Written By: Dr. Hassan Askari Rizvi

Afghanistan faces a difficult and uncertain internal situation in 2015 and beyond. The international community must help the Afghan leaders for enabling them to cope with the internal economic challenges and the possibility of increased internal strife. This calls for adopting a realistic approach on the part of the Afghan leaders towards their internal problems and building cooperative relationship with the neighbouring states, especially Pakistan. Peace and stability in Afghanistan will not only benefit the Afghan people but it will also save the neighbouring states from the negative fall-out of internal strife in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan enters a new phase of its troubled political history in 2015. Most American and NATO troops have been withdrawn from Afghanistan after 13 years. The U.S. will keep 9800 troops in Afghanistan that will not engage in combat duties. It will keep the control of at least two bases with some air support. In December 2014, the U.S. is also retaining 1000 additional troops in Afghanistan for a couple of months. Further, the U.S. is expected to keep some security contractors for the security of the U.S. Embassy and military bases. The NATO countries will also retain about 3000 troops for training purposes. The U.S. and NATO have agreed to provide training and related support to the Afghan National Army (ANA) and, as in the past, equipment will also be made available. It needs to be recognized that Afghanistan does not have an air force in the real sense. Therefore, the U.S. is expected to provide such a support, if needed. It is also expected that the U.S. will continue to use drone aircraft in Afghanistan for reconnaissance and for targeting the Afghan Taliban. However, the overall security of Afghanistan will be looked after by the ANA, supported by the Police and the Afghan Intelligence Agencies.

Major Challenges for Afghanistan

The Kabul government led by President Ashraf Ghani will have the exclusive responsibility of governance, economic rehabilitation, reconstruction, and security management in 2015 and beyond. This poses five major challenges to the Kabul government: 1) professionalism and quality of the ANA; 2) internal security and coping with security challenges posed by the Afghan Taliban groups; 3) political harmony and economic development; 4) spillover of the civil strife on the neighbouring states, especially Pakistan; and 5) role of other states if internal strife escalates in Afghanistan. The ANA has been trained and equipped by the U.S. and NATO but the professional quality graph of this army is uneven. It is difficult to predict how it will perform when it is in persistent confrontation with the Taliban. There have been a large number of complaints about indiscipline of its personnel, not returning for duty after the expiry of leave, and disappearance of soldiers with weapons. There have been many instances of Afghan uniformed personnel attacking American security personnel.

afgan in 2015 oneThe ANA was assigned independent security responsibilities gradually by U.S. troops since the beginning of 2014, and, by the beginning of 2015, the ANA would become fully responsible for security. The first year of independent assignment will show its real performance. The Afghan Taliban increased their violent activities in November-December 2014 by launching suicide and other attacks in Kabul and elsewhere. They are resorting to these terror tactics to force the ordinary people to accept their authority and, at the same time, overawe the government. Their activity is expected to increase as the winter season subsides in March-April. Most analysts are of the view that the Afghan Taliban are not expected to overwhelm the Kabul government but these can make it difficult for the Kabul government to govern effectively. The crucial question for the future is how far the Afghan Taliban are able to challenge the government. What will be the state of internal peace and stability? Will they create safe havens and strongholds in parts of Afghanistan, especially in the south?

If Afghanistan experiences widespread internal strife and disorder, the Kabul government would not be able to pursue economic reconstruction and rehabilitation of the people. If its economy cannot be salvaged and the ordinary people cannot be assured of a better future, they will be vulnerable to extremist appeals by the Taliban. The exit of American/NATO troops will bring an end to the economy that was linked with the presence of foreign troops. A large number of Afghans were doing assignments for, or providing services to, the foreign troops. This will build additional pressures on the government for providing them alternate livelihood. If it cannot ensure internal stability and law and order, the probability of coping with socio-economic pressures will decrease, causing frustration and alienation among the people from the government. Further, one cannot be oblivious to the possibility of the two key players in the present national unity government – Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah – failing to work together in a harmonious manner. If they and their loyalists get entangled in power struggle, Afghanistan’s internal crisis will accentuate.

