The recent statement by Afghan president Ashraf Ghani to ‘end the Afghan war, not win it’ and an official extension of a hand of rapprochement towards Pakistan are belated gestures of maturity and sensibility. In the face of a frustrated and limited government at home, Ghani’s posturing has previously been marked by unflinching bellicosity vis-à-vis Pakistan in a tenure that, following the turbulent (and confusing) Karzai years was seen at the onset as rather promising in Islamabad. Given the long history of capricious public policy pronouncements interspersed with an unruly schedule of American withdrawal and reinforcements, this isn’t necessarily an inflection point. But an altering pitch and, possibly, a changing strategy can point to a number of things. First, the renewed emphasis on ending the war and not viewing it from the vantage point of any particular moral high ground is especially conciliatory towards the Taliban. Second, therein also lies the reluctant acceptance of possibly the most important fait accompli — more than 60 percent of Afghanistan is under the control of the Taliban, a label often used without qualification, that can variably mean either a militant group sworn to overthrow the government, or disgruntled members of the majority Pakhtun population unrepresented in Kabul. On the pessimistic side, a call to end the war also resurrects memories of the American scuttle from Vietnam. Even as though a dysfunctional ceasefire was put in place, the North Vietnamese continued to pour down south as the Americans withdrew unconditionally, leading inexorably towards the fall of Saigon in 1975. A brief study of the 80s and 90s in Afghanistan is eerily similar. From the perspective of foreign policy, admittedly, there isn’t a litany of options moving ahead for Pakistan, let alone easy ones. The remedies for Af-Pak are as long term as the weary and harried war in the region, a global tragedy of misfortune soaked in the blood of three generations. To salvage a sense of a favourable future, the following ought to be considered. A pernicious idea calling for the partition of Afghanistan as the ultimate harbinger of peace has been toyed with oftentimes since the days of the Bush administration. This benighted concept divides the country along ethnic lines into north and south sovereign entities. Soon after its introduction in global discourse, it quickly gained traction amongst leading political and foreign policy magazines, before being silently unendorsed. Those who are advocates of this nefarious misadventure need not look further than the partition of Afghanistan from British India and the birth of the Durand Line. The labour pangs of that unseen border are still violently felt west of Khyber, described precociously by Lord Curzon as “the razor’s edge on which hang suspended the modern issues of war and peace, of life and death to nations.” Beyond the unacceptability of an inter-Afghan border amongst their local population, supporting the partition of Afghanistan could also sound the death knell for unity inside Pakistan Beyond the unacceptability of an inter-Afghan border amongst their local population, supporting the partition of Afghanistan could also sound the death knell for unity inside Pakistan. It will empower the Taliban in the south of Afghanistan beyond measure, create further ideological fissures within the Pakistani military, give unnecessary impetus to a moribund Pakhtunistan movement and provide moral, if not material, backing to an independent Balochistan. The resulting balkanization of south-south west Asia in the neighbourhood of three nuclear powers will usher in an era of entropy that will make the present conflict seem like playful ruckus in a fairground. This way or that, the way ahead lies in a regional approach. Dr. Henry Kissinger’s proffered counsel to employ a Belgian solution requires rumination. Just as neighbouring France, Britain and Prussia jointly guaranteed the independence and neutrality of the emerging buffer state of Belgium in the 1830s, regardless of their individual disputes, a similar international framework can be tried that can act as a damage control spigot for the future, involving Pakistan, Iran and China, but also Russia and potentially India. Unlike the Belgian scenario, the problem here is not one of neighbouring armies marching into Afghanistan, but of the miasma of that conflict spilling over across its loosely defined frontiers. This, of course, needs to come about whilst the Americans are still stationed in Afghanistan and are able to conjure up a semblance of political consensus. In the event of a hasty and haphazard American departure, the inevitable political vacuum in Afghanistan will embolden the Taliban majority and is unlikely to carry the valence to bring key stakeholders on the same page. For this approach to succeed, Pakistan’s merited security concerns as Afghanistan’s most important neighbour will also have to be simultaneously addressed. In this month alone, Iran and Afghanistan have both assured the de-linkage of the ‘Indo’ from their Pak relationship and reiterated the special and individual nature of their respective bilateral bond. This is a nuanced departure from the politics of Chabahar and the consistent downplaying of Pakistan as a serious ally. Whether it is a thought out and coordinated policy on the back of a dispassionate regional analysis or merely a rhetorical matter of the customary ebb and flow of the Pak-Afghan-Iran triangle remains to be seen. Any and all efforts by Pakistan and the international community are, in recognition of their sovereignty, incumbent on the domestic situation inside Afghanistan, and needs to be complemented with a fair balance of power between Kabul and Kandahar. For years now, what has emerged as an unpleasant but distinctive course of action is to engage the Taliban, who, even as they scattered, have further ensconced themselves as an articulate political force. An approach here could be to drain violent warlords of the support lifelines by enticing their followers, especially Pakhtuns, towards greater political and economic participation and prosperity, thereby isolating elements within that disparate group that only seeks to kill. In time, as a domestic structure emerges inside Afghanistan, reasonably radical experiments such as mixed sovereignty between ethnic Pakhtuns and the minorities can also be tested. What ought to be avoided permanently is the historic US-Pakistan mistake of retreading old enemies as friends under very questionable new identities. The solution to the Afghan problem will be nothing but painstakingly slow, and a process that will involve stumbling and tarrying on all sides towards a peaceful equilibrium. Even ideas put forth by the most skillful thought leaders are all easier said than done. But to build what Winston Churchill referred to as the ‘sinews of peace’ must demand such noble patience. More than as a marker of successful foreign policy, an end to this perennial war is a cause for global humanity to get behind. Justice requires it, the Afghan deserve it, and posterity awaits it. The writer has a Masters degree in International Politics from the University of Manchester Published in Daily Times, March 26th 2018.