afghanistan’s stability as Pakistan.”

Mr Mohmand said the US had come to the conclusion to leave Afghanistan, and the Taliban have to be mainstreamed under some acceptable arrangement. It’s a good gesture because the people of Afghanistan are sick of fighting. However, there are issues. 1) Exit of the foreign forces. “There is only one reason for the Afghanistan conflict –– the presence of foreign forces.” 2) The governance system in the country. 3) Whether there would be a ceasefire. 4) On what terms would the Taliban be mainstreamed?

The ambassador then pointed out the obstacles in the way of the solution of the problem as follows: 1) The Kabul government itself. It wants the Taliban to come to them but the Taliban refuse to recognise the legitimacy of the government. 2) American indecision on the time frame of withdrawal. 3) The Taliban themselves –– since they have not been able to project to the world what their Afghanistan would look like in terms of governance. 4) The interim government (its composition, mandate, duration and leadership).

Mr Mohmand said that for the last few years Russia, China and Iran had forged relations with the Taliban. They feared that with the withdrawal of external forces there would be anarchy in Afghanistan, rise of Daesh and uncontrolled production of drugs.

Highlighting the role of Pakistan in the whole scenario, the ambassador said there were many power centres in Pakistan causing ambiguity in policy. Pakistan had been handicapped by the notion of restricting India’s role in Afghanistan. This may have some justification, but it clashes with the fundamental objective of focusing on seeking a durable solution to the Afghanistan problem. So you are more focused on restricting India’s role and less on seeking peace in Afghanistan. The Afghans get annoyed. Pakistan is justified in demanding that Afghanistan’s soil must not be allowed to be used against Pakistan but beyond that India is one of the biggest donors [to Afghanistan] and is a regional power.

Rustam Mohmand said Pakistan and India should work jointly on projects inside Afghanistan for the benefit of both countries. “The India-centric approach will have to be reviewed because it doesn’t deliver much,” he remarked.

After the talk, the floor was opened for a question and answer session.

Published in Dawn, April 18th, 2019