US EXIT FROM AFGHANISTAN: ONUS FOR PEACE IS ON TALIBAN
THE twentieth anniversary of the 11 September 2001 will have a special significance this time if all goes as planned. It will mark the end of the US war in Afghanistan. The decision announced by the Biden Administration has drawn a mixed reaction.
President Joe Biden used his daily national security briefing on the morning of 06 April 2021, to deliver news that his senior military leaders suspected was coming.
He wanted all US troops out of Afghanistan by 11 September 2021, the 20th anniversary of the attacks on New York and the Pentagon. The US stay in Afghanistan spanned four US presidential terms.
Many say, US war may end, Afghan war will not. The Taliban have promised to renew attacks on US and NATO personnel if foreign troops are not out by the 01 May 2021 deadline and retreated the fact that they would not participate in any conference about Afghanistan’s future until all “foreign forces” have departed.
There are around 2,500 US troops in Afghanistan, the number fluctuates and currently as per official accounts there are about 1000 more than that.
In addition to this, there are about 7000 foreign forces of the coalition, majority of them NATO troops.
The withdrawal will end a commitment of two decades, two trillion dollars, and 2000 US service members.
100,000 Afghan civilians have been injured and killed, an unaccountable number of people displaced, and life disrupted.
The Taliban’s statement that “the Islamic Emirate will under no circumstance ever relent on complete independence and establishment of a pure Islamic system and remain committed to a peaceful solution to the Afghan problem following the complete and certain end of occupation,” sounds more ominous now.
According to the Long War Journal (a project of the US-based Foundation for the Defence of Democracies), of Afghanistan’s 325 districts, the Taliban are in control of 76 or 19%, and government forces 127 or 32%. The remaining are contested.
According to the Council of Foreign Relations, the Taliban are stronger now than at any point since 2001, when US forces invaded Afghanistan.
The unconditional withdrawal by US from Afghanistan is perhaps politically right for the US, but many think it may have repercussions, which will haunt the US, and the world but most importantly this region. It is indicative of a callous US indifference to the ground situation.
This may lead to no peace settlement or a poorly negotiated peace settlement, largely favoring a setup that will undermine democracy, women rights, minority rights, collapse of formal economy and increased violence.
Marvin G Weinbaum, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Illinois, is also of the opinion that this may lead to an open-ended proxy-driven civil war, that will be creating millions of refugees and is likely to destabilize and radicalize the region.
The consensus amongst the policy makers in the Biden Administration is that “if we break the May 1st deadline negotiated by the previous administration with no clear plan to exist, we will be back at war with the Taliban, and that was not something President Biden believed was in the national interest of the country.
The objective is zero troops by September 2021. It is calendar rather than condition-based withdrawal.
The Biden Administration is convinced that a condition-based approach is a recipe for staying in Afghanistan forever.
Weinbaum in his comments on US exit from Afghanistan categorically says, “Afghanistan now is a mistake.”
In his opinion, the US’s initial objectives for intervention were seemingly achieved years ago and its subsequently acquired aims in staying have proved mostly unattainable.
The decision of the Biden Administration is largely driven by a shift in US global focus from the counter insurgency campaign that dominated the post 9/11 world to the current priority of countering the rising power of China, Russia and Iran, quite possibly in a coalition.
The threat perception in the US has changed, they feel American homeland is threatened from other places, like Africa, Yemen and Syria. Afghanistan has paled in comparison and thus the cut and run.
Minority leader Mitch McConnel called the plan “reckless” and a grave mistake. It is retreat in the face of enemy that has not been vanquished and abdication of American leadership.
Pakistan has been closely engaged with US in the Afghan peace process and facilitated the signing of the US-Taliban agreement and later the commencement of the intra-Afghan talks, which currently appear stalled because of the announcement made by the Biden Administration.
Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Afghanistan’s Foreign Minister Hanif Atmar talked about strengthening bilateral relations and the recent developments in the Afghan peace process, during his visit to the UAE. FM Qureshi highlighted Pakistan’s main interest in a peaceful, secure and stable Afghanistan.
He has also showcased Pakistan’s facilitative support that led to US-Taliban peace agreement and later Intra-Afghan negotiations.
Hence, Pakistan is hopeful that Afghan parties would work effectively to achieve shared objective of a peaceful, stable and prosperous Afghanistan.
Further, both Pakistani and Afghan leadership are calling for responsible withdrawal of foreign troops, that would be compatible with the progress in the peace process.
Hopefully, the Taliban of today are a politically savvy entity that understands constitutional compulsions, importance of democracy, human rights, women rights and internationally integrated economic system, for sustainable peace.
They are in a position of power, however, if they choose to exploit it to a point where it becomes a threat to regional stability, things may move back to square one, where nobody stands to gain.
A display of political maturity and restraint by the Taliban will go a long way in improving the situation on the ground.
Afghanistan is forever at crossroads of peace and war. The list of missed opportunities for peace in Afghanistan is long and painful.
The peace talk initiatives of the past are littered with deadlocks, leaks and assassinations. It is time a way forward is found. Battle fatigue has turned into battle exhaustion.
Americans are getting out and the Afghan government is weak. The onus this time is on indigenous stakeholders, especially the Taliban.
The peripheral powers that include China, Pakistan, Russia, Iran and Turkey, all stand to gain from peace in Afghanistan.
—The author is an Associate Professor of Social Sciences and Liberal Arts at the Institute of Business Administration, Karachi.