Evolving political situation in Afghanistan

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Dr Muhammad Khan

THE encouraging aspect of the US-Taliban Peace Agreement is that, US has started withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan as per agreed formula. According to Sonny Leggett, the American military spokesperson in Afghanistan, US military has begun its “conditions-based reduction of forces to 8,600 over 135 days.” Besides, President Ashraf Ghani has also agreed to release the 5000 Taliban prisoners. Earlier, President Ghani had denied release of Taliban prisoners which caused a deadlock and even Taliban attacked on Afghan military posts which was retaliated by US air strikes on Taliban. After a telephonic conversion between President Trump and Taliban Leader Mullah Baradar, the situation has improved a lot. Despite this optimism, there exists pessimism in the political set-up of the country. President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah had their oath-taking ceremonies on the same day, which is unique in nature but a clear threat to the political structure of the state. Both claimed their electoral victory, following the disputed election results of September 2019. As per the results, announced months after the conduct of elections, President Ghani secured 50.64% votes whereas Abdullah Abdullah secured 39.52%. The political rift between former coalition partners for the top position may lead towards a political chaos in Afghanistan.
Continuation of political turmoil will pave the way for a greater instability and even an armed conflict, since Abdullah Abdullah heads powerful ethnic warlords; the former Northern Alliance. In case the situation escalates, there would be two likely scenarios. In the first scenario, US may strike a deal between Ghani and Abdullah Abduallh like the previous arrangements (2014-2019) of a unitary government. US special representative, Zalmay Khalilzad, has already started working on this formula. In the second scenario, the growing political space may be filled by Taliban peacefully or otherwise. In either case, the US-Taliban agreement for the intra-Afghan dialogue for reconciliation may be threatened. Peaceful intra-Afghan talks for a consensus future political set-up can only take place if the existing political system continues working.
Within United States, there are mix views about the US-Taliban peace agreement and US troops withdrawal from Afghanistan. President Trump declared this war as mere wastage of ‘American blood and treasure’. The war veterans of US, who have been in Afghanistan since 2001 have two views. Some of the war veterans are assenting President Trump’s narrative that it was wastage of US finances and loss of precious lives, indeed, a great setback. They feel that the US took a lot of time in deciding its pull-out since such a massive military engagement was not needed even in 2001; “sense of numbness among veterans, deepening the sentiment that the war wasn’t worth fighting” in Afghanistan. The other group believes that it is US defeat at the hands of Taliban. “I wanted to get out, but I didn’t think we’d get out like that, handing the guys we fought for the last 18 years a victory.”
This group of war veterans feel a disgrace of US pulling out its troops after a deal with non-state actors. Both groups of the American war veterans in Afghanistan had their logics. Nevertheless, there has been huge sufferance of US on account of men and material. Further delay in the pull-out would have caused US more losses since the superpower was not winning this protracted war against Taliban. From dispassionate perspective, the farsighted Pakistani strategy about peace and stability in Afghanistan has finally worked well and endorsed by United States and Taliban. Prior to its invasion in Afghanistan in October 2001, Pakistan advised Bush Administration to negotiate with Taliban Government, rather attacking it. The Pentagon, however, had to implement its own strategic plans which essentially based on pursuing American strategic objectives while making use of Afghan geopolitics. Following the incident of 9/11, Pakistani military leadership clearly recommended US to avoid a war or invasion, since no foreign power had ever succeeded in Afghanistan. After two decades of futile military campaigning which involved human losses of over 3500 NATO and US combatants and financial losses of over $900 billion dollars, this superpower had to sit with a non-state actor to negotiate a peace deal for the exit of its remaining troops.
The military planners and premium intelligence agency of Pakistan deserve a lot of appreciation for the prudence they demonstrated over the Afghan situation and the way the military might of the superpower was tumbledown in Afghanistan. On its professional competence and foresight, the world grades Pakistani premium intelligence agency (ISI) as world’s Number One spying agency. Besides, the prolonged fighting of Taliban against a collation of 48 countries under US and the people of Afghanistan, who withstood the difficulties are to be saluted for their valour. Afghans must consolidate the gains, Taliban achieved for them. Let’s not allow any foreign player to destabilize Afghanistan any more. The thirty-five million Afghan masses need peace and stability. Time has arrived that Afghans must cash evolving situation in their favour.
— The writer is Professor of Politics and IR at International Islamic University, Islamabad.