A strife ridden Afghanistan will have a negative fallout on the neighbouring states, especially on Pakistan. Unless the economic and security conditions improve in Afghanistan, the Afghan refugees based in Pakistan are very unlikely to return home. It is very likely that any escalation of internal violence in Afghanistan would cause the flight of more people from Afghanistan. Pakistan may get new refugees in a large number. Further, if the Taliban become strong in Afghanistan, the militant elements in Pakistan, especially the Pakistani Taliban, will become more active against the government and people of Pakistan. A large area in Southern parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan’s tribal area may become the Taliban enclave. Afghanistan’s internal strife and its spillover to the neighbouring state can draw in other states into Afghanistan’s troubled internal situation. Different states may seek to advance their interests in Afghanistan by supporting one party or another in the civil strife or exploit Afghanistan’s internal weaknesses to manipulate the Afghan government to their advantage. Afghanistan can experience proxy war by other states on its territory. Other states may compete with each other by supporting different competing groups in Afghanistan.

How to Help Afghanistan to Overcome its Challenges Afghanistan is likely to face difficult times in 2015 and beyond. It cannot be left alone. Other nations, especially the neighbouring states, must help Afghanistan because its internal turmoil will have negative implications not only for the neighbouring states but also for the rest of the world. The U.S., the European states and other developed countries like Japan should continue to provide economic assistance and technological support to Afghanistan for building its economy so that the opportunities for decent livelihood increase for the Afghans. Agriculture needs to be given attention so as to engage rural population in gainful economic activity.

Presently, the educational and health facilities are in an extremely poor condition in smaller towns and far away areas. This would be a major challenge for the Kabul government to deliver these basic services to the people if it wants them to stay loyal to the Kabul based political order. As Afghanistan lacks sufficient resources to cope with these challenges, the friendly countries need to help Afghanistan. Such a financial support will increase the credibility of the Kabul government within the domestic context and limit the opportunity for the Taliban to cultivate the people. Afghanistan should foster an active interaction with the Central Asian States, especially Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan as well as the western neighbour Iran. These countries are favourably disposed towards internal harmony and stability in Afghanistan and these would be willing to help if the Afghan government steps up its current interaction with them. There is a need to improve economic interaction and trade ties with these states which will help Afghanistan to overcome its economic challenges.

The cooperation between Pakistan and Afghanistan holds the key to countering terrorism in both countries and helping Afghanistan to promote internal economic development and stability. There is a two-way unauthorized border crossing between Pakistan and Afghanistan including militant elements. A number of activists and leaders of Pakistani Taliban are based in Afghanistan and they use Afghan territory for attacking Pakistan border posts or villages closer to the border. Some Pakistani Taliban have taken refuge in Afghanistan after Pakistan Army started the security operation in North Waziristan in 2014. Afghanistan has complained from time to time that some Afghan Taliban groups operate from Pakistan; a charge always strongly rejected by Pakistan. In any case, Pakistan and Afghanistan need to work together by increased interaction between the security forces and intelligence agencies of the two countries. They need to exchange information on terrorist activity and work together for control over the movement of people and goods across the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. The security operation in North Waziristan by Pakistan’s security forces, initiated in June 2014, has demonstrated effectively that Pakistan’s security forces have the capacity to assert their primacy and dislodge the terrorists. This security operation targeted all Pakistani Taliban and their allies as well as the fighters from other countries. It has negated the perception outside of Pakistan that its security forces take action against the militant Islamic groups in a selective manner. The current security operation in North Waziristan and some other agencies is hitting all extremists and violent groups on a nondiscriminatory basis.

