Dawn Editorial with topic background, Vocabulary (April 16, 2021)
THE Biden administration has now given a more definite timeline where the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan is concerned. While the US president had said that it would be “tough” to meet the May 1 deadline agreed upon between the previous US administration and the Afghan Taliban, American officials now say that the withdrawal will be completed by Sept 11. While some may see this as shifting the goalposts, it can also be viewed as a more realistic, achievable date.
Moreover, it is significant that the announcement has come ahead of Afghan peace talks scheduled to be held in Istanbul from April 24. However, the Afghan Taliban have said they will not participate in the event in Turkey “until all foreign forces withdraw from our homeland”. But it is also true that much can change between now and April 24 and we can expect hectic diplomatic activity to make the Istanbul event a success, and bring the Taliban round to accepting the new date.
As has been stressed before in these columns, foreign involvement in Afghanistan has been a major source of that country’s instability, though the Afghan political class and warlords have also played a significant role in the destruction of their homeland. However, the ‘forever war’ cannot continue, and the sooner foreign forces leave Afghanistan and Afghans themselves take responsibility for their country, the better. Washington must stick to the new date and ensure the process is not delayed further. And while the Taliban are talking tough about the latest development, they must show flexibility and continue to negotiate with the government in Kabul.
The fact is that the Istanbul meeting presents a good opportunity for all Afghan factions — the Western-backed government, the Taliban, other political and tribal stakeholders — to try and push the peace process forward and set some doable goals. And it would be a good idea for all factions, particularly the Taliban, to desist from all acts of violence as a major confidence-building measure to show that they come to the Turkish city in good faith. If the Taliban continue to display a rigid stance and decide to boycott the meeting, it may affect the withdrawal of foreign forces, and plunge Afghanistan into more uncertainty.
The fact is that Afghanistan has suffered for decades as powerful local players have refused to compromise and have insisted on hogging power. That has resulted in relentless misery for the people of that country. The US and its Western allies appear to have had enough of the Afghan war — though some Republican figures seem to want the US mission to continue indefinitely — and the onus is now on the Afghans to take control of their destiny and rebuild their country. The weeks ahead will show whether or not the principal Afghan players are willing to take up the gauntlet.
EARLIER this week, the Council of Common Interests approved the controversial National Population and Housing Census, 2017, with a majority vote after over three years. Sindh stuck to its stance, voting against the census results. The MQM, the ruling party’s coalition partner from urban Sindh, had already rejected the results during a cabinet meeting when the government decided to put the matter before the CCI. In view of the large-scale reservations on the census results, the CCI also decided to organise a new census for fresh delimitations of national and provincial constituencies before the next elections in 2023. The Sindh government and MQM are not alone in their concerns. Opposition parties in KP had expressed their doubts about the data collected from erstwhile Fata. Similarly, some have misgivings about the authenticity and quality of the census data related to religious minorities and transgender persons. The census directly affects the number and size of the national, provincial and local constituencies a province or a district gets, as well as the allocation of financial resources to the provinces under the NFC award. For some, its significance lies in its relationship with the allotment of quota to different regions or segments of the population in federal and provincial jobs. Little wonder then that the entire exercise has become politicised over time as provincial, ethnic, religious, economic and other fissures deepen in society. Hence, the last census took place 19 years after the previous one, which was organised after a lapse of 17 years in 1998 in violation of the Constitution that mandates it be held every 10 years.
The government says it plans to take all stakeholders on board before starting the next census process later this year to avoid controversies. But will that help? We know that the status quo favours some and is harmful to others. It will be naïve to expect a wider political consensus over census results without technology. The present method of collecting population and housing data is unreliable, inefficient, expensive, time-consuming and prone to errors. Many countries now use smartphones and tablets for conducting a census because it helps efficient and reliable collection and processing of disintegrated data. Error-free population data is also important for better future economic planning, tax resource mobilisation and efficient allocation of financial resources for socioeconomic development. It is, therefore, advisable for the government to deploy technology for the new census to ensure transparent and dependable population and housing data collection.