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Old Wednesday, October 16, 2013
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Default Afghanistan in 2014: totalitarianism or democracy

Afghanistan in 2014: totalitarianism or democracy
By Dr Qaisar Rashid

Taliban are not considering the point that the age of totalitarianism is long over and democracy has not only replaced it but democracy has also learnt to consort with Islam.

It is still a moot question whether the future of Afghanistan is connected to totalitarianism or democracy. The Taliban are the proponents of totalitarianism while the incumbent government in Kabul is a proponent of democracy. The second question is will the Taliban come to peace terms with the Kabul government? The Taliban evaluate the political system functional in Kabul on the touchstone of their religious and cultural orientations: whether the political system is Islamic or un-Islamic and whether the system is alien or local. The third question is: does the Kabul government offer the right proportion of ethnic mix acceptable to the Taliban?

On April 5, 2014, the third presidential election will take place in Afghanistan. The Taliban did not participate in the first two presidential elections (held in 2004 and 2009) declaring them sham. Secondly, the Taliban also avowed the ensuing elected governments as puppets. Both elections were won by the incumbent president, Hamid Karzai. Nevertheless, the opposition parties alleged that the election held in 2009 was rigged. Consequently, there are now two main concerns of international aid donors: first, the forthcoming presidential election should be transparent; and second, the Taliban should participate in the election.

Regarding the second point, the Karzai government has been making attempts to negotiate with the Taliban to make them understand the legitimacy of the constitution and the relevance of democracy. Reportedly, the Karzai government is also ready to amend the constitution in the light of (certain reasonable) concerns of the Taliban. However, on October 5, Latifullah Mehsud, the Second-in-Command of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), was arrested by the US forces near the eastern province Khost when he was returning from the talks held with the Kabul government on the swap deal of prisoners.

This scenario indicates that the Karzai government grasps three points: first, the Taliban, whether active on the Pakistani side or the Afghan side of the Durand line, are one body (and not two, as perceived in Pakistan); second, the Taliban are active from across the (Pakistanís) border against the Kabul government; and thirdly, the TTP, which is considered a Pakistani Taliban group, enjoys its influence on the Taliban active in Afghanistan. Reportedly, Karzai is exasperated at the arrest of Mehsud and considers his detention a step to vitiate the prospects of peace with the Taliban.

The scenario also indicates three other points: first, the willingness of Mehsud to be a go-between means that the TTP holds some sway over its counterpart active in Afghanistan; second, the arrest of Mehsud indicates that the US forces give precedence to their interest over the interest of the Kabul government; and third, there is a disagreement between the Karzai government and the US forces on the mechanism to negotiate with the Tablian. The Kabul government detested the way the US let the Talibanís office function in Doha to have peace talks with the US while the US forces have loathed the manner the Kabul government is holding talks with the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Nonetheless, in its post-2001 history, Afghanistan will be entering an important year in 2014. The Taliban will be making a choice between imposing their version of totalitarianism and submitting to the norms of democracy. Perhaps, the Taliban consider that Islam is a rigid religion and cannot survive without totalitarianism: the Taliban do not see the point that Islam is a flexible religion and can survive with democracy. Secondly, the Taliban are not considering the point that the age of totalitarianism is long over and democracy has not only replaced it but democracy has also learnt to consort with Islam.

Given the stance of the Taliban against the Karzai government (or any elected government in Kabul) and given the strategy of the Taliban to bide their time, it is unlikely that the Taliban come to terms with democracy and the election. In the gradual reduction of combat troops of the US and the NATO forces in 2014, the Taliban may see an opening for recapturing Kabul, as they did in 1996, and hanged the then president Mohammad Najibullah, who was installed by the former USSR in 1987. No doubt, the US will be trying to avert such an eventuality by leaving behind a residual force of about 10,000 combat troops along with the sizeable Afghan army but the question is what the resolve of the US and NATO will be to protect the regime in Kabul once the departure date of December 31, 2014 passes. That is, if the Kabul government is in jeopardy, will the US and NATO be ready to come back to protect Kabul after 2014? In that decision, there lies the kind of future Afghanistan may envision. If the US and NATO have the resolve of coming back to guard the regime in Kabul whenever a need so arises, the era of the Taliban in Afghanistan will be over. Otherwise, the Taliban will be a reality not only in Afghanistan but also in Pakistan. Along with that, the restoration of the sanctuaries of foreign militants in Afghanistan will not be a remote certainty. Perhaps, that is why the US is keen to have a Bilateral Security Agreement signed with the Kabul government. One of the major hurdles in this agreement is whether or not immunity to the US soldiers, as a residual force, should be given for the consequences of their combat actions in Afghanistan after 2014.

Another scenario may emerge in which the Taliban do not take over Kabul and the North one/third but they take charge of the South two/third of Afghanistan, as happened in the past. This will be the scenario of a civil war. It is yet to be seen when peace returns to Afghanistan. Nevertheless, the year 2014 will offer equal chances to the recurrence of totalitarianism and the continuation of democracy in Afghanistan.

The writer is a freelance columnist and can be reached at
"Nay! man is evidence against himself. Though he puts forth his excuses." Holy Qur'an (75:14-15)
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