The professional management of the North Waziristan operation has won international appreciation for Pakistan’s security forces. It is mainly because of the success of this operation that the U.S. has started viewing Pakistan’s support as critical to controlling terrorism and stabilizing Afghanistan. One positive development is that the new Afghan government, led by Ashraf Ghani, has discarded the negative disposition of the predecessor government of Hamid Karzai towards Pakistan. President Ashraf Ghani’s visit to Islamabad on November 14-15, 2014 engendered the hope that both countries would work together for fighting terrorist groups and that the security related cooperation between the two countries will increase in 2015 and beyond. There is a need for cooperation among Afghanistan, Pakistan and the U.S. for fighting terrorism in the region, promoting internal harmony and stabilization in Afghanistan and helping its socio-economic development. Pakistan has multifaceted economic and trade relations with Afghanistan. The strengthening of this relationship will benefit Afghanistan to cope with its internal socio-economic challenges.

Afghanistan is seeking Pakistan’s cooperation for facilitating its dialogue with the Afghan Taliban leadership for political accommodation. Pakistan, on the other hand, expects that the Afghan government will not let Pakistani Taliban to use its territory for engaging in terrorist activity in Pakistan. It also expects from Afghanistan that India does not use its close ties with the Kabul government and its presence in Afghanistan to engage in a clandestine financial support to Pakistani Taliban or the Baloch dissident groups. A noteworthy development in Afghanistan for 2015 and beyond is that China has increased its diplomatic interaction with the Kabul government. Its roots go back to 2007 when a Chinese metallurgical company secured copper mining rights worth U.S. dollars three billion. However, not much work has been done on this project. Now, China is looking forward to more active economic and diplomatic interaction with the Afghan government. China’s support will contribute positively in helping the Kabul government to cope with terrorism.

Pakistan is positive towards China’s increased role in Afghanistan. Pakistan, China and Afghanistan should coordinate their policies for countering terrorism in the region, helping the Kabul government to fight the Afghan Taliban and building Afghanistan’s economy. This can also promote trade and transfer of energy among the Central Asian States, Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and China. All these states will benefit from such interaction. To sum up, Afghanistan faces a difficult and uncertain internal situation in 2015 and beyond. The international community must help the Afghan leaders for enabling them to cope with the internal economic challenges and the possibility of increased internal strife. This calls for adopting a realistic approach on the part of the Afghan leaders towards their internal problems and building cooperative relationship with the neighbouring states, especially Pakistan. Peace and stability in Afghanistan will not only benefit the Afghan people but it will also save the neighbouring states from the negative fall-out of internal strife in Afghanistan.

The writer is an eminent defence analyst who regularly contributes for national/international media This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Written By: Feryal Ali Gauhar

(An open letter to the Martyrs of Peshawar)

The sun is soon to rise as bright

As if the night had brought no sorrow,

That grief belonged to me alone,

The sun shines on a common morrow.

You must not shut the night inside you,

But endlessly in light the dark immerse,

A tiny lamp has gone out in my tent –

I bless the flame that warms the universe.

Frederick Rückbert,

Songs on the Death of Children


Dear One,

Many years ago, when I had gotten used to absences, I realized that the numbness of the heart was only the mist passing over the lightless homes of this silent city at night. While I slept, the state of absence had quietly carved a cavernous hole in my heart, a raw wound, much like those that marked your beautiful body when life was taken from you, brutally, mindlessly, without purpose.

Since you left, that wound has grown so much larger that there is no heart any more – in its place there is nothing but your absence, dear one, an absence so powerful that it keeps me up at night, etched into my eyelids, carved into my memory, bleeding into my resolve to carry on without you. You, my dear one, have taken me with you, and all that remains now is an empty shell, a hollow vessel where only your voice resounds, shaking the fibre of my being when I remember each inflection of your language, each vowel and consonant that formed words of love from your mouth.

