The US Withdrawal from Afghanistan: Perpetual Peace or Escalated Chaos

The protected Afghanistan crisis takes another stride as two major contending parties- the US and Taliban once again at loggerheads over the outstanding settlements of the peace accord brokered under the Trump administration in the year 2020. Notwithstanding the previous agreement, the Biden administration announced to delay the troop’s withdrawal till September of this year eventually breaching the major clause of the US and NATO troops drawdown from the Afghan soil by the settled deadline of 1st May. In response to that, the Taliban eschewed a peace conference in Istanbul -meant to encourage efforts to resolve intra Afghan issues and draft a conceivable political settlement between the key stakeholders, Taliban’s and the Afghan government. Istanbul conference postponed from April 24 – May 4th to be held after Ramadan, the UN, Central Kabul government, and other key stakeholders   willing to join the event however participations of the Taliban remains a major point of concern, as they refuted by stating that “we will not participate in any event until the withdrawal of foreign troops from the Afghan Soil in accordance with the Peace deal of the year 2020.” However, the scheduled conference further delayed further. While on the other hand, Washington seemingly attempting to ramp up the process, emboldened by reoriented policy opted by the Biden administration that included pushing for the summit in Turkey that was to be attended by over 20 countries and global bodies- Amid fresh developments, Taliban and Afghan government negotiators met in Qatar, the second day of a three-day ceasefire announced by the Taliban for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, both sides said after a long pause in peace talks between the two contending parties. In addition to that, the Taliban threatened to launch attacks on US and NATO troops while citing the security risks, pentagon instructed all embassy personnel in Kabul to depart unless their jobs require them to be in Afghanistan. This rhetoric validated by the escalation of fresh turmoil on Afghanistan soil. Following Washington’s announcement, Hundreds die in surged violence intensification also place cease-fire deals in the doldrums.

With reference to Istanbul Conference, the Turkish Foreign Minister remarked that the key focus of the summit on the Afghanistan Peace Process is to fast-track and assist ongoing intra-Afghan consultations in Doha on the accomplishment of a long-lasting political agreement. Nevertheless, According to disclosed State Department report said the US sought the Istanbul conference for pronouncement of revamped plan that aims to supplant Afghan President Ashraf Ghani with an interim government involving the Taliban, and another key stakeholder of the country.

The US has increased its efforts to gain favorable assistance from all the key parties over the reoriented strategy of the Biden administration for the troop’s withdrawal. In account to this, The US envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, has been traveling in the region to gain support for a cessation of hostilities and peace settlement that could include a provisional government in Kabul.

The role of the central government in Kabul and settlement with Taliban’s remain subtle and a paradoxical hurdle for the smooth continuation on the defined roadmap for the building plausible intra-Afghan consensus. Retrospectively, The Ashraf Ghani administration, which supported the earlier Trump initiative, stated that they were ready to negotiate with the Taliban with no preconditions and also made various promises to the organization (such as the recognition of the Taliban as a political party and releasing of the Taliban elements in prison), extending an olive branch to it. However, this step taken by Ghani was not met with the necessary appreciation and approval from the Taliban; on the contrary, the Taliban once again turned its back on the Kabul government, stating that it would be addressing itself to the US only and not to Central government in Kabul. Quite contrary to that, now under Biden’s administration, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani intends to present a three-stage plan at the Istanbul talks. The first step involves reaching a political settlement with the Taliban and announcing an internationally monitored ceasefire. Secondly, holding an early presidential election in which the Taliban could take part to form a “government of peace”. That would lead to a slew of development programs across the war-torn state and take measures for the constitutional framework of the foreseeable future.

Realistically, the Biden administration chalked various new strategies on issues such as the reduction of violence, withdrawal of foreign troops from the country, negotiations within Afghanistan, and counter-terrorism guarantees within the framework of the US-Taliban Peace Agreement negotiations. However, these decisions have brought some new problems to the agenda.

“Istanbul conference has become a litmus test for the successful orientation of the Biden policy and it may define the trajectory of the future security matrix of the region. Henceforth, if Turkey antedates that these negotiations are not going to succeed, it would be a disappointment on not only Turkey’s but also its allies and Afghanistan’s part. The difficulty of establishing a complete and clear consensus between the Afghan government, its politicians, and leading opinion leaders is the main issue. Although the talks were promised to be very extensive and inclusive, it was stated that Ghani distanced himself from other factions for a long time and acted alone. In addition, a preliminary assessment, measuring the opinions, beliefs, and trust of the people regarding the peace talks was not made.”

