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The US’ Afghan Gamble

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The US’ Afghan

Gamble

The Afghanistan, being hapless, has been in state of turmoil since long. The Afghans have faced the wrath of the world superpowers: First the British, then the Soviet Union and now the United States. Especially for the last two decades, Afghan people have borne, and may also bear in the future as well, the brunt of the act they neither accomplished nor participated in – the 9/11. Mind you, there were no Afghan nationals among the 19 hijackers on any of the 9/11 planes.
To punish and eradicate the al-Qaeda, the alleged perpetrators of the 9/11, the United States, along with its NATO allies, invaded Afghanistan by launching the Operation Enduring Freedom. After fighting for almost two decades, they are now marching on to end the ‘forever war’. For this purpose, a peace deal was signed last year in Doha between the US and Taliban. According to the agreement, the US will withdraw its troops from Afghanistan in return for the shirking of violence and not allowing the al-Qaeda to operate from the Afghan soil by Taliban.
Now to abide by the promise, and to end the longest war in the American history, the Biden administration has ordered a speedy withdrawal of US troops from the war-torn country. For the pullout of troops at a quickening pace without any political settlement, President Biden has attracted much criticism, but he is intent to go ahead with the plan anyway. He has even overruled the military leaders who wanted to keep a larger presence to assist Afghan security forces and, keeping the past experience in mind, prevent Afghanistan from becoming a stage ground for extremist groups. The erstwhile commander of US troops in Afghanistan, General Austin Miller, has warned that the country may be headed toward a civil war. President Biden has also rejected the idea presented by the United Kingdom to keep some troops in Afghanistan to assist the Afghan national army. George W. Bush, the former president of the United States and the founder of the American war on terror by sanctioning the invasion of Afghanistan soon after the 9/11, has also criticized the Biden’s decision to pull out. He has argued that the drawdown will lead to nothing but a chaos. He said: “I am afraid Afghan women and girls are going to suffer unspeakable harm.”
Having the past experience of 1990s, the pullout of the US troops will, of course, worsen the Afghan crisis, which, in turn, will have deleterious impacts on the whole region, particularly the neighbouring countries. However, according to some analysts, this hurriedly and untimely pullout may be an intentional attempt by the US to keep China, the country which is now challenging its economic might, in a problematic position. According to them, the Taliban, having sympathy for their Uyghur Muslim brethren against the Chinese atrocities, might give China tough time in the Autonomous Region of Xinjiang. China has called the US exit an irresponsible attempt to challenge the regional peace.
However, whatever the case, the turning tail by the US itself has certain loopholes which need to be appraised. To begin with, the US-Taliban peace deal, which paved the way for the US departure, has many flaws. For instance, the US bypassed the Afghan national government, the true representative of the Afghan people, in this deal. This has really boosted, on one side, the morale of Taliban, who are now capturing districts one after another in a sense of victory and air their confidences. While on the other side, it has badly lowered the morale of the Afghan government, which is continuously losing grip on the territory it once controlled. How can one be bypassed in dealings of his/her own home? Though the US-Taliban talks were to be followed by intra-Afghan parleys, the broader prospects for the latter are dim. For a peaceful Afghanistan, successful intra-Afghan dialogues are inevitable. The drawdown of foreign troops without a ceasefire or a framework for a political agreement between the Taliban and the Afghan government is not a good omen for the country—and the region as well.
Second, the Trump administration, the predecessor of Joe Biden’s, negotiated the peace deal with Taliban demanding next to nothing in return for the US pullout. And the Taliban only sat on the negotiating table to achieve their top objective of having foreign troops leave without giving up violence or any political concession. The US should have made them abide by the laws of world to bring peace to the war-torn country.
Third, instead of pointing out that Taliban has failed to disassociate itself from al-Qaida, a condition for the US withdrawal, Joe Biden hurriedly moved ahead with the withdrawal policy. This is despite knowing the fact that, like 1990s, Afghanistan may once again plunge into a full-blown civil war and become a terrorist haven.
Fourth, the hushed and rushed drawdown has endangered the lives of those Afghans who have helped the US over the years. They have worked for the US as interpreters, drivers, cooks, etc. and could possibly face revenge attacks by the Taliban for helping the US against the former. Although the US is concerned with their evacuation, they should have been evacuated before the US troop withdrawal.
Fifth, the US is leaving unfulfilled its duty of ‘white man’s burden’ by fleeing Afghanistan. Twenty years ago, the US invaded Afghanistan to ‘democratize’ the country. However, defending his withdrawal policy, Biden now says that “we did not go to Afghanistan to build nation. And it’s the right and the responsibility of Afghan people alone to decide their future, and how they want to run their county.” However, is it so? Did they really not invade Afghanistan for nation building? If it is so, what they were doing for the past 20 years. The fact is that the US, up till now, has expended $2.26 trillion to modernize Afghanistan’s archaic tribal society, fulfilling the duty of ‘white man’s burden’.
