‘The Future of Afghanistan’: A Talk by Professor Marvin Weinbaum

Unfortunately Afghanistan’s future is rather bleak – Watch Video

Events in Afghanistan influence politics on the international stage. Pakistan has an uneasy relationship with the Afghans and India, in the form of premier Narendra Modi, has sought to gain political mileage by exploiting the historic misunderstandings across the so-called Durand Line. In rather interesting times, Marvin Weinbaum, Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and currently a scholar-in-residence at the Middle East Institute in Washington DC, delivered a lecture on The Future of Afghanistan at The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs  (PIIA) on 18 November 2016. He has worked for US Department of State Bureau of Intelligence Research for four years (1999-2003). PIIA Chairperson Dr Masuma Hasan moderated the lecture. Professor Weinbaum was clear that Afghanistan’s future is unfortunately not very bright because one-third of its territory – mainly the rural areas – is effectively controlled by the Taliban and other extremist groups.

These gains are not attributable to the Taliban’s reorganisation or rise in popularity. Rather they are bound up with the failure of the Kabul government to meet the expectation of the Afghan people. Our most learned and distinguished guest was clear that Pakistan influence on Taliban has receded significantly and he was of the view that Pakistan never was able to dictate to the Taliban even when they were in Kabul. He attacked Washington’s policy as dilatory and called it a strategy to buy time despite the very clear strategy for winning the conflict: a paradox he found to be representative of a lack in confidence.

On the other hand, it was also a dilemma that the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF, 2001-2014) had made transition to Afghanistan Security Forces (ASF) which must eventually be able to learn to take responsibility to provide security. Despite the bravery shown by ASF troops, the overall system is plagued with cronyism, lack of cooperation and coordination and a lack of leadership from the top.

Huge challenges face Afghanistan. It must make appropriate social and economic adjustments while international military forces are there in very large number. Problems relating to unemployment and the welfare of refugees returning from Pakistan and Europe pose a great challenge for the Afghan economy. The only appropriate thing to do was for the Afghan leadership need to work together and promote good governance in order to set a standard of living that encourages, or indeed compels, ordinary Afghans to throw in their lot with their government against the insurgent groups.

Moreover, there is a need for political agreements and deals in order to solve the issue of insurgency and where possible any insurgents must be accommodated in the political system. The last two elections demonstrated “energy” in Afghan civil society, which perhaps represents its rebirth and it is notable that nothing like it existed during the 1960s and 1970s.

According to Professor Weinbaum, there was a pressing need for regional cooperation assist Afghanistan in order to rebuild its economy and political system. The need was all more heightened by the observations that the West would finally exit Afghanistan and leave it to its own devices. A political solution would be needed in the absence of a military solution (which does not seem to be in sight) and the latter, which has thus far proved elusive, needed to be deprioritised down to give diplomacy a chance.

Pakistan has a part to play in the process. Equally, it must have real concerns that if Taliban return they will ally themselves with TTP – this will of course in turn energise the Pakistani extremist group. Pakistan wants a settlement on the table, to make sure the arrangements. It does not really want bilateral negotiations with Taliban separately. In order to provide incentive to them, the Taliban should be allowed to participate in the political process as a part of the political settlement.

Professor Weinbaum said that India exerts substantial soft power inside Afghanistan and it should ensure future cooperation between Pakistan and Afghanistan because it is absolutely critical for the future survival of both countries. He also assured Pakistanis that they need not worry about India’s role in Afghanistan as, despite its influence, New Delhi will not be given an opportunity to play a role of any consequences.

He urged people not to expect a real change with Donald Trump as US President. Some of the Pakistani newspapers suggested that President Trump would jump into the Kashmir dispute. He said that the suggestion is almost laughable.

Professor Weinbaum served for fifteen years as the director of the Program in South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies in at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His research, teaching, and consultancies have focused on the issues of national security, state building, democratisation, and political economy in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is the author or editor of six books and has written more than 100 journal articles and book chapters.

Posted by Editor.

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Filed under Afghanistan, Discussion, Events, Pakistan, PIIA, Politics, United States

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