What did you do, dear one, to be taken away like this, mercilessly, so much before your time? It was time for us to go, those who failed you, those who failed to see that the enemy was amongst us, those who saw the enemy and did not recognize its insidious intent. It was your time to blossom, to flower, to dream your dreams in your waking hours, becoming the capable person who would make us proud. What did you do, dear one, to suffer this terrible travesty? What were your last thoughts, dear one, when you confronted the enemy? What went through that beautiful mind of yours when the enemy showered you with a hail of deadly bullets? Did you even have time to understand what was happening? Did you think of calling out, to call us to come, quickly, before it was too late? Was there time for that? Or did it all happen in a flash, a moment which defined the all too indelible difference between life and death? Dear One, speak to me, tell me your last thoughts, tell me that you did not feel the bullet piercing your flesh, that the pain did not invade the unbruised parts of your young body.

It is your eyes that I shall never forget, the bright light of your soul spreading itself like sunshine through the golden orb of your eyes. Tell me, dear one, what did you see, before that moment when that light faded from your golden eyes, that moment when life passed out of your fragile body, your soul wafting upwards to a safe place from where you would watch us mourn for you, grieving inconsolably, angry that this should have happened, that life should have abandoned you just when you were at its threshold.

What did your golden eyes see, dear one? Did you see in their eyes the hatred that is but a manifestation of fear, burning like live coals in hollow sockets where the life had already been snuffed out by ideologues of odium? Did you see the madness that comes from dangerous manipulation, predicated on perceptions of deprivation? Did you see the glory that your enemy coveted, that perverse dream that has been offered as incentive for the heinous crime that was to be committed, transporting not the victim but the perpetrator to some notion of a heavenly after-life? Did you see death in the deep recess of his chest, a mere hole where a heart should have been? What did you see, dear one?

Tell us of the horror you faced when you peered into the abyss of the enemy’s eyes, dear one. Tell us of the distortions which marked his mind like a cancerous skin enveloping all in its diseased folds. Tell us of the curl of his lips, the snarl of his mouth as he spat the order to destroy all that was beautiful, all that was precious, you, dear one, and all the others who shared your ordeal, huddled together for safety, grasping a hand which may pull one towards the light, towards life, hunched over in death, together for one last time.

I search the silence for your voice, your words, and I hear nothing but my own, a dirge, a lament for your young life cut short so brutally. I hear my own thoughts flooding my mind relentlessly, my own fears, my own fragility poised to take away what I have wanted to believe in: the goodness of humans, the triumph of good over evil. I want to scream out at this void created by your absence – I want to tear up the façade of civility, I want to go on a rampage, hurting, harming all that comes in my way. For where is the justice, where is the purpose of so much senseless killing, dear one? Who shall avenge your murder, who shall fight back, who shall banish this monster to that land of frozen hearts where it was given birth, more than three decades ago?

Dear One, here is something I have not shared with many. I tell you this because I know you shall want to know why it is that you and your colleagues in their green woolen blazers were covered in each other’s blood on that cold floor of your school auditorium. Many, many years ago, when I was a little older than the age at which you passed from this life into another world, I saw the bodies alongside the road of a city many miles away from the borders of our homeland. I saw the tanks rolling down those rutted roads and I shuddered at the thought of what was to come: the unfolding of an agenda which would envelop us in its dangerous design, building on notions of power which were disguised in the garb of religiosity. Today, that agenda has become a part of the fabric of the shroud which covers us all, burying us in its evil intent. Today, that horribly disfigured notion of religiosity has become a part of our landscape where people kill each other with impunity, where brother is pitted against brother, where those who subscribe to another set of beliefs are burnt to death or executed or blown up with bombs.

