THAT the US and its Nato allies are in a hurry to wash their hands off the Afghan imbroglio is clear. Nearly all the foreign troops have left the beleaguered country as the Afghan Taliban march from district to district, giving the Kabul administration a tough time. The latest Afghan province to face the Taliban’s onslaught has been Badghis, as the armed movement stormed the provincial capital Qala-i-Naw on Wednesday. Strangely, on the same day that the Afghan government and Taliban were confronting each other on the battlefield, another meeting featuring both sides was taking place in the Iranian capital Tehran. Government representatives sat across the table from senior members of the Taliban’s political wing, as Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif urged them to “make difficult decisions for the future of their country”. Mr Zarif added that “the Islamic Republic is always ready to facilitate the continuation of your talks”. Earlier this week, while speaking in Gwadar, Prime Minister Imran Khan had also highlighted the role regional states could play in helping facilitate dialogue in Afghanistan, while adding that he had discussed the issue with newly elected Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi.
The aforementioned developments indicate that regional states can and should play a more proactive role in bringing together Afghan factions to ensure the country does not enter a full-blown civil war the moment Western forces complete their withdrawal. Of course, regional states, particularly Pakistan and Iran, as well as the Central Asian countries, have specific concerns if chaos engulfs Afghanistan. These states will bear the brunt of the refugees in case of large-scale violence, and where Pakistan is concerned it is hardly in a position to shoulder more responsibility on this count. Moreover, if there is no effective central authority in Afghanistan, neighbouring states will be major targets for terrorist groups which will thrive in the chaos. Therefore, the time is right for regional states to push the Afghan factions towards peace. Pakistan, Iran and the Central Asian states as well as Turkey and the Gulf Arabs should lead this effort, while Russia and China can also be kept in the loop. All these states, particularly Pakistan, Iran, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, have influence with the ethnic and religious groups that dominate Afghan politics. Hence, it is hoped that efforts to come up with a regional solution to the Afghan question succeed in the days to come.
Published in Dawn, July 9th, 2021