The End Game – Inside Afghanistan

August 18, 2017 Asia , Middle East , Opinion , OPINION/NEWS

Reuters photo



Zeeshan A. Shah


In an interview with CBS News, the former head of U.S. and NATO forces General Stanley McChrystal warned America that “Afghanistan will break into chaos if US forces are withdrawn.” He also said that the U.S. might see a second Iraq-like situation in this post war conflict within the region. Systematic policy-shift is more frequent today as battle fronts realign, with efforts to ensure a peaceful transition; “I think we should take a clear lesson from what happened in Iraq,” he said.

History taught us nothing. Not in the case of Afghanistan, a nation that has seen more war as a country than the entire world population combined. For this war-torn nation, peace remains a distant unfulfilled dream. As we enter the new age of war, we must also address the peace process that failed, not once but many times, realizing that the nightmare still exists. The war may be over for some but for the people living there, the country is a ‘Black Hole’, an endless abyss that eats away food, energy, water, lives, culture and kin. The end game is not yet over.

Afghanistan today stands at a critical juncture, facing significant security, economic and development challenges, which are inter-connected in nature. These challenges can and will not be addressed without building upon the already constructive support of Afghanistan’s regional and International partners. The efforts to meet these challenges are more effective if they are Afghan-owned and driven, supported by all partners and pursued diligently in a transparent manner. Slowly but surely, the transition takes shape in an uncertain future.

In November 2011, the Istanbul peace process was initiated, with Turkey and Afghanistan teaming up to carve an exclusive road-map, secretly endorsed by border-side Pakistan and the Americans. This road map was the Password to Prosperity. In the events that followed, the Kabul declaration of good neighborly relations was also ratified; promoting regional security, cooperation, confidence building and trust. A set of common principles were agreed upon which basically included some key result areas that were mutually agreed upon for the benefit of Afghanistan – the land bridge in the ‘Heart of Asia.‘ The two sides agreed at the time to ensure full support to the transition of responsibility for providing security in Afghanistan from ISAF / NATO to ANSF in the framework of the Kabul process to build a future strategy that will reunite democracy and economic progress back to the country.

An inside war could implode within Afghanistan and trigger a war across borders in Pakistan and Iran. If war recurred in the region in the absence of the U.S. and NATO, it would trigger a devastating deadly post-war conflict within. The United Nations has agreed to be more decisive but there are no guarantees here: facilitating voluntary return of the Afghan Refugees, preventing cultivation and production of narcotics, dismantling terrorist sanctuaries and safe havens and disrupting all financial and tactical support for terrorism, are difficult objectives.


The country needs leaders who can redevelop the economy and reconstruct their human capital while ensuring the elimination of illicit drug production, trade and trafficking with the Afghan security forces being pure, Afghan led, driven and owned through a complete redefined military and security apparatus makeover. This must be endorsed by the hope that Afghanistan welcomes the peaceful settlement of disputes in accordance with the UN charter and International Law.

The reconciliation efforts that were disrupted by the heinous attack that took the life of the Former President, a Head of the High Peace Council, Professor Burhanuddin Rabbani, and took the country towards a greater war conflict, were discussed and it was agreed that all partners would re-enforce an inclusive reconciliation drive by implementing the ‘Afghan Peace and Reintegration Process’. Hamid Karzai today is not as protected as he used to be by his western allies while the insurgency is rising.

The Istanbul process failed. Members of the legion of the ‘Heart of Asia‘ resolution included China, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia, the Kyrgyz Republic, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, Pakistan, United Arab Emirates and Afghanistan itself, backed up by the Commonwealth countries, EU, Economic Cooperation Organization, North Atlantic Treaty Organization –NATO, SAARC and the Organization for Islamic Cooperation-OIC.

The difficult and ambitious objective of enhanced regional cooperation now lies in the hands of the people who are managing the transition – the same people who drafted those laws, and have to stand up and redefine them on practical lines.

