October 5, 1998
Paradigm of conflict resolution
The Nations: (Opinion)
General (Retd) Mirza Aslam Beg
The mounting tension between Iran and Afghanistan keeps the two Muslim countries up against each other so that collectively they do not regain the lost historical glory. One only has to recall what Henry Kissinger had said while unfolding the real motive of the Iraq-Iran war: "I hope they kill each other," and "too bad they both can't lose". William Count, President Bush's advisor also confirmed: "Our decision to wage war against Iraq was partially taken due to our concern over Gulf security, but was linked ofcourse with the fear that Iraq had become powerful enough to pose a threat to Israel in future." The motive to destroy the emerging Muslim power — Iraq — was so paramount that no worthwhile efforts were made to seek a peaceful solution. Iraq, no doubt, was guilty of aggression against Kuwait, but it was not impossible to defuse the situation through a regional crisis management mechanism. There was an inherent contradiction between the military and political logic of the war imposed on Iraq. Politically the United Nations had allowed the Allied forces to liberate Kuwait, but not to destroy Iraq's economic and military power.
It was expected that after Iraq, Iran would be the next target, to be followed by Pakistan. The events that followed testified to the prediction. Iran was branded as a fundamentalist state and a sinister propaganda was launched that it was frantically acquiring weapons of mass destruction including nuclear capability. Iran's power had to be curtailed. Dual Containment was the geo-political prescription. But it indeed goes to the credit of the Iranian leadership that it withstood all pressure tactics, notwithstanding sanctions and embargos. The strategy of containment could not work in Iran. And now by clever manoeuvring of the situation, Iran and Afghanistan are on a confrontational path, and any strategic slip that may trigger into an armed conflict would be the harbinger of great catastrophe in the region, entailing colossal bloodshed and practically squandering their economic potential.
When the going was good in terms of obtaining the objective of humiliating the Soviet Union, the Afghanistan Mujahideen were patronised and pampered. They were valiant and heroic fighters. The moment the Soviet soldiers left Afghan soil, the "freedom fighters", through a quick semantic reversal, were labeled fundamentalists, to be despised and kept out of the power arena. In other words, they had outlived their utility. Putting up a tough resistance against a formidable Soviet power, was all that they were required for. The fruit of freedom was to go to a relatively liberal breed, in ideological proximity with the West. Such schemes are repugnant to the Afghan sensibility, which abhors imposition and dominance of any kind — physical or ideational.
The ideological extremism which characterizes the Taliban phenomenon, is indeed a concomitant of a madrassah-oriented educational system. It has been buttressed by denial of political participation despite their hard struggle to free their country of foreign intervention. Had a political process been initiated soon after their victory, the political dynamic in itself would have had a sobering impact on an obscurantist frame of reference. Revolution has an inherent propensity to make its impact through commitment to radical thoughts and ideas. Recurrent frustrations through blocking of political goals do find aggressive outlets. It is therefore prudent to view the Taliban rise to power through military means as a typical manifestation of the Afghan psycho-social make-up. Militancy is only the means to an end, but not an end in itself. After breaking the resistance of the Northern Alliance and capture of Mazar-e-Sharif, the Taliban no doubt would gain full control over the Afghan state before the winter sets in. But military control would not ensure peace, unless the political process is allowed to assert its own dynamic.
There are many hands in the Afghan pie — some blatantly overt and some surreptitiously covert, which have gone to complicate the situation. The imbroglio is deepening. Iran, no doubt, as a major actor in the region, has legitimate concerns — geo-political as well as geo-economic — particularly in view of Afghanistan's linkage with the Central Asian Republics. Russia, though at present in a geo-political convalescence after the grievous wound encountered through a fall from a high pedestal of power, still nourishes nostalgia for its past influence and power, in what it calls the near-abroad states. It therefore, pays her to keep Afghanistan in a state of disarray and instability, till it is powerful enough to replay its strategic game. India has its own axe to grind, and while maximizing its economic benefits in Central Asia, it wants to obstruct Pakistan's entry by a propaganda ploy that being an ardent supporter of Taliban, it would import an extremist version of Islam — thus cashing a sensitivity which is very pertinent in the newly emerged Muslim Republics. To create a rift between Iran and Pakistan, who are bound together in historical filial ties, is another vicious objective. Pakistan has borne the full brunt of the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan, in being a front-line state against the Soviet aggression. Pakistan had to consequently pay a fairly heavy price in terms of proliferation of drug and Kalashnikov culture, besides severe drainage on its economy in providing logistical support to a vast number of Afghan refugees.
The US interests in Afghanistan as well as Pakistan, which had dwindled after the Soviets had to leave Afghanistan, assumed strategic importance as the oil-rich Central Asian States were too tempting to be ignored. This was particularly because of the simmering resentment in the Arab world against the continued presence of US soldiers on their territory to control their oil wealth. An alternative wealth reservoir was thus needed to sustain the Western affluence. Eurasia, in which Central Asia occupies a central position, has therefore assumed special significance. According to Brzezinski, in his recent book, The Grand Chessboard: "America is now Eurasia's arbiter, with no major Eurasian issue soluble without America's participation or contrary to America's interests."
Pakistan may have erred on many accounts in steering a well deliberated and consistent Afghan policy, but to contend that its armed forces took part in providing professional or logistical support to the Taliban, is an outright disinformation campaign launched by vested quarters. The fact of the matter is that the Pakhtun population on Pakistan-Afghan borders are all blood relations, and are drawn together, and it would not be too easy for any government in Pakistan to dissuade them from lending support to their kith and kin in hours of peril and crisis. Similar is the story of the people dwelling on the borders of Azad Kashmir and their brethren in the Indian-held territory.
No one can justify the killings of Iranian diplomats and citizens and it must be condemned in strongest terms. It violates norms of human-heartedness, but to use it as an excuse for launching a military action would be a suicidal venture. Iran has always stood on high moral ground, and it is on this account that it has been able to withstand the shock-effects of a great revolution as well as the vindictive imposition of sanctions and embargoes. Bruce Richardson states: "One of the possibilities is that the United States may be pleased with war between the Taliban and Iran, as it may weaken Iran and change the balance of power in the region."
Iran must therefore, cognize the gravity of the situation and steer a course of action to promote dialogue and negotiation with the Taliban. The United States and Iran, with an embittered relationship ever since the 1979 revolution, have shown sagacity in carving out mutual understanding. The very fact that six important and regional neighbours at Foreign Ministers level — China, Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan — plus Russia and the United States are meeting under the auspices of the UN to dilate on the Taliban-Iran imbroglio, augurs well for regional peace. It is this paradigm of conflict resolution which needs strengthening.
OIC, whose President incidentally is Iran, also must play its positive role to justify its existence. Iran's responsibility in this respect is all the more significant and vital. China, beyond doubt, is a stabilizing factor in the region, and it must seize the moment to play its mediatory role, before the crisis engulfs the region. The Taliban are not ethnically prejudiced. They are amenable to reason and accommodation, provided nothing is forced upon them. It is a fact that out of the twenty eight provinces under their control, fourteen have non-Pashtun governors.
It must be remembered what Einstein said: "Peace cannot be kept by force. It can only be achieved by understanding."
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