Afghanistan’s Roadmap to the Past

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The “Peace Process Roadmap to 2015” would drive Afghanistan back to pre-9/11 conditions and Pakistan would regain indirect hegemony over its neighbor.
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A recently disclosed arrangement for ending the war in Afghanistan, reportedly concluded in secret between Afghan and Pakistani officials, would be a sad end to a process that has been driving Afghanistan—at great cost—back to pre-9/11 conditions. Pakistan, after cultivating extremist groups with precisely this objective in view, would regain indirect hegemony over its neighbor. It would also gain a say in the details of the international troop withdrawal.

While the arrangement may seem to provide the sort of “decent interval” many U.S. officials are wishing for as they plan the exit from Afghanistan, and while a number of commentators have hailed the apparent movement on negotiation that has come in its wake, it does not promise a path to stability.

There is every reason to take the “Peace Process Roadmap to 2015” seriously. It tracks with views transmitted to U.S. officials by Pakistani Army Chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, and with a pattern of decisionmaking by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, whose staff includes many members of the extremist Hezb-i-Islami faction, and who sent his older brother Qayum to Pakistan to meet with Taliban leaders as early as 2007. More significantly, most of the concrete actions called for under step one in the document, such as cessation of cross-border shelling, release of Taliban prisoners in Pakistan, and a “follow-up meeting” in Turkey scheduled for December 2012, are either underway or completed.

The document’s most remarkable feature is its language. Purportedly recording an agreement between Karzai and Kayani (who calls the shots in Pakistan on these issues), it reflects neither of their writing styles. The English is flawless, and the construction British, with numbered steps formulated in the infinitive: “The negotiating parties to agree on modalities for the inclusion of Taliban and other armed opposition leaders in the power-structure of the state, to include non-elected positions at different levels.”

The first paragraph, “Afghanistan’s Vision by 2015,” reveals close familiarity with similarly titled classified U.S. interagency documents, whose rosy projections it echoes.

“By 2015,” it reads, “Taliban, Hizb-e Islami and other armed groups will have given up armed opposition, transformed from military entities into political groups, and are actively participating in the country’s political and constitutional processes . . . Afghanistan’s political system remains inclusive, democratic, and equitable, where all political actors co-exist and promote their political goals and aspirations peacefully . . . NATO/ISAF forces will have departed from Afghanistan, leaving the ANSF as the only legitimate armed forces.”

Afghan and Pakistani officials may have agreed to these terms, but they clearly had help developing them.

U.S. officials say that Washington was not involved in elaborating the initiative. Given the reduced role it envisages for the United States on critical national security priorities, such as the specifics of troop withdrawal, official American input may well have been limited—which is not to rule out freelance participation by American “advisers.” British officials and back-channel go-betweens have long worked toward this type of solution.

With no autonomous role in the process sketched out, the United States is essentially reduced to helping delist armed extremists and “supporting” (read financing) Afghanistan in the future.

Pakistan, by contrast, gains a preponderant stake. The very first step calls for a “focus on securing the collaboration of Pakistan.” In particular, Pakistan will “facilitate direct contact between the . . . Government of Afghanistan and identified leaders of . . . armed opposition groups.” Formal talks are to be launched with “authorized” Taliban representatives. Authorized by whom? The plan lets Pakistan determine outcomes by choosing the negotiators—and doubtless influencing their negotiating positions.

The negotiations, moreover, are not just aimed at converting armed insurgents into politicians and allowing them to run for office. The document also stipulates their appointment to key non-elective positions—cabinet posts, governorships, or police commands, for example. Afghan observers predict that this provision will result in their country’s Balkanization, with the Taliban effectively exercising autonomous control over much of the south and east.

Such an outcome—which would allow Pakistan to dominate aspects of Afghan public life and critical regions of the country—is what Pakistani military leaders have been working toward since they first began reconstituting the Taliban in late 2002. The effort was clearly visible at the time, as former Taliban congregated in the tightly controlled Pakistani border towns of Quetta and Chaman, opened recruiting offices and training facilities, distributed weapons and motorcycles at madrassas, and, in one case I became aware of in 2003, drove cars bearing military license plates.

