The Centre for Afghanistan Studies of the Academy of International Studies (AIS), Jamia Millia Islamia organized a panel discussion on the topic: “Presidential Elections and Beyond: Assessing Current Political Developments in Afghanistan” at Ho Chi Minh Conference Room of the Academy on Sept. 23, 2014. The panelists were Lt. General R.K. Sawhney, former Deputy Chief of Army Staff and Ambassador Jayant Prasad, former Ambassador of India to Afghanistan. Ambassador Vivek Katju, former secretary West, Ministry of External Affairs presided over the proceedings.
Lt. Gen. R.K. Sawhney mainly spoke about military security emphasizing on the role of the Afghan National Army (ANA) whereas Ambassador Prasad expressed his views on a wide range of regional and global politics related to peace, stability and development of Afghanistan.
Speaking about the last presidential elections, Sawhney maintained that a secret deal was signed and the most important part of the deal was that the election results would not be announced. The CEO’s post given to Dr Abdullah Abdullah is not given in the Constitution, he said and added that some two and half years later a loya jirga would be held after which the CEO would probably be made into Prime Minister. He also raised the question about the need for discussion if the present arrangement was delayed.The Afghan army isn’t very strong and their number too is small, said Sawhney. The ANA does not have an air force. It doesn’t have any fighting plane, artillery, tanks, etc. This army, therefore, is more of a constabulary. They don’t have equipments to remove the mines which cause biggest casualties. But despite these deficiencies, they are doing a magnificent job, Sawhney said.
Another worrying thing about the Afghan army is that they don’t have an ethos of serving away from their hometowns, though they have created this ethos now. The term of service for Afghan soldiers is three to four years which is a matter of concern because raising an army takes years, Sawhney said. He, however, ruled out fears of the army getting divided on sectarian and ethnic lines.
Sawhney, who has held the post of Director General of Military Intelligence, said that unlike Pakistani army, the Afghan army doesn’t have political ambitions, which is very heartening. He also talked about the requirement for a direct route for supplies to the Afghan army which does not exist there.
Calling peace and stability in Afghanistan and the region a long term project, Ambassador Jayant Prasad said that there were three or four principal challenges. The first principal challenge is of security for which presence of army is necessary. The other major challenge, said he, is the quest for broad-based and inclusive government in Afghanistan where there is devolution of power which according to the existing Constitutional arrangement is highly centralized.
The third important challenge is the situation of insurgency from which there is hardly a way out. Elaborating further he said that there has never been a successful outcome of counter-terrorist or counter-insurgency operations. The senior diplomat said, “So long as there is support and sustenance in contiguity a terrorist situation cannot be effectively managed.”
Events in the last 13 years have shown that unlike most other conflict areas in the Gulf where internal drivers have determined outcomes, in Afghanistan external factor continues to remain important till today. He called the responsibility of friends of Afghanistan i.e. the international community, very important citing the example of the role of UNAMA (United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan) which he called “as great as the management of elections by the Afghan election commission” in terms of providing logistics, training, etc during elections. UNAMA alone has more aircrafts than the government of Afghanistan has.
About possibilities of peace and stability and regional cooperation in Afghanistan, Prasad said that to resolve the problems of Afghanistan and have lasting peace and stability, it is very difficult with Pakistan’s cooperation. But, at the same time, “without Pakistan’s cooperation it is impossible”. Being a long time friend, India will continue to support Afghanistan in its development projects, he added.
As peace becomes difficult to achieve in such complex situation, Prasad maintained that there can be a way out if international community keeps providing three basic things which is “food, fuel and fire-power”.
One major thing which keeps Afghanistan united, said he, is the fact that the Afghans have a very strong sense of national unity and the day when they stand up with that spirit, they can achieve stability even “without the help of foreign troops.” The Ambassador’s view was seconded by Sawhney who said that “the so-called war-lords” realized this when there were serious refugee problem and they were treated as “refuges” whichever country they went to despite their ethnic allegiance. Sawhney saw this as a reason for decrease in the power of warlords in Afghanistan.
In an answer to a question about apprehensions of the entire nation of Afghanistan rising in rebellion, Sawhney opined that there is no chance of entire Afghanistan getting into rebellion or the Afghan army getting disintegrated. Afghan army needs training and the wherewithal.
By terming the Afghan army “competent”, Sawhney said that as far as that particular institution (army) is concerned, it will continue to provide a pillar of stability. So far as the possibility of seeking a complete military solution to militancy and insurgency, Ambassador Prasad suggested that it wasn’t possible among other things also because of the ethnic composition of Afghanistan.
In his presidential remarks Ambassador Vivek Katju said that the present scenario with Dr Ashraf Ghani as President and Dr Abdullah Abdullah as CEO can turn out to be very good because the duo can “make a great team”. But, there can be problems because after all “politics is about power and it is also about constituencies” in which there also comes the complicated issue of ethnicity, he maintained.
Katju, former Ambassador of India to Afghanistan, said that the US’s dealing with the Afghan issue was problematic. He said that the fatal flaw in American thinking on Afghanistan was a contradiction with their interest ensuring that a structure or group like Al-Qaeda should never get based in Afghanistan again with the ability to strike the American men. To achieve this objective, Katju said, the US needed to show a democratic face of it in which they got completely entangled because nation-building can’t take place through a fiat or diktat. To deliver justice they brought Italy, and Britain to counter drugs. Both of these resulted in the reverse, felt he. He said that the issue of drugs is very critical in Afghanistan and both Dr Ghani and Dr Abdullah must think about it.
Prof. Shri Prakash, director of AIS, faculty members of AIS, some Afghan nationals, scholars and students of different departments participated in the discussion.