Another point, the Taliban’s commitment to reducing violence is a promise made exclusively to the US itself, not to the Afghan government. In this context, the Taliban only promised not to act against the US. In fact, the official statement of the Taliban is that the strategic and security cooperation was made with the US only and that the commitment is a promise made to the US only and not to the Afghan government. In this context, even though negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government have started, it is pertinent to mention that a likely clash of interest that may arise during these consultations could briskly change into escalated violence, and it is already evident post  1st May deadline security development in Afghanistan. Under the current circumstances, it is also obvious that that peace in Afghanistan is up to the Afghans and there exists a massive trust deficit at intra- state-level stakeholders. Adding further, another vital concern is the chance of variability being retriggered on Afghanistan soil with the foreign troops’ withdrawal and that the exchange of prisoners was carried out at a date too early, which left the Contending actors with fewer bargaining options.

“Pakistan’s role in the Afghan Peace Process between the US, the Afghan government, and the Taliban is very crucial and remains on the prospects of perpetual regional peace, and positive-sum gains. Cognizant of its strategic posture, it has increased diplomatic efforts for bringing all the actors to the negotiation table at the Istanbul conference. It has been Pakistan’s vivid strategic policy to support an ‘orderly’ and ‘responsible’ withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan, leaving no security vacuum that could be exploited by spoilers or any kind of vulnerability that may become a collective regional security concern in foreseeing future. It has also accentuated the essentiality for constant support by all global stakeholders and resolute efforts by intra- Afghan actors for a dialogue-based settlement for the four decades-long protracted Afghanistan crisis. Pakistan also envisions- a peaceful and stable Afghanistan is in the larger interest of peace and stability in the region.” As matter of fact facilitating the efforts for achieving durable peace and security in Afghanistan, three major milestones were achieved in 2020, first, the US. Taliban Peace Agreement signed on 29 February 2020; secondly, the commencement of Intra-Afghan Negotiations on 12 September 2020; thirdly, the agreement on Rules and Procedures between the Afghan parties in Doha on 2 December 2020 by Pakistan.

Pakistan’s role as a facilitator in the Afghan Peace Process has not only benefited the war-torn s by being back at the negotiating table with the major regional powers, it hopes to improve its relations with other states. It provides Pakistan with the opportunity to attain one of its primary foreign policy aims with respect to Afghanistan – to establish a network of regional allies. Pakistan has conveyed its serious concerns to the Afghan side by making a strong demarche with the Ambassador of Afghanistan in Islamabad on the recent irresponsible statements and baseless allegations made by the Afghan leadership.

Pakistan has a principled stand on Afghanistan and has always played a key role in the peaceful settlement of the Afghan crisis. It participated in all forums as part of collective efforts to bring peace to the war-torn country. Pakistan shares the longest border with Afghanistan and is a major stakeholder. The fresh Meeting of the Army Chief of Pakistan with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is very important as will assist in the peaceful settlement of the Afghan crisis. Now the US troops are withdrawing and if no consensus is reached for power-sharing, it could lead to civil war and Pakistan being the immediate neighbor might suffer the consequences. Pakistan has rendered huge sacrifices in the war against terrorism and it is high time that the international community provides material support to Islamabad. A prosperous and economically stable Pakistan will be in a better position to thwart any threat of terrorism.

Followed by the revamped Biden approach vis-à-vis Afghanistan Peace Process, the role and position of China are important as it holds a key posture in the realm of regional geopolitical affairs. In a recent China Central Asia (C+C5) meeting, China explained its position over the Afghan Peace Process. First, it backed the peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan should be “Afghan-led and Afghan-owned” which is a mirror image of Islamabad’s narrative and it’s been highlighted by Pakistan’s top-ranked leadership across all the platforms that deals with Afghanistan crisis management. Likewise, Beijing again converged its stance with Islamabad by stating that Afghanistan should form inclusive political arrangements to make sure that all ethnic groups and parties could participate in political life in the future and enjoy equal political rights. In addition to that China also called for the  Afghan national governance structure in the future should conform to the country’s unique national conditions and development needs, and should not simply copy foreign models, this depicts a realistic approach because Afghanistan’s history remains non-adherent to the governance models aspired by western regimes. On the matter of foreign troop’s withdrawal, China accented for an orderly and responsible manner drawdown to prevent any hasty action from adversely affecting and extremely interfering with the peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan. One of the key areas that China tends to underscore is the role of CARs,  as close neighbors of Afghanistan, China Central Asian countries should make due contribution to the final settlement of the Afghan issue, and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization should also play its due role for the long-term peace and stability in Afghanistan. China showed readiness ready to collaborate with regional states and the international community to move forward the peace and reconciliation process and help Afghanistan realize peace and stability at an early date.