The government of Pakistan claims it desires a peaceful Afghanistan. And yet, as U.S. officials have conceded for months, the Pakistani military has not just been turning a blind eye to the development of insurgent groups on its territory, but has taken an active, sometimes fraught, role in helping develop them. The question is, to what end? Why would a rational country foment explosive instability right on its border? Why would officials take the risk that the extremism they help foster might shift its focus—as it has—to them?

The answer has to do with the Pakistani military’s perception of its rivalry with India. The threat—so constantly evoked as to verge on paranoia—is that of Indian encirclement, a too-cozy relationship between Kabul and Delhi that could leave Pakistan trapped in the middle.

It was to forestall such an eventuality that the Pakistani military leadership aimed to regain a degree of the proxy control over Afghanistan it enjoyed in the 1990s via the Taliban regime. Pakistani officials, like their American counterparts, have opined that insurgencies end around negotiating tables. Through the establishment of safe havens for Pakistani-trained terrorists, the active protection of diverse and frequently reconfiguring groups, and intimate links with the insurgent leaders they have assisted and cajoled and intimidated into the fight, Pakistani officers aimed to stoke a conflict that would require a negotiated settlement, and then determine who would do the negotiating and what they would settle for.

The provisions in the “Peace Process Roadmap to 2015” indicate that, ten years on, this approach has succeeded. Should the process it describes go forward, resulting in the re-Talibanization of Afghanistan’s central government and border regions and the return of Afghanistan to roughly its pre-9/11 state, a number of dangerous repercussions will likely ensue.

First, Pakistan will be rewarded for its decision to export extremist violence in pursuit of its national security aims. The perception in Pakistan (and in other countries such as Iran) could be reinforced that the best way to punch above its weight internationally is to use asymmetric violence, be it terrorism or nuclear proliferation.

Second, as history attests, partition is rarely clean or peaceful. Given the exclusion of the Afghan population from the development of this plan, and from the process it establishes, chances are that disenfranchised constituencies opposed to Pakistani domination will eventually take up arms.

Third, Taliban control of southern and eastern Afghanistan, with no international troops on hand, will allow the Pakistani military to push its radicalized proxies, many of which are penetrated by a metastasized al-Qaeda, across the border into Afghanistan. While still able to influence these groups, Pakistan will no longer be held responsible for their actions. Interestingly, the Haqqani network, blamed for some of the most spectacular attacks in Afghanistan, is not mentioned in the document.

Finally, the instability of such a scenario is likely to result in an exodus of refugees into fragile Central Asian states to the north.

Such a conclusion to the war in Afghanistan, while ironic—a dozen years, thousands of lives, and billions of dollars, just to get back to the starting point—was perhaps to be expected. After all, President Karzai was a senior official in the first Taliban regime and the United States has persisted in financing the very insurgents it was fighting, by way of its support to the Pakistani military. If, to cap off these contradictions, U.S. officials choose to go down the path outlined in this so-called roadmap, they would do well to design strategies to mitigate its very clear dangers.

End of document

About the South Asia Program

The Carnegie South Asia Program informs policy debates relating to the region’s security, economy, and political development. From the war in Afghanistan to Pakistan’s internal dynamics to U.S. engagement with India, the Program’s renowned team of experts offer in-depth analysis derived from their unique access to the people and places defining South Asia’s most critical challenges.


Comments (14)

