IPCS Discussion

Regional Power Play and Rise of Radicalism in Afghanistan

05 Sep, 2016    ·   5118

Sarral Sharma reports on the proceedings of the discussion held on 20 August 2016

On 20 August 2016, in the fourth interaction under its Twentieth Anniversary Plenum Series, the IPCS hosted Mr Hamid Karzai, former President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, for a talk on Regional Power Play and Rise of Radicalism in Afghanistan.
The following are the introductory remarks and the transcript of his speech.
Ambassador (Retd) Salman Haider
Patron, IPCS

Your Excellency, excellencies gracing this occasion, and friends of IPCS. It is my privilege on behalf of IPCS to bid you a very warm welcome. We are very gratified that you have been able to come here today to speak to us and give us the benefit of your views on a subject which is of great and increasing importance within our region. You are no stranger to this country and there are deep bonds between us. You are a much admired leader of your country. We have all watched with great respect how you have steered your war-torn land into a new era of peace and development. It is being India's privilege to make its contribution to the renewal of the Afghan progress as a friend and as a partner. Your being here is an encouragement for us to draw even closer. Numerous important initiatives in bilateral relations were undertaken during your government in Kabul. The task for bodies like IPCS is to affirm the significance of what has been achieved and to encourage those in authority towards ever closer collaboration. New challenges are bound to arise. Our shared neighbourhood is beset with difficulties all the more reasons for friendly exchanges for better coordination among countries in the region to meet and overcome challenges. 

Your Excellency's views on neighbourhood matters are well-known. You have been a consistent advocate of closer collaboration among all countries in South Asia. Your personal commitment to this task has had real impact. Over the years of your leadership, Afghanistan has been a source of constructive initiatives aimed at the benefit of the region as a whole. You have not permitted partisan considerations to dictate tough policies within the region as a whole. Afghanistan is a major country in the region. Its historical role is amazingly rich and significant. Its links with India have always been the closest. As Afghanistan is moving towards consolidating its internal strength and unity, it has assumed a greater and more significant international role. A strong partnership between Afghanistan and India has come into being which owes much to the leadership and vision provided by Your Excellency. We see you as a statesman who has much to contribute to the future as you have done in the past to the region and to the bilateral ties between India and Afghanistan. I feel honoured sir to welcome you here today and I have great pleasure in requesting you to address us.
H.E. Mr. Hamid Karzai
Former President, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan

Mr. Salman Haider, distinguished ladies and gentleman, coordinators, moderators on the stage, and most important of all, dear friend Gautam Sabharwal and his family, for the hospitality and graciousness.

Afghanistan is no stranger to India. Both countries share a very old and historical relationship. The countries in the region of South Asia - India, Afghanistan, Pakistan - share close proximity, past relations, cultural affinity, and free movement of people for over thousands of years of civilisations.

It is easily a melting pot of civilisations. It is a society of immense colour and values that humans here and beyond surely cherish and enjoy. But, of course, the region of South Asia is also very much troubled and more so in the past 20 or 30 years. The concentration has been on the past 30 years when the rise of radicalism and extremism took place for the use of political purposes and for the promotion of the national interests.

With the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, and the rise of the Afghan people against it, things started to change not only in country, but in the entire region. The Soviet Union was a genuine friend of Afghanistan. But as friends make mistakes often, so did the Soviets, of invading Afghanistan for ideological or other reasons. The Afghans people began to wage a struggle for independence to free themselves. This struggle brought to Afghanistan opposing ideological forces and interests. The initial consequences were terrible for Afghanistan, and subsequently for the whole region. The immensity of the struggle and the power applied there forced millions of Afghans to leave their homes to become refugees in neighbouring countries such as Iran, Pakistan, and others. The more educated, affluent Afghans went to European countries, the US, Australia etc. 

This massive movement of struggle was a god given opportunity in the cold war rivalry between the West, the US and its allies, and the East, the Soviet Union. The US, Pakistan and their allies in the region saw an opportunity to use religious radicalism as a tool to defeat the Soviet Union in the name of the Afghan resistance. As that was happening, in order to win, the Soviet Union was working hard to superimpose Communism on the Afghan society and the way of life that the local people found very alien and against their will. These massive forces, pulling and pushing at each other, it wrought Afghanistan with the consequences the world is aware of. The theory of Green Belt, the belt of religion and use of religious radicalism, was used for weakening the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. The US wanted to use it as they had their own purposes in weakening Soviet Union in Afghanistan. The Green Belt was also referred to as an Arc of Crisis around the Soviet Union.

The collapse of the Soviet Union was a much bigger treasure than the price paid in promoting radicalism in the region or the consequences of it for the world. The use of religious radicalism was a well calculated, thought-out, strategic plan or policy of the US and its allies to weaken the Soviet Union. Pakistan supported it in the name of helping the Afghan resistance and Mujahideens in order to find influence, manpower, forces in Afghanistan that it thought would be useful for the region.