Dear One, you were the latest in the long list of martyrs who have been felled in the path of this dragon which destroys everything we have known: this is a creature which does not know music, it does not hear the rhythm of the seasons nor listen to bird song, to the laughter of children playing on a dirt floor. This is a creature constructed out of greed and fed on fear, nurtured on a repast of promised riches in an afterlife where all that was not theirs in this world would be theirs to claim in the next. This is a beast which does not even know its master for there are many who feed it, with the intent to destroy all that is good and worthy. This is a creation of minds who hide behind secret veils, clothing themselves in the garb of civilization. This is an enemy who was created to vanquish one and conquer another. And you, dear one, are but one of the thousands who were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

This is a creature which has burned to death, summarily executed, blown up into lifeless pieces of dismembered flesh, thousands of others, young and old, women and men, children and the aged. This is an enemy which knows no mercy, no reason, nor no humanity. It is a beast bereft of sanity, of sensitivity, of the sensibility of all that is sacred: life itself. This monster has been armed with weapons that it brandishes in our faces, threatening all that we hold dear to us. It has been clothed in the garments of perverse perception dictating its understanding of the faith, denouncing all those who do not follow its path, killing them as one would destroy a plague.

But, Dear One, it is this creature which has brought the plague, it is this monster which needs to be destroyed, and those who try to tell us otherwise need to be shown the face of hate in a mirror. Dear One, let me tell you that those who you have left behind are poised at the edge of a precipice where one false move can throw us over the edge. We, the living, must understand that there is a fine line between life and death – it is the line that you stood at on December 16th. It is the line at which we, the living, stand, choosing between a life lived with passion and conviction, or a life that is akin to death, devoid of purpose and intent.

Dear One, I was not there to ensure that you crossed that line towards life, but I am here to ensure I remain firmly rooted in my conviction that in order to defeat this enemy we must replace the idea of destruction with the idea of creation. We must choose life over death, and unless we destroy the idea and the hatred it has engendered, we shall have to get used to many more absences, much as this one, dear one, which gnaws away at my insides, hurting me each time I remember your smile, your gentle touch, each time I see another young child preparing for another day, another chance at life. I ask you, dear one, to judge me by the enemies I have made. For in this shall I find the courage to carry on with your absence firmly etched into my soul. In this resolve can we find the solace we long for. In this action can we heal the terrible suffering inflicted upon us. But it is a long journey ahead of us, dear one, one that is beyond the aerial strikes and the warfare. This is going to be a battle of minds more than a war of weapons, for it is the idea which feeds both life and death, and we must ensure that it is life we feed, not hatred nor death. For there are too many shrouds encasing the bodies of young citizens of my bleeding homeland; there are too many graves which mark the landscape of my anguished homeland. It is enough now, dear one: this is a promise I make to you.

The writer studied Political Economy at McGill University, Montreal, Media Education at the University of London, Development Communication at the University of Southern California, and Cultural Heritage Management at the National College of Arts, Lahore. She teaches at apex institutions, writes columns for a leading daily, makes documentaries, and has published two best-selling novels.

Written By: Ghazi Salahuddin

Fortunately, we have evidence that the entire nation has come together and the national leadership has braced itself to resolutely confront not only the terrorists but also their sympathizers and apologists. In fact, the stage for this undertaking had already been set by the ongoing operation Zarb-e-Azb. It has been noted by observers that the Peshawar massacre is a kind of confirmation of the gains that the army operation in North Waziristan has made. It shows that the terrorists are under great pressure. It was visibly an act of utter desperation.

We have buried our schoolchildren and they have become seeds. Now the challenge for us is to nurture these seeds into a garden of peace. And this task is as sacred as the barbarism of the terrorists was satanic. Meanwhile, though, we have to come to terms with a trauma that will stand out in the annals of crimes against humanity in world history. Time, they say, heals the wounds. But in this initial period, every passing day after that ignominious sixteenth of December has deepened our pain and our sorrow. The more you learn about the details of times that mens1the beastly massacre, the more incomprehensible it becomes. We are numbed with shock. It is hard to imagine the loss that the parents, families and friends of more than one hundred and thirty four students and sixteen members of the staff of the Army Public School and others in Peshawar have suffered. Hundreds of students who were trapped in the premises and who watched the killings have been wounded psychologically and need professional care.