  • gudo
    if india could reconcile with the existance of present pakistan things can be more easy for the whole region but the problem is india never reconciled with 1947 pakistan nor does it with present pakistan for pakistan it is just a matter of survival this is what analyst fail to grasp
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    • Anjaan replies...
      This Pakistani position is very confusing for the people of India. It is myth that India never reconciled with Pakistan. On the contrary, for the people of India, it was a good riddance that the Pakistani Muslims are no longer a part of India.
      Pakistan has always been the aggressor, using terror outfits like the LET in Kashmir, the Mumbai killing being the latest of provocations. Four wars and 65 years later, the Pakistanis still believe in parity with India.
      However, the Pakistani insecurity and paranoia towards India seems to be legitimate, as they know that India's limits to Pakistani provocations would surely breach some day ..... !!
    • Harsh Srivastava replies...
      yes, you nailed it. Bulls eye! That's the crux of the pblm. in the region. I wish experts take notice of your post and suggest soln. to the issue and US..China and other forces implement the soln. and bring everlasting peace to the region. Futhermore..I hope hard that Nobel Prize Committee too take note of it and acknowledge that it's your post which paved the way for peace and award you the Nobel Peace prize. Inshallah!
  • Quadir Amiryar
    Dear colleagues:
    I believe this article is very informative and objective. I presume that the current Road-Map designed by the ISI, in collaboration with their partners, is a strategy to attain Pakistan’s aggressive foreign policy goals in Afghanistan, regardless of how many innocent lives of Afghan, American and the NATO allies are destroyed. In fact this Road-map will repeat the history and would relegate the situation in Afghanistan back to the status of 9/11. Furthermore, this Road Map is another scheme to empower the Taliban and support the extremism including some factions of Al-Qaida.
    Consequently, the taxpayers may inquire the significance of all the sacrifices they have made in the past several years; they would like to know the objective and the mission’s achievements, if any.
    Quadir Amiryar

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  • Qalandar Daychopani
    1 Recommend
    What a revealing piece, thanks Sarah. Yeah, Afghanistan is Karzai's and his tribe's private property. He can and should sell it the way it pleases him. It is not isolated case. It is part of historical continuum. This deal, if not aborted, will be a recipe for a disaster. Shame on his Kochi-type leadership and peace modality.
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    • Bu_ble replies...
      Mr. Qalandar, do you have a better plan that actually works for all Afghans? I am not in favor of Pakistan's domination in Afghanistan either, but what options do Karzai (or any other leader) has?
  • Balkhi
    1 Recommend
    Knowing Pakistani style of political meddling I don't expect implementing this "road map" would even end the war. If implemented, I can foresee that some Taliban may join the local govt in the South and but their main bulk will continue fighting, not surprising us yet again with the support of ISI -yes another double game to come. I think from Pakistani point of view this plan priority is to get rid of NATO presence from the scene and carry on the same old play unchallenged, not seriously anyway. As about illusion-ridden Karzai his mental pre-occupation shaped by his current Hizbe Islami mentors remains facilitating his co-tribal militia army i.e. Taliban and Hizbe Islami once again to regain the lost domineering role over us. I am not sure if West has fully realized the depth of Pakistani pre-occupation in Afghanistan, as we see is it always was and will remain, keep a weaker Afghanistan, not achievable any easier than maintaining conflict going. We the anti-Taliban majority, literally, from the Northern 2/3rd of the country dismayed and abandoned by once allied Americans which by the way did not succeed to appease either Karzai or his Taliban, will have to re-shake our thinking and crowds and prepare to resist yet another probable tribal occupation or at least suppression from the South. Only if Massoud was not dead....we think with this much international support we the anti-taliban silenced majority would had been victorious. To us it does not matter much if it is Karzai or Mullah Omar, they are both undemocratic and dictators. The West media and leaders unfortunately chose to conveniently forget that Karzai did not win but rigged the last election.
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  • Afghan Citizen
    1 Recommend
    I am glad to know that the world has realized that all the problems are coming out from Pakistan and the poor Afghans are being sacrificed for it. One day will arrive that Pakistan will pay for all the bad things they are doing and taking lives of the innocents not only in Afghanistan but all around the world.
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  • Ahmad
    This decision by the Afghan government comes as a result of disappointment from the U.S unwillingness to punish Pakistan for exporting terror and violence. What was the option for Afghanistan? A weak, poor, and devasted country with no workable institution sarrounded with evil neighbors who alway prey on it like hungry wolves. Afghan politicaians are to be blamed for taking these dangerous steps with less calculation, but the U.S is also responsible. Even U.S might be happy to find an ocassion to call her victory and escape that country. This is terrifying news and horrible for me to imagine myself in an Afghanistan of the 90s
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  • Sharifi
    Dear Sarah;
    The article is quite interesting and meanwhile, very frustrating to us. In fact, there are many points that need to be considered most importantly like:
    1.     US foreign policy during the cold war and support of extremism in the region and encouraging Afghans to fight and kill their own brothers and destroy their country to ashes, in the name of Jihad and fight communism.
    2.     Meanwhile, US long term strategy to gain foot place in the region and final headache for Russia, China, and Iran mainly and dominate the rest of smaller nations in the region.
    3.     US used different methods and tested Mujahidin, then later Taliban and found Taliban the most suitable to pursue her long term strategic policy.
    4.     Afghanistan, besides having large deposits of natural resources, but none of the former governments could use it due to kept busy with internal conflicts. The Afghans remain poor and poverty stricken and initially kept in the darks and illiterate, those never question any internal or external exploiter, but struggle for a piece of bread.
    5.     Now, USA is in the region and has total access to everything, even people’s life and death!
    6.     Secondly, Pakistan a country that gained independence in 1947 through partition from Britain with large masses of poor and illiterate and weak economy. How can such a country could dominate her neighbors? Pakistan came under direct neo colonialism of USA around 1960s and what US dictated she followed. Saudi Arabia provided(ing) funding for insurgencies through US command. There is no independent identity of Pakistan and she knows that cannot confront India and why Afghans should back Pakistan to confront or outweigh India’s hegemon in the region?
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  • Sharifi
    7.     Afghanistan is a multiethnic country and only Pashtuns are not the majority to decide whatever they wish, and Taliban/Pakistan know this very well that Taliban cannot control like before and rule people. It’s obvious that other ethnicities are strongly opposing Taliban and Pakistan interfering into internal polity.
    8.     If the Taliban and Izib-e-Islami want to enter political arena and contest for the elections and attain power through fair means, its fine with everyone as in the multiethnic and multiparty polity of republican of Afghanistan can accommodate them. But, if they wish to rule according to their own Islamic perceptions that’s not possible anymore and acceptable to anyone.
    9.     Karzai is not the absolutist in the country to make deals and grant pardon to killers that killed millions of innocent civilians during the decades of 1990s – 2000. It’s the Afghans must decide and how they would like the peace process, even if this may lead to another necessary bloodshed to get rid of Taliban and extremism in the country.
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  • NPegasus
    1 Recommend
    The western observers, like the author, overplay the old and tired argument of Pakistan’s paranoia of Indian presence in Afghanistan. The real problem is that Pakistan fears that a strong and stable Afghanistan will influence the Pathan population in its restive regions.

