In love with Afghanistan
Trans World Features (TWF)
Sujeet Sarkar’s book “In Search of New Afghanistan”, is a compelling new take on Afghanistan seen from the lens of a developmental professional - a bold attempt at deconstructing the stereotypical views of this war-torn country. In an exclusive interview with TWF correspondent Jayalaskmi Sengupta the author talks about his experience and the book that is getting rave reviews
Excerpts of the interview:
What made you write a non-fiction book on Afghanistan when the market is already flooded with so many?
Having worked in Afghanistan for over six years as an international advisor on governance, I thought of undertaking an in-depth inquiry into some of the concerns plaguing this war-ravaged nascent democracy which have not been addressed adequately. True, a lot has already been written about the country. But while most of them highlight the Afghan imbroglio, there are hardly any authentic reports from ground zero to create any palpable dent in that mainstream perception. My book undertakes a fresh probe into the development and reconstruction process of Afghanistan post 9/11, and unveils several lesser known facts helping to create an alternative understanding about Afghanistan for the first time.
My book takes an incisive look at Afghanistan with an attempt to apprise the international audience about the silent changes taking place in Afghanistan post 9/11. That Afghanistan can be a fascinating place to live in and even fall in love with, despite the ongoing hurdles, is difficult to comprehend for most.
One common belief you boldly trounce in your book is the current perception that Afghanistan has failed. What is your take?
My take is that despite ongoing hurdles things are not as grim as painted by the international media, which has failed to analyse Afghanistan’s development process, appropriately, in the backdrop of war and insurgency and lack of resources.
While it may appear to the outside world that a huge amount of financial resources have been funneled to accentuate the development and state building process in Afghanistan in reality, the country is grappling with the problem of financial resources to fast track the development process. The US and western countries have actually committed a bulk of their aid around military support rather than development, in Afghanistan. Assessing development from the quantum of resources flowing into Afghanistan, when in reality it is actually been used in maintaining military effort, is unfair and inappropriate, to say the least. In fact, despite a fair share of failure that was inevitable, Afghanistan has made immense strides in terms of development. But the international media and the community, at large have failed to highlight or recognise these stories of progress adequately.
In your book you make a rather bold statement that the US and NATO are “at best addressing the effect of terrorism and not the cause”, and can therefore never be successful. What do you mean by it?
It is my personal belief that even if USA and NATO stay for another decade, they won’t be able to weed out the Taliban or degrade their capabilities. There is a big fault line in the US strategy for containing Taliban. Various military friends have confided as to how they are chasing “a lost cause”. Their action plan is based on a dubious strategy chasing the Taliban on the Afghan side of the border while completely ignoring the other side (left to be dealt by the ever doubtful Pak army). How can the US or NATO succeed when it concentrates on killing the Taliban on one side, while allowing them to flourish through tacit support to ISI, on the other side? In other words, the US and NATO have so far been addressing the effect of terrorism and not the cause, which lies on the other side.
You make another rather strong statement that “the poppy eradication programme can be considered as the single most ineffective programme, in the history of American foreign policy for Afghanistan”. Can you elaborate?
Yes, it’s true. Late Richard Holbrooke, the administration’s coordinator of Afghanistan policy, by his own admission has said that the strategy has been ineffective and wasteful. It is another international blunder that has fuelled the Taliban insurgency in restive poppy belts of Afghanistan, where poppy farmers (whose crops had been destroyed) have turned towards the Taliban in big numbers, for succour. Destroying poppy crops have thus indirectly fuelled Taliban insurgency.
The “path to peace is going to be very tumultuous for Afghanistan”, you write. Can you explain? What should be India’s stand in this according you?
A brainchild of the U.S. military think tank, “the peace process” is objectively linked with the transit of their army, in what seems like a well-planned pretext to leave Afghanistan. The path to peace is, however, going to be very tumultuous for Afghans. There is no homogenous opinion about the proposed peace process within the international community, which remains quite divided. It is also intrinsically linked with a diverse set of strategic interests among the neighboring countries. The peace process has to cross many hurdles; the first and foremost being Pakistan which will make wholehearted effort to muscle in the peace process suiting their larger strategic interests.
India has to stop Pakistan from running away with their module of peace process. India stands the best chance of doing it in collaboration with the western allies, not to forget Russia and Iran.
What is it like to be an Indian working in the development and reconstruction process of Afghanisrtan? How easy or difficult is it?
There is an element of risk for Indians, in the southern belt only, where the ISI enjoys clout with some faction of the Taliban. But by and large, the Afghans have a great deal of affection for Indians. They readily open their hearts and minds when they meet an Indian. The strong Indo-Afghan relationship goes back to centuries, as you know. But Bollywood has been, by far, the strongest bridge between India and Afghanistan, in recent times. From pinned-up posters of popular Bollywood actors that one finds everywhere to Bollywood music wafting from every nook and corner, Afghanistan seems like a home away from home for expatriates like us. The goodwill extended by the Indian Government through its civilian bounty of almost USD 2 billion has made India further popular among Afghans.
What do you perceive as the future of Afghanistan?
The Taliban unrest, as is common knowledge, has been the only thing that’s putting a spanner to all developmental plans in Afghanistan. The future of Afghanistan, as I mention in my book, is therefore critically hinged to two key factors– one is in integrating the moderate Taliban in the process of democracy and the other is in neutralising Pakistan’s ability to fan the Taliban unrest in Afghanistan. The country has immense resource to ignite and fast track economic growth and also render succour to its struggling citizens if these two aspects are taken care of in the near future.