12 March 2016: With Taliban re-emerging powerfully and other extremist forces gaining critical support, the biggest reason for optimism in Afghanistan is the sense of nationhood that has historically remained the most powerful uniting force for the Afghans. These views were expressed by Prof. Sujit Dutta at the concluding session of a two-day national conference (8-9 March 2016) on “Afghanistan Today: State, Society and Economy” at the Ho Chi Minh Conference Hall, Academy of International Studies (AIS), Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI).
In his valedictory speech on “Afghanistan in Conflict: Is There a Reason for Optimism,” Dutta, a senior professor at Nelson Mandela Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution, JMI dwelt on the key problem areas looking at the history of conflict and great power interests in the landlocked country. He said, “Afghanistan is in the 37th year of its civil war that makes it one of the longest ongoing civil wars of the 20th and 21st century”. He called it the “new cold war” which was the “last part of the endgame of the cold war” that began in the 20th century and extended to the 21st century in a new form.
What made the conflict straddling two centuries needs to be studied and understood against the background as to what kind of state system exists in Afghanistan, said Dutta. Internal weakness combined with not-so-friendly external forces had made Afghanistan what it is today, he said.
Prof. Dutta called the US’s roll strategy in Afghanistan in which it wanted to replace the Taliban and put in a new government and thereafter soon started a new Constitution wherein it made a major compromise with the warlords who did not believe in democracy or the democratic values of the new Constitution that America had supported and created as “two very long term factors” involved in this process which created this condition.
America’s huge dependence on Pakistan, the economic mismanagement of the Afghan government and the huge “contradictions” in the policy, planning and implementations both by the US and Pakistan had further complicated the process of development in the country, Dutta said. Despite all these “negative developments” along with “endemic violence” what holds true for Afghanistan is the “Afghans’ sense of nationhood which has not broken down” despite years of conflict. This is an addition to an increasing young population which wants Afghanistan to develop as a modern, thriving new state. Women protesting against rape, desecration and violence show further signs of hope. The Afghan army, despite it being weak, but nonetheless holding, remains the best hope for the survival of the nation, said he adding that India’s continued support to the regime is critical in many many ways.
Earlier on 8 March, Prof. Modira Dutta of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) suggested to develop a regional approach which should include India, Pakistan, Iran and Russia. Dr Waseem Raja of Aligarh Muslim University underscored the need for understanding the tribal composition of Afghanistan in order to understand the Afghan society. Dr Monir Aam of Jammu University suggested to bringing down the rivalry between India and Pakistan which was causing great damage to any development work being carried in Afghanistan.
Ms. Rajeshwari Krishnamurthy noted that the inefficiencies in the government were working in the favour of the Taliban. Dr K. N. Tennyson said that regional powers, instead of building the country, were trying to divide the ethnic communities adding to further growth of the ethnic cleavage.
Dr. Mohammad Sohrab highlighted the centrality of Afghanistan in the peace and stability of Asia and why the regional initiative was being given primacy now and not earlier. Elaborating on why Afghanistan was called the “heart of Asia” and “cockpit of Asia” he said, “When anything is wrong in the heart, the entire body is affected”. He suggested that the problem should be resolved with neutrality of actors “without compromising the sovereign rights” of the Afghans.
Dr. Mujib Alam talked about the significant role played by Turkey in carrying out successful Provincial Reconstruction Teams. He said that Turkey was important among other reasons also because of the fact that it was a Muslim country and it was involved in a non-combatant mission. Dr. Ambrish Dhaka talked about the growing network of the Islamic State in and around Afghanistan making all peace and development efforts vulnerable.
In her concluding remarks, Prof. Rashmi Doraiswamy, Officiating Director of the Academy said that the deliberations over the two-day conference were very important in understanding the internal dynamics as well as the role of neighbours including of the US that give a very comprehensive picture of Afghanistan.
Prof. Ajay Dashan Behera, Prof. Shri Prakash, Dr. Mathew Joseph C., Dr. Meena Singh Roy chaired different sessions during which papers were presented by Dr. Dinoj Kumar Upadhyaya, Prof. Savita Pande, Dr. Parul Bal Sidhu, Dr. Vishal Chandra, Dr. Kishore Dere, Dr. Angira Sen Sarma, Mr. Aryaman Bhatnagar, Ms. Saheli Chhattaraj and others.[Text and photos courtesy Manzar Imam]