The two interviews that the United States ambassador to Kabul Ryan Crocker gave last week as he completes his tour by end-July — with Wall Street Journal and Associated Press - are bound to give a rosy picture of the Afghan situation and the prospects ahead. He is actually reflecting on his own tenure, which he would like to look back with satisfaction as he prepares to leave the foreign service. Besides, it is also a reflection of the Barack Obama administration’s track record and he is duty-bound to be a loyal soldier.
Thus, Crocker’s remarks are bound to be on the optimistic side. However, he has done some out-of-the-box thinking, too. The most striking things are three: a) He sees a shift in the Taliban attitude toward reconciliation and peace. b) He thinks this is happening with Pakistan’s concurrence / acquiescence. c) He won’t rule out a lawless Afghanistan in the downstream of the NATO drawdown, but not a country torn apart by civil war.
Crocker’s remarks about Pakistani policies have no traces of acrimony. Instead, he makes a pointed remark that Pakistan’s ISI is showing flexibility while allowing the Taliban to establish contacts abroad. The big question is how he could think so. Crocker gives two reasons.
One, Pakistan is increasingly feeling the ‘blowback’ of terrorism and is not liking it. Two, the Taliban are seeing the writing on the wall that the US combat troops will stay at least up to 2024 — implying, the US will prevent a Taliban takeover for the foreseeable future. Crocker didn’t say in as many words but Pakistani military too would be drawing the conclusion that any move on its part to get into direct involvement in the post-2014 scenario with a view to facilitate a Taliban takeover will be certain to run the high risk of triggering a nasty US-Pakistan politico-military confrontation, which the innately cautious generals in Rawalpindi would, of course, want to avoid.
Crocker’s assessment disregarding the outbreak of a civil war runs against the majority opinion among Afghans and foreigners alike. But there is merit in what he says insofar as firstly, a distinction needs to be made between lawlessness (such as during the Mujahideen rule) and an outright civil war (like in the late 1990s.)
Secondly, politics is indeed gaining traction — in essence, what opposition figures belonging to the erstwhile Northern Alliance such as Mohammed Fahim, Abdullah, Yunus Qanooni, Rashid Dostum, Karim Khalili and Mohammed Mohaqiq (or even disgruntled Mujahideen leaders like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar) are looking for is a piece of the pie in Kabul.
Most important, no regional power would want to provoke a confrontation with the US by fueling a civil war. The region is wiling to live with the Taliban’s return to mainstream Afghan life and so long as there is no outright takeover by the Taliban, Afghanistan’s neighbors see no reason to take the risky course of interference.
Crocker was plainly ‘unemotional’ about Hamid Karzai. The unkind cut was that he compared Karzai’s situation with Pakistani dictator Pervez Musharraf’s plight. That is, Karzai will relinquish power in 2014 but he desperately needs a reasonable assurance that he wouldn’t be rendered a ‘wandering Jew’, which has been Musharraf’s fate.