    Afghanistan does not recognize the Durand Line, which was drawn by the British, that separates it from Pakistan. Pakistan has been training extremists in Afghanistan since early 70s and continues to do so regardless of its status of relationship with India. Pakistan prefers controlled chaos on its western border to the risk of losing more territory. However, Pakistan finds it convenient to use the hollow fear of India to mask its insecurity on its western border.
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  • margie
    1 Recommend
    horrific contemplating the consequences of this road map for afghan civilians, after so many deaths and uncounted numbers of wounded, orphans widows to return to a pre 2001 Afghanistan is feafrul especially for women and girls to be under the Taliban deprived of rights to education, dignity, mobility,health, representation. We do now need a esolution on Afghan women and girls to go to the UN Commission on the Staus of Women whose 57th session meets this March and where the priority theme is Prevention and Elimination of Violence to Women. THE VIOLENCE FACING AFGHAN WOMEN AND GIRLS through this Road Map is beyond contemplation a=except with horror   Women of the world unite on this
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  • Hassany
    I think this is a well detailed piece that reveals great and to some extend inconvenient facts. The reason that Pakistan is behind all this horrible terrorist act is because, as it is rightly mentioned in the article, is India and its own interests. Afghanistan is the biggest Pakistani Consumer and if the Pakistani proxies and government let this country grow, this country would soon rise and be self-sufficient and will no longer buy the goods that Pakistanis are producing. Also, Pakistan always wanted to have a reach to Central Asian Markets, this could only be possible if they install their proxy government in Afghanistan, like the Taliban.
    As a result, what makes me happy is that not only Afghans, but the rest of the world knows, especially when Osma Bin Laden was killed in Abottabad, close to Islamabad, that Pakies have been the main supporter of international terrorism and they have always been the main problem in the region. From Delhi bombing to suicide attackers in Afghanistan, From Kashmir to Supporting Al Qaeda's leader, this country has now become a clear evil to the eyes of the world.
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