The repercussions of that were seen in the early 1990s in Kashmir. With the departure of the Soviet Union, as the region would have wished, the promotion of radicalism as a tool did not end. Pakistan used it for the region, whereas the US used it against Russia, plus the upcoming new economies such as India and China. The delivery of Afghanistan by the US to a neighbouring country to have a free hand in determining the future, outlook and aspirations of the Afghan people were now based upon the wishes of Pakistan.

Pakistan's establishment had in mind to use radicalism as an instrument of national policy, which was used very efficiently in weakening, and causing mayhem in, Afghanistan. However, Pakistan could not avoid unintended consequences on its own territory. The rise of radicalism and extremism has led to immense cost in Pakistan with horrific terrorist attacks in Quetta, Karachi, Lahore and elsewhere. Although radicalism started in Afghanistan, it did not end there.

The destruction of nation-states in the name of creative chaos in the Middle East is one of the examples of radicalism as a worldwide phenomenon. Countries such as Iraq, Syria, Libya and Egypt were relatively developed with sufficient health and public infrastructure during the 1990s. However, things have changed completely since then. There may be internal reasons for the rise of the Islamic State (IS) or Daesh in Iraq and Syria. Whereas in northeast Afghanistan, in Nangarhar Province, Daesh is clearly a product of outside arrival, and not at all an indigenous matter. 

The Taliban are indigenous to Afghanistan. Daesh is not a product of the internal circumstances; and rather it is directly run by the agency beyond the Afghanistan border which many local sources have confirmed as well. If Daesh's influence is not controlled in Afghanistan, it will gain more territory in the region.

There are two ways to find a solution to the IS problem in Afghanistan: First, to make an emotional appeal to those who are using it as a national policy. An appeal which highlights the fact that the use of the IS will not help achieve any strategic depth in Afghanistan. Rather, it will only cause more damage to the country that used it. Second, the appeal to all countries in the region and around the world is that the strategic depth in Afghanistan can only be achieved through friendship and a civilised relationship, and not through violence or extremism. Afghanistan is an independence loving country.

The US has been in Afghanistan for last 15 or 16 years in the name of the War on Terror. Has this extremism perpetrating in Afghanistan the result of this war? What has the war achieved when there are more cases of violence, radicalisation and extremism in this region? Either the countries involved did not campaign correctly together or did not intend to provide the required results. If the intention is to succeed, then rethinking, re-planning and reimplementation cannot run in isolation. It should involve other countries in the region such as India, Iran, China, and Russia who are also affected by terrorism. Maybe all countries are not really ready due to various political compulsions. 

But such cooperation will come about and which will be needed in the near future. The US needs to rethink that such a cooperation is possible and needed to bring stability in the region. The continued use of heavy handed military approach of the US and bombardment of the villages will not end extremism in Afghanistan as that extremism is coming from outside, whether it is training or financial structures, motivation, or sanctuaries of militant organisations. Therefore, a new approach is required to solve the current instability in the region.

There is a need for a change in Pakistan's approach for maintaining good relations with its neighbouring countries. Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is one such person who wishes to have good relations with both India and Afghanistan. For the well being of the people and aspirations of the youth for tomorrow, someone from this region - India, Pakistan and Afghanistan - would offer a new thinking or a plan or architecture for peace building, for a better life and for ending the current vicious circle of violence that the countries have brought upon themselves. For that to happen, a 'new' thinking is needed, which does away with the use of religion as a tool for promotion of objectives, or as an instrument of foreign policy. It will not get any country anything and will only bring destruction, including to the user as it did in the past.

The countries in the region are much deeper and enriched cultural society than they show themselves to be. The sense of peacefulness of civilised behaviour is much deeper in the region than the countries show themselves to be today. Religion is for good purposes and not for bad ones. In that sense, the region cannot afford to continue with religious radicalisation as an instrument of policy. If the countries in the region get together it will as a whole stop to be a tool at the hands of others.

India and Pakistan Proxy War in Afghanistan
President Ashraf Ghani does not believe that India has been engaging in a proxy war with Pakistan in Afghanistan. Had that been the case, things would have been different in Afghanistan as well as the whole region. India has gone beyond its way as a neighbour to help Afghanistan immensely. Training thousands of youth is not a proxy war; it is an empowerment of a nation. However, Afghanistan has accused India in the past for not being bold enough in fulfilling their requests for providing military equipments to help fight the Taliban. I went to India during my regime with a wish list that the then Indian leaders did not approve as it would have aggravated things with Pakistan in Afghanistan. India is a cautious, sage ally of Afghanistan. India helps Afghanistan in the fields of education, health care, building infrastructure - dams, roads, transmission lines - and promoting democratic institutions.

Actionable plan to deal with insurgency coming from Pakistan
There are many Pakistanis who would like to bring an end to extremism in Afghanistan. For that to happen, both countries need to work together in order to fight the menace of terrorism.

