There are many stories of Afghanistan: anecdotes of violence and occupation by former Soviet Union; rise and downfall of Mujahedeen; saga of Taliban and international forces; gloomy days of suicide attacks, explosions, civilian causalities, starvation, homelessness, sexual abuse, gender based violence, withdrawal of allied forces and the anticipated lawlessness in the coming years. Amid these looming realities, there is yearning for peace, stability, reconstruction, harmony and love in the country.
The story of forces withdrawal started when the US and the troops of its North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies decided to leave Afghanistan by early to mid-July of this year. After 10 years of waging war against the Taliban, and another 10 years of vows to withdraw from Afghanistan, the US military generals are now rushing to meet the deadline. The US State Department has also issued a new travel advisory for Afghanistan and urged all Americans who wish to depart the country to do so immediately. In Kabul, the foreign embassies have begun drawing down their staff and closing their offices. The US itself was the first to scale down its staff. Australia also announced that it would close it embassy in Kabul over safety concerns.
Amid all this hustle and bustle, it is uncertain whether the US and its allies attainted their ‘objectives’ and have garnered a peaceful and stable Afghanistan. In this context, following stories needs to be emulated from the recent past to shake the memories of the makers of contemporary world order.
Peaceful Afghanistan: A Sand Castle
Years of peace talks for stability and post-war reconstruction in Afghanistan are nothing more than oblivion when compared to contemporary state of affairs. With seemingly no conflict-resolution and peacebuilding, the US brainchild Istanbul conference has yet to be materialized, not to mention the political slants of an ‘Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process’. In fact, Afghanistan assignment is nothing more than a foreign exploratory project, bringing sham to the torchbearers of human rights and liberal world order. For instance, Afghanistan is still the most intense conflict worldwide according to the Global Peace Index, where the security situation is getting worse with each passing day. Therefore, it is urgent more than ever for Afghans to sit together for peacebuilding and getting rid of foreign military troops from their land. Otherwise, a repetition of the 1990s factional wars will be imminent. A recent United Nations (UN) assessment reports Taliban preparing substantial military efforts to take advantage of the US and allies drawdowns, and gain military and political leverage. The UN report also indicates that the Taliban maintain ties with al-Qaeda. Already, there is much speculation about whether the Afghan security forces can hold off the Taliban.
Resurgence of Taliban
Having no other viable option, the US endorses Taliban worthy negotiating party in Afghanistan peace process. The US endorsement, in turn, strengthens Taliban’s diplomatic position as well as their future role in Afghanistan. Contrarily, Afghans fear Taliban’s resurgence after the US withdrawal from their country. The Taliban, posing an imminent threat, remain on the edge of provincial centers. Many district and even provincial capitals are surrounded by the Taliban, such as cities like Lashkar Gah and Farah. On the other hand, the US feels vulnerable to terrorist attacks on their bases in Afghanistan.
Shattered Boots on the Ground:
Afghan Taliban are militarily proactive and preempt most of the attacks. On the other hand, the Afghan forces operate in defensive mode. Moreover, Taliban directly control a large part of the country and Afghan population. Their reach exceeds territorial control and their areas of military operations. Therefore, the Afghan Army who is reluctantly fighting Taliban will be in need of strong US support.
In Search of Military Base:
In order to avoid a nightmare scenario and support Afghan army, the US government has been in search of a base in the region to monitor Taliban’s activities. For this, Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan have been proposed as options. However, the Russian influence in Central Asia makes Uzbekistan and Tajikistan difficult bases to secure. Pakistan has also refused to allow the US to use its bases for the aforementioned objective.
For its part, Pakistan has shifted its alliance from ‘Global War on Terrorism’ to being a supporter of regional peace and stability. Secondly, Pakistan has been bearing the brunt of unstable Afghanistan. Moreover, Taliban has categorically threatened to inflict catastrophes to the state which agrees to provide military base to the US. There also is a possibility that Taliban will try to reconstitute on Pakistan-Afghanistan frontier. That is why, Pakistan cannot help the US at the cost of its internal security once again.
For fiscal year 2021-22, Pakistani government has also increased its defence budget by 6.28 per cent, citing multiple security challenges including the negative fallout of the US troops withdrawal from Afghanistan. In past, Afghan Taliban have asserted themselves in the tribal areas of Pakistan and currently, being the most dominant player in the Afghan political landscape, Taliban can turn on Pakistan by resuming attacks against its security forces. At this time, the best course for Pakistan would be to keep a strict vigil along the borders, maintain an equal distance with all Afghan groups and forge a consensus amongst Afghanistan’s neighbours of complete neutrality and promotion of peace and stability in the war-ravaged country. Pakistan’s time tested friend China’s fundamental interest in Afghanistan is also stability. It believes that it should avoid serious entanglement in Afghan affairs at all costs.
The US is leaving behind a weak and destabilized Afghanistan. A solution developed to address Afghan conundrum should be Afghan-led and Afghan-owned, but with US oversight that also holds itself accountable for the results. In sum, the path to the end of the conflict in Afghanistan will be political and it will be in the hands of the Afghans and American leadership.
Note: This article appeared in Eurasia, dated 17 June 2021.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are of the author and do not necessarily represent Institute’s policy.