After the inauguration of United States President Donald Trump, the Afghan leadership is making every effort to invite the attention of the new president towards Kabul. After the assumption of office by Trump, however, the problem for the Afghan leadership is that President Trump is more inward-looking as foreign policy including the important question for contemporary US external policy—Afghanistan—is not high on priority list of his agenda. This is, indeed, troubling not only for Afghanistan but also for Kabul’s most important neighbour, Pakistan. However, instead of genuinely presenting its case to the new US administration so as to secure Washington’s sustained support for reconstruction, rehabilitation and counterinsurgency in Afghanistan, the latter is trying its utmost to mar the image of Pakistan in the eyes of the new American leadership. Kabul in this regard is acting very astutely from its standpoint, as Donald Trump does not look at Pakistan with much favour because of his anathema towards so-called Muslim fundamentalism and perception within the US that Pakistan has been ambivalent in its treatment of modern day radicalism among Muslims. Afghanistan wants to exploit this situation.
The question is whether this strategy of bringing Pakistan into disrepute in the US would be of any consequence. One does not think so. Insecurity in Afghanistan is increasing by the day and the Afghan government seems to be helpless, while the US-led NATO seems to be less than successful in dealing with the continuing instability. Kabul repeats charges against Pakistan for supporting the Taliban, without doing much to stabilize the state institutions. Looking at the dynamics of the insurgency by the Taliban in Afghanistan would reveal that none of the foreign actors are more responsible for the insurgency, political chaos and grave security issues in Afghanistan than the Afghan political and social leadership itself. In other words, neither the US-led NATO nor Pakistan, generally perceived to be the two most important foreign actors in Afghanistan since the ouster of the Taliban regime in the year 2001, have been largely responsible for the trouble in Afghanistan. This situation is obvious. The world needs to understand this, as without it there can be no hope of peace in Afghanistan and due to it in the wider region.
The Afghan government and the Afghan Taliban are part of the same nation and state and they have been engaged in a war for more than 15 years. The Taliban have also been fighting the US-led NATO troops stationed in Afghanistan since 2001, but despite the drawdown of the NATO forces from more than 140,000 troops to today’s strength of just under 10,000 the Taliban insurgency has refused to die-down. Instead, the Taliban have been gaining increasing territory by pushing back the government forces. Kabul’s blaming Pakistan for being the architect of the Afghan Taliban insurgency is senseless. Why would the Afghan Taliban, a purely Afghan entity, care to follow the dictates of Pakistan instead of paying heed to their Afghan compatriots, whether the Afghan government or the wider political leadership, to join the political arena. When one puts this question, there is a whole context to it. One cannot resort to oversimplification; local and national insurgencies are not, and cannot be, primarily supported by foreign countries and non-state actors. Historically, Pakistan has always been generally disliked if not hated by the Afghans, for the egregiously misconceived notion that Pakistan, one of the successor states of British India, has been in putative possession of “Afghan” territories. Although the irredentist claims of Afghanistan against Pakistan have legally and politically had no grounds, but the Afghans so believe and hence the animus towards Pakistan. In this general environment of misplaced belief and hostility, Pakistan becomes a convenient scapegoat. So none of the above mentioned foreign actors, which at one time or another have had their presence and interests in Afghanistan have been more responsible than the Afghan rulers and society for the problems of Afghanistan. This, as emphasized earlier, the world and Afghanistan must understand, because without addressing the root causes of insecurity, instability and political chaos in Afghanistan there can be no way forward irrespective of how many foreign troops or funding are committed to the Afghan war theatre, and international conferences regarding Afghanistan are held.
Coming to the root cause of multidimensional issues in Afghanistan, Afghan dynamics and a thorough reading of Afghan history teaches us that it has been the failure of successive Afghan rulers and regimes to consolidate the Afghan state and modernize Afghan society, through extensive institutionalization, modernization and detribalization which has been at the bottom of all issues and problems in Afghanistan. This consolidation and modernization could come through extensive education of the young generations and society at large. Due to the failure of the successive Afghan rulers and regimes Afghans could not adjust to the political, economic and social developments in the world. Sensing their inability to adjust to the times, Afghans started disliking everything foreign. This dislike comes with suspicion and disdain of foreigners. Afghan rulers and regimes instead of making the Afghans to understand the developments in the world and the compulsion of the Afghan state to keep up with these changes, stoked dislike and suspicion of foreigners. The Afghan rulers over the centuries have done so for their vested interest to keep their governed illiterate and ignorant and, thus, easy to rule, without questioning the legitimacy and qualification of the rulers.
Foreign players may have had selfish interests in Afghanistan, but the weakness of the Afghan state and traditionist complexion of Afghan society provided them fertile conditions to exploit the situation to their advantage. In the world of realpolitik, every state tries to maximize its power and wealth. There is no such thing as altruism. This is the hard lesson of history and the Afghans must also understand this. So without putting its house in order and setting aside old myths and mindset, the Afghan leadership will not be able to proceed in the right direction. President Trump, with his eccentric and untutored mode of decision-making would not be any help to Afghanistan; rather, in his rule the security situation in Afghanistan may further deteriorate.
Putting the blame on Pakistan, or attempting to get Washington to rachet up the pressure on the former, will not solve Afghanistan’s problems, or mitigate the insurgency.