Sixth, Biden says the US has ‘achieved’ its goal of eradicating the al-Qaeda, and, the game being over, it’s time to bring back the boys home. But is it really so? The situation today is as it was 20 years ago, albeit more chaotic this time. According to a recent report of the UN Security Council, a significant part of the al-Qaida leadership resides in the region along the border with Pakistan. Undoubtedly, the void created by the evacuation of US troops may be filled by the transnational terrorist groups to operate their notorious activities.
Seventh, the hasty departure of the US has not given the Afghan army enough time to prepare for the post-US Afghanistan. Defending his withdrawal policy, President Biden has said that Afghan military has the ability to repel the Taliban. Is it so? The ground realities tell another story. The Taliban has been swiftly capturing districts one after another. The Afghan army, being corrupted and having low morale, has been outranked by the Taliban. Most recently, more than 1,000 Afghan troops reportedly escaped to Tajikistan to save their own lives after clashing with Taliban. Similarly, hundreds of Afghan forces have surrendered to Taliban without any fight. In some cases, as the media reports show, they have joined the latter who have given them food and money. The US has spent so much money for building a strong Afghan army, but to no avail. Thus, by a hasty departure, the US is not giving the people of Afghanistan an opportunity to decide how they want to be governed, as Biden has said. They are giving the militants an opportunity to oppress them.
Lastly, the Biden administration has pledged to continue military and humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan and not leaving it in the lurch. However, the recent advances do not validate this stance. As the US troops are rushing towards homes, Afghan government is rushing helplessly to find new ammunition suppliers, arrange independent fuel contracts and hire non-American maintenance crew to fix their military vehicles and copters. Moreover, its pledge of military assistance proves hollow by noting how much equipment has been removed or destroyed while handing over bases to Afghans. The Bagram exit is a case in point. The US troops left their showpiece airbase at Bagram in the dead of night without even informing the Afghan soldiers. Before the local troops could take control of the base, looters had plundered it. This has been thematically described by an Afghan soldier in these words: “In one night, they lost all the goodwill of 20 years by leaving the way they did, in the night, without telling the Afghan soldiers who were outside patrolling the area.”
Thus, consequently, the hurried departure of the US has put the Afghan government in a catch-22 situation. Being helpless against the ferocious onslaught of Taliban on the Afghan cities, it has inducted private militia to engage the Taliban locally and to prevent assault on Kabul. This militia also includes the old warlords. They are once again in the game, thus inching Afghanistan toward a full-blown civil war.
However, it is very unfortunate that the Afghan government, and its populace, too, has always blamed Pakistan for the situation in that country. Recently, the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said that Pakistan has “negative role” in the Afghan peace process. Such unjustified claims really disappoint Pakistan which is the most affected country from the turmoil in Afghanistan. Although Pakistan once patronized the Taliban for its so-called ‘strategic depth’ policy, the recent endeavours it has made, like always, in bringing peace to the war-torn country must not be doubted. Pakistan has been persuading the Taliban for peace talks, and the historic peace deal between the US and Taliban was only made possible due to the untiring efforts of Pakistan. So, instead of blaming Pakistan for its woes, the Kabul government should cooperate with regional states, especially Pakistan, for an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led peace process. Similarly, the Afghan elite, instead of squabbling among themselves, should unite to save the nation.
Indubitably, the turmoil in Afghanistan has bad repercussion for Pakistan. The recent increase in terrorist attacks has been linked with the situation across the border. Recently, the National Security Advisor to the Prime Minister, Moeed Yusuf, has acknowledged the danger of terrorist attacks in Pakistan, and said that outlawed TTP members can enter Pakistan with refugees, as the recent wave of violence has compelled the Afghans to seek shelters in the neighbouring country. For this reason, Pakistan, keeping in mind the past experience, should devise a clear-cut policy on how to handle the looming refugee influx, and the counterterrorism and law-enforcement capabilities must be enhanced.
On their part, the Taliban, who will have a leading role in the future coalition government, should manifest that they have a comprehensive administrative plan for the post-America Afghanistan. They need to demonstrate that they, in coordination with Afghan national government, can transform Afghanistan, whose people have suffered terribly for the past many decades, into a peaceful and prosperous country, where every person, including women and minorities, gets his/her due rights.
Finally, the elongation of Western interference won’t help anyone. However, had the US sought political settlement to the Afghan imbroglio, the looming civil war could have been avoided. However, it’s not over yet. It should continue its economic assistance for the development and reconstruction of Afghanistan, as Afghan government could collapse, according to a new intelligence assessment, within six months of US withdrawal. It should train Afghan army to enhance their counterterrorism capabilities and equip them with modern combative skills. Moreover, it should make the Taliban abide by the conditions of the peace deal, e.g. not to allow the Afghan soil to be used against any country. Similarly, all the other regional actors—China, Russia, India, Iran and Saudi Arabia—by quitting their proxies, should work earnestly to salvage the war-torn country.

The writer is currently serving as an educator in KP government. He can be reached at: faridullah165@gmail.com

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