How does the Afghan government's position on personal freedom differ from the Taliban?
Afghanistan is a deeply believing and traditional Muslim country. Articles 2 and 3 of the Afghan constitution clearly state that Afghanistan is an Islamic country. In that case, the principles of Islam stand above all other elements of the constitution. However, the Afghan society separates its democratic practices from the religious activities of the country. It does not counter Islamic ways of living in the country. Similarly, religion does stand against Afghanistan's aspirations to be a democratic country.

Success of the IS's recruitment in Afghanistan
The recruitment of the IS is not that successful in Afghanistan. Its funding comes from outside. The IS is a totally foreign phenomenon in Afghanistan. All principle countries in the region should be immensely concerned about the presence of the IS in Afghanistan. The IS is an element that is intended to not only work in Afghanistan but beyond it. The promotion of any kind of extremism should be stopped or its consequences will be felt across the region.

Is Pakistan fighting a proxy war in Afghanistan?
Pakistan is not conducting a proxy war in Afghanistan. The appeal is for a better regional environment and for a more civilised relationship between Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan. The people of Pakistan have suffered as much as the Afghans and Indians at the hands of extremism and terrorism. That becomes a point of convergence of views, emotions, and sentiments between the three countries. 

Afghan regime's position on accommodating the demands made by the Taliban vis-a-vis ideology
It is important to speak peace not with ideology or counter-ideologies but with the people of Afghanistan. The Afghan Taliban are citizens of Afghanistan. It is a matter of national need to begin to have peace in the country with those who are part of Afghanistan. In any given society there are people from different ideological tendencies; and the case is similar in with Afghanistan. People from different ideologies such as Maoism, Communism, Islamic organisations - radical and moderates - have been part of the Afghan society. Any ideological orientation is welcome in Afghanistan but only through peaceful means; democracy and not through force, guns and violence.
Role of Russia in Afghanistan
Russia has been a very close neighbour of Afghanistan. It was a respectable ally and is still respected in Afghanistan. However, Russia made a mistake of invading Afghanistan and superimposing their ideology of Communism on the local people. In the present situation, Russia's military assistance and training of soldiers is welcome in Afghanistan. Afghan army is basically Russian trained and equipped. Russia is not only a big power in the region but worldwide.

Legal term of the National Unity Government 
The constitution of Afghanistan has fixed five years as the term of the president of the country after an election. However, in this particular condition of today with the National Unity Government (NUG) in power, Afghanistan has a President, Ashraf Ghani, and a CEO, Abdullah Abdullah. Afghanistan is originally a presidential form of government and not a parliamentary one. The constitution does not mention the position of the CEO. The CEO position is a 'special' arrangement that has been agreed upon by the two leaders in a document in which they envisaged the convening of a constitutional Loya Jirga within two years of the government. The two year period ends in September. It is up to the people of Afghanistan to decide which form of government they want after the convening of the Jirga. The traditional Loya Jirga is above the Afghan constitution. The current constitution was created by the Loya Jirga. It is the centuries of practice in Afghanistan that brings the legitimacy and power to the Jirga. It is an instrument Afghan people use during times of crisis to get together and resolve issues the country faces at a given time. Its members are all the notables of the country who come from all walks of life.

Social status of women in Afghanistan
In the past 14 years, Afghanistan has seen a tremendous rise in the number of Afghan educated women in various fields such as medicine, engineering, politics, and journalism, among others. The constitution of Afghanistan has kept 27 per cent of the seats of the Afghan parliament reserved for women; and all those seats are occupied. The Taliban are from Afghanistan. While they have committed atrocities in Afghanistan, the forces fighting against them have also done the same. The US forces have committed tremendous atrocities in Afghanistan, such as the bombardment of Afghan villages and civilians; imprisoning people; and violations of sovereignty. There is an eight year old girl Ayesha, who does not have a face, and who lives in the US. Her entire family was destroyed during the US bombing of a village in Kunar province.

Influence of China in Afghanistan
China is a very well behaved and a good neighbour of Afghanistan. In 2002, during formation of the new government, China, like other countries came with assistance and help to stabilise Afghanistan. At that time, relations were very limited. In the present situation, China and Afghanistan share a deep and strong relationship. More Chinese investment is coming to Afghanistan. Chinese military and security assistance is a recent phenomenon in Afghanistan. It is not yet as deep and extensive as that of India's assistance.

Balochistan Issue and India-Pakistan conflict
Balochistan, Kashmir and the Durand Line are all legacies left to India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan by the British in a negative way. The continued use of extremism was also the legacy left to these countries by the British. It is important for both India and Pakistan to resolve their long-pending issues amicably, through any means available other than conflict. Both countries should work together to offer prosperity and peace to their citizens as well as to the entire region.
Rapporteured by Sarral Sharma, Researcher, IPCS