Despite this concrete agreement that was endorsed in 2011, war looms in Afghanistan with an extreme Rage for Order. Effective border control laws and agreements need to be in place, in addition to the free exchange of information among Afghanistan and the neighboring governments. Participation in Civil Emergency Planning to assess risks and reduce vulnerability of the civil population to terrorism is extremely vital.  Also, joint cooperation teams need to be mobilized to assess and develop joint guidelines for cooperation in the field of disaster risk, its management and DRR, disaster risk reduction and rehabilitation, by creating conducive conditions to ensure safety for refugees, prevention of illicit movement of personnel and materials across international borders and a regional agreement signed by all countries on counter terrorism and narcotics.


The Pakistan angle must not be underrated. Infrastructure development of road links and main ports needs to be secured as railway lines are being sabotaged through a greater threat strategy to break communication lines between provinces, both inside and outside Pakistan. More risk has also been identified across the Silk Route in a clear effort to destabilize Pak-China ties. Here, India is seen playing the true enemy. Afghanistan also links in Central Asia, South Asia, Eurasia and the Black Sea and any shipments blocked can have adverse affects. Exploration on the possibility of hydroelectric power in the sphere of water management and the TAPI and CASA-1000 projects need to be spearheaded by the government to counter the damage already delivered to the country by securing an easier flow of energy resources within, from and across the region with regards to electricity, oil, gas and minerals, including their exploitation and transit through these regional projects where Iran and Pakistan play a important role as mediators.

Afghanistan desperately needs a ‘Trade Facilitation Strategy‘ revolving around a coherent trade and border agreement, similar to the model of the Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement to be replicated across the region. Establishment of a database, data exchange, and provisions of settlement of commercial trade disputes, arbitration, tourist infrastructure, trade fairs, student exchange programs and trade unions must be encouraged rapidly. This will help cut down further on suspicious financial activity and the illegal creation of shell companies and trust funds and also emphasize on a more robust cooperation activity between law enforcement agencies and the intelligence forces of the respective countries. Legal assistance to legitimate travelers and visa restrictions must also be encouraged for genuine business partners to help build tourism and business development on the basis of reciprocal agreements and to build synergy and create enterprise.

On the educational and cultural front, a joint effort needs to be created in the face of the enemy through a common resolve by all nations to help Afghanistan fight against all forms and the manifestation of violence. This is where we need to understand the primary implication of the war conflict – where borderline states like Turkey, India, China and Russia can also be impacted by unnecessary U.S. and Indian presence.


War has certainly expanded beyond Afghan borders and the clutter is creating the blind spot – where enemy lines have become invisible and killings continue on all sides. On the softer side , intra-cultural dialogue is vital today to ensure left-over valuable cultural historical and religious assets are salvaged and expansion takes place between state institutions and non-governmental bodies to improve the curriculum, including the scientific exchange of ideas, studies of agricultural reform, media sciences to drive a positive role for democratic development and mutual respect, removing radicalism and hatred through the minds and hearts of the young as it is a slow but extremely important task, when they rebuild the nation post 2014.

No single country can stand alone and face such odds in the wake of the events that have taken place in the region. The Syrian conflict has weakened the balance of the region as Turkey has lost its clout as a power broker. The United States has suffered immense casualties of war and can no longer protect the Karzai government, due to its own military and financial constraints arising out of their inner country crisis and fiscal imbalance in the region as Russia stands guard along with China on a massive veto power that they continue to hold within the UNSC. India and Pakistan have their own disputes and Kashmir dominates tensions there.

What we see here is a paradox – a paradigm shift in the balance of power across the region and unless the identified war zones exist, peace stands a lesser chance for the people of Afghanistan, unless the new government emerges through extremely transparent elections and genuine regional support. America and Russia needs to do the same and lead the talks from a distance, both having learnt hard lessons of loss in unprecedented deadly wars within Afghanistan, there being a huge divide on the policy of war and chances of a spill-over.

With NATO long gone and U.S. forces slowly leading outwards, the chaos builds into a deeper war in the wake of the Afghan End Game – A dangerous post war conflict.





Zeeshan A. Shah

The writer is a Director at CNNA Pakistan – a leading advocacy institute and is an expert on International Relations and Education Policy.

With over 150 publications in major local and global social media & newspapers, he has been instrumental in producing over 5000 radio broadcasts aired globally.

A thought leader, environmental journalist, media broadcaster and a change maker with an acute focus on development affairs & education for Pakistan.

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