At the same time, this heartrending tragedy has touched us all across the entire country. We have all, in a sense, died a little. We have also seen how the rest of the world has grieved with us. “It’s a dark day for humanity,” said British Prime Minister David Cameron. That something like this has happened in Pakistan has its own significance. Since it has come in the wake of other gory exploits of terrorists in recent years, questions would naturally arise as to why this drift had not been effectively checked a long time ago. After all, Pakistan has almost been pushed to the edge of the precipice in a dire security environment that embraces global and regional exigencies. There have been additional, specific, reasons for the growth of militancy and religious extremism in the country.

Against this backdrop, the Peshawar massacre has the potential of becoming the catalyst for a paradigm shift in our national security and social development policies. It is a moment that has to be seized by our civilian and military leadership. We may be reminded of what Shakespeare said about a tide in the affairs of men that “when taken at the flood, leads on to fortune”.

Fortunately, we have evidence that the entire nation has come together and the national leadership has braced itself to resolutely confront not only the terrorists but also their sympathizers and apologists. In fact, the stage for this undertaking had already been set by the ongoing operation Zarb-e-Azb. It has been noted by observers that the Peshawar massacre is a kind of confirmation of the gains that the army operation in North Waziristan has made. It shows that the terrorists are under great pressure. It was visibly an act of utter desperation.

But this also means that the battle against the terrorists has arrived at a point where a decisive and conclusive strategy is required to finally mop up the debris of the past and build a new structure that had been visualized by our founding fathers. In the light of the Quaid’s vision, we have to reinvent Pakistan. The sixteenth of December is a date that has a flaming reference to a catastrophic turn of events in our history largely because of disconnect between our people and the leadership.

times that mens2On this date in 2014, the dynamics have been different. In a metaphorical sense, this was an attack on the very existence of Pakistan and, for once, the people have no confusion about who the enemy is. This does not, however, mean that it would be easy to defeat this enemy and to eliminate it completely from within our ranks. We must also understand that it is a war that will also be fought in the minds of men. So, while we feel assured by the united resolve of the nation to finally eliminate all terrorists and traces of terrorism from Pakistan, an evidence of which was readily available on the part of both the civilian and the military leadership, a lot of soul-searching is essential. We did have an important clarification when the leadership vowed to go after all terrorists without any distinction between the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ Taliban. But the big question remains: how did we arrive at this diabolical turn of events? This, to be sure, is a very problematic issue. This is not the occasion to go over the history of how we were pushed into this blind alley. What is urgent, however, is to find the strength and an intellectual tenacity to make a new beginning in the light of what we can learn from our experience.

Personally, I feel comforted by some recent indications that the national sense of direction in this regard is being carefully modified, with particular reference to the moves made by the army. In the first place, the launching of Zarb-e-Azb in itself indicated a clear and more stringent policy. Its success became a vindication of the initiative that must have been taken after careful deliberation. However, I would specifically like to refer to a statement Chief of Army Staff Gen Raheel Sharif made in Karachi only twelve days before the terrorist attack on Peshawar’s Army Public School. He said that Pakistan’s current “enemy lives within us and looks like us” and elaborated that security does not refer only to external threats but is a concern in terms of politics, human rights, economy, water security, terrorism and insurgency. We need to ponder about this formulation in the light of the latest developments. An obvious inference is that military action is no substitute for political process. This also means that the civil and the military institutions must work together and in harmony to pursue national security that is defined in a wider context. Essentially, the goal is to create a social order that fosters development in all its dimensions and ensure national security in its true spirit.

We are in a state of war but we may still have some moments to reflect on the root causes of terrorism and where it was that we, in a collective sense, made decisions that did not eventually serve our national interest. It should be possible to identify some lapses that have led to disasters. However, now that we are making a new beginning, we need to set our goals that conform to the original promise of Pakistan. The enemy that lives within us and looks like us cannot be easily defeated. Let me conclude with this Thomas Paine quotation: “These are times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shirk from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of men and women.”

The writer is a renowned literary figure and senior journalist who regularly contributes for print and electronic media. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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