By: Lt Col Farhan Ali, Pakistan Army, US Central Command: Strategy Plans and Policy Directorate; Combined Strategic Analysis Group
26 May 2021
Afghanistan has remained a battle ground for great powers for centuries. In a bid to achieve others’ national interests, the interests of Afghans faded away and the country witnessed devastation and misery. Great powers did their best to bring stability to Afghanistan by translating their respective understanding of the conflict into action. However, none was able to achieve that aim. At the heart of the failure remained favoritism to one faction over another, an inability to understand the competing national interests of regional and extra regional countries and a failure to find common ground for achieving peace, stability and prosperity. The geographic location of Afghanistan makes the country the heart of Asia as all arteries connecting the region have to pass through it. Weak governance structure, highly polarized society, overly fragile and stagnant economy, political expediencies, and diplomatic necessities have made Afghanistan a textbook example of a fragile state, prone to foreign influence. This contest of respective interests in Afghanistan took a turn after 9/11; however, the situation post a US withdrawal presents a different landscape. In a relative vacuum the contest could easily turn violent, or mutual ground could be found to achieve stability in the region. The perceived national interests of the regional and extra regional countries in Afghanistan are highlighted in the following paragraphs.
- Stability in Afghanistan is imperative for regional and international peace.
- The narrow and self-interested approach of a few regional countries has the potential to derail the process, make Afghanistan a hotbed of proxies and cause a threat to regional and international peace.
- The Afghan conflict can only be resolved through an inclusive peace process; hence it needs to be insulated from spoilers’ actions and negative influences.
- The region will only develop as a whole and not as individual countries; a stable Afghanistan favors a stable and prosperous region.
- Connectivity through Afghanistan is a regional necessity and a prerequisite for development of the Afghan economy.
- Contingent upon the security situation, regional countries are willing to invest in communication infrastructure and mineral development projects.
- Under the current situation, no regional country seems interested in getting involved in Afghan domestic politics, despite wishing for a peaceful settlement of the conflict.
- Regional broad-based engagement with a desired end state of a peaceful and prosperous region could deliver the security interests of the West.
The opinions and conclusions expressed herein are those of a number of international officers within the Combined Strategic Analysis Group (CSAG) and do not necessarily reflect the views of United States Central Command, not of the nations represented within the CSAG or any other governmental agency.