The current situation shows that peace in Afghanistan is up to them and there exit massive trust deficit between the intra-state key holders. The Moscow, Doha, and the potential Istanbul talks being unsuccessful would result in the Taliban gaining political supremacy as well as territorial control in the country, if the peace process fails, and the country is plunged into civil war and chaos, the region would clearly be disadvantaged. Some of Afghanistan’s neighbors would be prompted to intervene, covertly, in order to safeguard their interests. This would raise the risk of regional proxy war, and produce more of the deleterious consequences that so often emerge when other countries meddle in Afghanistan. India would provide backing to anti-Taliban actors. China and Russia, which have less of a footprint in Afghanistan, May quietly provide assistance to other friendly actors. Seems highly likely that Afghanistan will be rapidly dragged into a civil war, and in this context, that different ethnic structures (such as the Hazaras, Pashtuns, Tajiks, Uzbeks) are arming up under various political entities and through their own means

Undoubtedly, the Taliban will use all of its power to push the US to withdraw from the country and will want to come to the negotiating table after the fact to apply pressure. However, it can be predicted that the Taliban now has two different factions, “traditionalist” and “innovative,” within itself as well. Traditionalists still argue that the status of the Taliban which fights for the “emirate” idea, should be preserved moving forward. The mindset more open to innovation and change, on the other hand, is aware that Afghanistan today is not the same as Afghanistan from 9/11. For this reason, they have been voicing demands such as an “emirate” recently, and on the contrary, they believe that they should be more tolerant.

Intra-Afghan political cohesion concerning to the Afghanistan peace process is one of the key impediments that hamper the prospects of peaceful political stalemate at the state level. The drive for perpetual peace in Afghanistan has brought Kabul’s political leadership at odds and subverted the US.-backed government, which has deemed the chances of inclusive consensus-building among the key stakeholders. As matter of fact, all the entities have separate proposed plans that are aligned to their personal choices and interests, rather than for the state. Taliban’s at Centre stage, Warlords as Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Abdur Rashid Dostum, and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has his own multiphase plan. The apparitions are riotously dissimilar in magnitude and depth. Nevertheless, there is one converging aspect of the establishment of a transitional government in Kabul, with many of Ghani’s political adversaries aiming to gain more power for themselves amid such strategies. With exception of the Taliban, the central government in Kabul however seems confident to overcome the widening divisions and vows to foster uniformity among intra-state key stakeholders.

The Taliban’s desire, as well as its definition of peace, is the handing over of the entirety of the Afghan government to the Taliban. And in case the Taliban takes over the government, various practices would be put into effect and the emergence of new migration waves that would likely consist of a minimum of 2 million refugees. Ghani, who follows much more moderate policies against the West and NATO compared to Karzai, and willing to let the United Nations take control and hold an election in 3-6 months; we will not interfere with the voters.” Dr. Abdullah, on the other hand, defends the idea of ​​a provisional government and an interim prime minister. Thus, he supports the view that the 2-2.5 years should be taken, the constitution should be reviewed again, a neutral election commission should be reestablished, preparations should be made, and a government without elections should be formed. Taliban, however, opposes both ideas; it does not accept the holding of democratic elections or the establishment of a provisional government in any way, shape, or form, and it wants to take over the cabinet. If the Taliban came to the negotiation table, it would lose; it’s currently only winning through uprisings and rebellions.

In conclusion, the Moscow, Doha, and (the potential) Istanbul talks being unsuccessful would result in the Taliban gaining political supremacy as well as territorial control in the country, which would deepen the country’s already fragile structure and lead to a civil war. Likewise, the failure of these talks in question may lead to new actors establishing their presence in the region, which will even bring different actors into the country. When all of these possibilities are considered, the most crucial thing that Turkey needs to do right now is to apply a considerable amount of pressure on the Taliban, along with the US and the international community, to bring it to the negotiation table in Istanbul.

If Turkey anticipates that these negotiations are not going to succeed, it would be a failure on not only Turkey’s but also its allies and Afghanistan’s part. For this reason, Turkey must substantiate these claims and, openly and clearly, either go the whole hog or none. For this process to succeed, it’s essential that Turkey meets with all groups, including the Taliban, and makes preliminary preparations.. Therefore, it’s indispensable for both Turkey to pressure, through Pakistan, and persuade the Taliban to attend the Istanbul talks and the US to give a clear and open message to the Taliban that “If you want us out of Afghanistan, then you will come to Istanbul.”After all, we should keep in mind that the Taliban will not be a party to the reconciliation unless there’s substantial international pressure on it and that if unity is not established in Afghanistan quickly, it’s highly likely that a civil war could break out in the country.

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About Mushahid Hussain Naqvi 22 Articles
The author is the Digital Editor at The Asian Telegraph and sub-Editor at Melange International Magazine and Research Associate at COPAIR with academic expertise in International Relations.