Afghanistan’s journey through chaos | By Iqbal Khan

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Afghanistan’s journey through chaos


AFGHAN war started as a ‘Just War’, with unanimous global backing.However, soon it began to lose purpose and go haywire, degenerating into an unwanted war through ‘Wrong War’.

President Barrack Obama was stuck with an obsession to bring it to a close without having to acknowledge the US defeat; this end objective soon became a bipartisan craze.

President Donald Trump entered the White House with a firm grounding that keeping around 10,000 US troops in Afghanistan was a perennial necessity. He had promised to bring some of the ongoing US wars to a responsible end.

Soon after assuming the Presidency, he tested Mother of All Bombs on Afghan people (April 13, 2017)to demonstrate that ending Afghan war was a distant low priority for him.

Trump tried his hand on Syrian and Iraqi wars, for a closure, but failed. Approaching the twilight of his first term coming to a close, with little to report back to the people of the US with regard to ending the ongoing wars, Trump decided to end the Afghan war as soon as possible, may what come! Multidimensional pressure exerted on Pakistan to persuade the Taliban for a deal with the US.

The deal was signed on February 29, 2020. And, Phased runaway of US troops was to complete by the end of May 2020.

As President Joe Biden sent confusing signals casting an impression of abandoning the US-Taliban deal immediately after his inaugural, Pakistan remained calm, its calculus indicated that Biden did not have many options with regard to Trump-Taliban deal, and that he won’t go beyond a few cosmetic adjustments to steal a bit of credit from Trump for bringing this foolish war to a close.

Biden inherited military capability in Afghanistan comprising 2500 soldiers, which could not sustain pursuit of any worthwhile strategic or military operational objectives.

For ego satisfaction Biden changed the completion of the pull-out schedule from the end of May to 9/11, to coincide with the twentieth anniversary of the Twin Towers’ collapse.

Taliban reacted ferociously to Biden’s delay of withdrawal schedule. Taliban attacks on their Afghan adversaries were so forceful that Afghan territories started falling to Taliban like a house of cards raising concern whether the foreign troops could withdraw safely.

Commander US Forces in Afghanistan relinquished his command in panic. Indecent haste in vacation of Bagram Air Base during the darkness of night and without formal transfer of Command and Control to Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF) spoke volumes about fears of the known and the unknown.

Taliban continue to make rapid advances across length and breadth of the country.[So-called] President Ashraf Ghani remains foolishly over confident that his arch rival Dr Abdullah Abdullah, negotiating with Taliban in Doha would secure a new lease of life for his presidency.

He also thinks that the US will continue to support ANDSF, unconditionally and whole heartedly.

He said, “I spoke with President Biden over a phone call. We discussed the evolving but continuing relationship between the two countries.

President Biden reassured me that support for the ANDSF will continue. We have confidence that they will protect & defend Afghanistan”.

Ghani fails to note that the US President has linked all aid to Afghanistan to approval by Congress, which is quite weary on wasting another single penny in Afghanistan.

Other forums like Friends of Afghanistan are also feeling the donor fatigue, as their showering of money did not translate into any tangible benefits.

Reportedly, likes of Ghani and Karzai have already relocated most of their near and dear ones to the safe heavens offered by foreign occupiers.

Most of the Afghans who acted as informers of foreign forces have also fled to the respective countries of their benefactors.

Ghani, himself, is waiting for the last flight that could safely take off from Kabul to Washington.

General Mark Milley, the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, has acknowledged that the Taliban control about half of Afghanistan’s district centres, indicating a rapidly deteriorating security situation. Other sources place the area under Taliban control between 65-85 per cent.

Uncertainty has been mushrooming during recent weeks, largely stimulated by fighting in most of provinces as occupation troops complete their withdrawal and the Taliban launch major offensives, taking districts and border crossings.

Now they control most of the border crossings with their neighbours. “Strategic momentum appears to be sort of with the Taliban,” General Milley, recently told reporters.

He said more than 200 of the 419 district centres and their lines of communication were under Taliban control. He said that in June Taliban had controlled only 81 district centres.

Due to an understanding with the US, Taliban have not taken over any provincial capitals, however, they are putting pressure on the outskirts of most of them.

Afghan troop are in a state of exodus, they are surrendering to Taliban in droves— and that too without fighting.

Moreover, during a July 22 meeting to discuss the situation in Afghanistan and the developments in Afghanistan peace negotiations, envoys highlighted five elements of a final settlement: “(1) inclusive governance; (2) the right to elect political leaders; (3) protection for human rights, including rights of women, youths and minorities; (4) commitments on counter-terrorism, including to ensure that Afghanistan does not again serve as a safe haven for terrorists; and (5) adherence to international law, including international humanitarian law”.

These envoys are foolhardy enough to assume that they still have the leverage to dictate Taliban.

The Taliban spokesperson Dr Naeem responded: “Although the Islamic Emirate is now in a strong military position, its policy on peace has not changed. The Islamic Emirate prefers resolving the Afghan problem through dialogue.

We have no foreign agenda. We do not interfere in anyone’s internal affairs and we do not allow anyone else to interfere in our internal affairs”.

With regard to concern whether the 1990s-era regional proxy war could be replicated, Taliban have surprised many by taking over much of Northern Afghanistan— epicentre of erstwhile proxy war— in the past few weeks. They’ve also expanded their presence along other borders as well.

This has pre-emptively thwarted possibility of foreign actors providing sustained military support to any potential proxies there.

Pakistan is considered a key player in the peace process in Afghanistan given Islamabad’s historical influence over the Taliban.

A lot of praise is pouring in from all over appreciating its constructive role towards Afghan peace process.

Recently a US Embassy statement emphasised that”[Pakistan’s] tangible and material support” for the Afghan peace process is vital for its success.

Taliban are asking for a political deal. They are likely to be a leading partner in the forthcoming semi-inclusive political dispensation of Afghanistan.

All eyes are focused on US sponsored intra-Afghan dialogue, international community awaits with abated breath whether there would, at all, be a treaty or Korea model of ending war without a peace treaty would be replicated.

—The Islamabad-based writer is a retired army officer and a regular contributor to the national press.

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