Is the US pushing Afghanistan back to war ?

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Iqbal Khan

THE Administration of US President Joe Biden is reviewing its plans for Afghanistan, including whether to stick to the May 1 deadline in the troop withdrawal agreement former President Trump’s Administration signed with the Taliban in February 2020.

A member of Taliban Special Forces told Reuters that the Taliban were preparing to act when there was an announcement about foreign troops.

“If they don’t leave Afghanistan on the preset date, the USA, NATO and the world will face a dangerous war, a war that never happened in the past 20 years,” he said.

Taliban sources said that most of their commanders had in recent weeks cut short annual training sessions after being called back to the battlefield to prepare for intensive fighting.

“In the past two weeks the topics Taliban preachers preach, especially on Friday prayers… have changed,” said a tribal elder from Kunduz.

“They preach about… fighting against invasion, and they openly invite people to join them. It’s a clear message that they are preparing for another fight this spring.”

Experts and diplomats see a vanishing window of opportunity for talks to survive, although sides say they are committed to negotiating. “Talks seem already very close to falling apart,” said Ashley Jackson, Co-Director of the Centre for the Study of Armed Groups at the Overseas Development Institute.

“The trouble is that (Washington) seems to grossly underestimate just how bad things could get and how quickly that could happen.

” As the new administration appears predisposed toward keeping the troops in Afghanistan beyond May 01 deadline, the entire Western media is failing on each other to argue in favour of prolongation occupation forces’ stay in Afghanistan.

One ironic title is “The moral case for remaining in Afghanistan”, by Ronald Neumann US Ambassador in Afghanistan from 2005-2007.

“The purpose of the US-Taliban agreement was not simply to remove our troops, for which no agreement is needed. It was to start serious negotiations among the Afghan parties.

So far, the Taliban have avoided any substantive negotiations. They have added new demands, maintained their ties with Al-Qaeda, and stepped up the pace of assassinations of intellectuals”.

“Under these conditions — or rather, the lack of conditions that were to have come into being — we have no obligation under the agreement to continue our withdrawal. It should be paused until negotiations are serious and peace is in reach”.

Unusually intense fighting in the winter by Taliban insurgents has spurred Afghan government preparations for more violence in the warmer spring, which international players fear could further endanger the nation’s fragile peace process. Typically fighting lulls during the snowy winter months before the Taliban launch a “spring offensive” around March.

The Afghan government has instructed security forces to carry out a comprehensive troop restructuring and design operations to prepare for a “tough and hard” spring offensive, two government sources told Reuters. An Afghan National Security Council spokesman said they were “ready for any kind of war”, though they remained in “active defence” mode.

General Scott Miller, the head of US forces and the NATO-led non-combat Resolute Support Mission told Reuters: “Taliban violence is much higher than historical norms,” Miller told Reuters. “It just doesn’t create the conditions to move forward in what is hopefully a historic turning point for Afghanistan.”

Miller said that the fighting now was an indicator that not only would there be a spring offensive – a move many diplomats view as against the spirit of the Doha Agreement – but that it could be more intense than before.

“If the violence isn’t reduced, it’s going to make a peace process very, very difficult; it would be very difficult for any side to make the necessary compromises,” Miller said.

Prime Minister Imran Khan has reiterated his conviction that there is no military solution to the conflict in Afghanistan and a negotiated political settlement is the only way forward.

“After Afghanistan, Pakistan was the most desirous of restoration of peace in that country as it is deeply affected by the conflict,” the Premier said during a meeting with Ahmad Wali Massoud, Head of Massoud Foundation, Afghanistan, who called on him in Islamabad on February 18.

In the context of the Afghan peace process, he highlighted that Pakistan had extended full support to facilitate the US-Taliban Peace Agreement and the initiation of intra-Afghan negotiations.

Premier Imran stressed that the negotiations provided a historic opportunity, which must be seized by the Afghan leadership to achieve an inclusive, broad-based and comprehensive political settlement.

He added that Pakistan had been emphasising all sides to work together constructively, take steps for reduction of violence leading to ceasefire, and secure a political solution for a peaceful, stable and prosperous Afghanistan.

Taliban have in an ‘open letter’ urged the US to honour Doha Agreement. According to Aljazeera, the letter, signed by the Taliban Deputy Leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, warned that the group would not allow anyone to interfere in Afghanistan’s affairs.

The Taliban called on the US to fully implement the Doha Accord, including the withdrawal of all international troops and personnel, saying it had committed to its side of the deal.

“Now that a year has passed since the signing of the Doha Agreement, we urge the American side to remain committed to the full implementation of this accord,” read the statement.

Letter was released to press and published on February 16, a day before a meeting between NATO Defence Ministers to discuss troops’ presence in Afghanistan. NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg said “NATO will leave Afghanistan when ‘time is right’”.

France Media Agency reported form Kabul, “The Biden Administration is facing very, very serious dilemma,” the senior US State Department official told AFP that if the United States withdraws and that “the peace process fails, it will be a return to generalized violence”.

Taliban deny any responsibility for the targeted attacks and the Islamic State organization has claimed most of them. Washington, however, has no doubts as to who really takes responsibility.

“From our point of view, the Taliban are responsible for the vast majority of targeted assassinations”, continued this source, who believes that they have created an “ecosystem of violence”, a State Department official said.

Though violent conflict has become more violent, there may be other reasons for that which no one is interested to mention. All and sundry are rallying behind the US for walking away from the agreement.
—The Islamabad-based writer is a retired army officer and a regular contributor to the national press.