Momentous developments on the Afghan front | By Akbar Jan Marwat


Momentous developments on the Afghan front

THE US troops pull out from Afghanistan is continuing a pace, and increasingly more territory is falling into the hands of the Afghan Taliban, without any resistance from the Afghan security forces.

The situation in Afghanistan, can, in the very least, be called grim. To shore up the confidence of the Afghan leaders, a meeting between Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, and Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, the Chief of the Afghan Peace Commission with President Biden of American took place in Washington the other day.

President Biden in an apparent move to assuage the fear of the two Afghan leaders called them: “Two old friends”.

He further said “US support for Afghanistan was not ending but would be sustained despite the US pullout”.

A few hours before the talks, Biden tweeted that he looked forward to the talks and that “as the US military drawdown continues, we affirm our enduring support for the Afghan people”.

President Biden has asked Congress to approve $3.3 Billion security assistance for Afghanistan next year.

America also plans to send three million doses of Covid vaccine to Afghanistan to help it fight the pandemic.

Officials in Washington, however, made it clear that President Biden will not stop the withdrawal of American forces, which are likely to be completed by the beginning of August.

These officials also averred that US military support to Kabul may be confined to advice, intelligence and aircraft maintenance only.

The Afghan delegation also met with the US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin and other top civil and defence officials.

After the meeting President Ghani asserted that the, “narrative of abandonment is just false” and that his forces have made “significant progress” in spite of the challenges.

The Afghan delegation also met the Speaker of the US House of Representative Nancy Pelosy, who wanted to know from the Afghan delegation, as to what more could be done for Afghans, especially women and girls of Afghanistan.

Many US lawmakers have expressed deep concerns regarding the fate of women, if the Taliban returned to power.

Similarly, many law makers questioned the decision of President Biden for ordering a swift withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan.

Before the start of the formal talks of the Afghan delegation with the American officials, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in Paris, ‘’Washington was assessing whether the Taliban were serious about ending the conflict in Afghanistan.”

Blinkin also acknowledged that the Taliban attacks had increased before the impending talks of Afghan leaders with President Biden and other US officials.

The peace process in Afghanistan has, essentially stalled as the Afghan security officials are battling the Taliban spring offensive that is threatening many Afghan provinces.

Efforts are being made to unite various ethnic militias to support the Afghan government forces to confront the Taliban onslaught.

The US intelligence agencies, are not, however, sanguine about the capability of the Afghan security forces to hold back the Taliban offensive.

Initially the US Intelligence bodies were giving up to two years to the Afghan forces, to be able to hold their own against the Afghan Taliban.

But some new intelligence reports surmise that the Afghan defence forces may not last more than six months against the Taliban attack.

It is in this context, the US is applying pressure on Pakistan to not only persuade the Afghan Taliban to agree to a ceasefire, but to also start holding talks with the Afghan government. In this context, the US has allegedly also asked for bases on the ground from Pakistan.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan while talking to senior journalists from the New York Times, said that the US decision to announce a date for the withdrawal of its troops, actually diminished Pakistani leverage over the Afghan Taliban.

According to PM Khan, once the Americans announced the date for its troops withdrawal, the Taliban basically claimed victory.

Mr Khan said: “They are thinking that they have won the war and so therefore, our ability to influence them diminishes the stronger they feel.”

The PM further said that it was Pakistan, which persuaded the Taliban to join the peace process and also conduct talks with the Afghan government, a move which was initially very strongly resisted by the Taliban.

On the question of American request for bases in Pakistan, the PM has supposedly declined that request, as made clear by the PM in an earlier interview with another foreign media house.

Some neutral observers feel that the Pakistani PM could have been more diplomatic in declining US’s request.

The Pakistani Premier could have easily told the US that since Pakistan is a democracy, therefore the American request has to be taken to Parliament which is supreme.

A balanced response could then be given by Parliament after determining the will of the people through its representatives.

America seems to be peeved with Pakistan for, allegedly refusing to honour its request for bases, if such a request was ever made.

In any case according to experts, agreements between the Pakistani State and the American and allied forces in Afghanistan are present, according to which Pakistan is obliged to provide air and ground corridors to the US and allied forces.

The Pakistani PM made it clear, that short of providing military forces and bases, Pakistan is willing to go all out for the success of the Afghan peace process.

The PM clearly said that Pakistan does not want a military takeover of Afghanistan by the Afghan Taliban.

As such a scenario will only prolong the civil strife in the region besides strengthening the religious militant organizations like TTP, Islamic State and Al-Qaida, which were subdued by Pakistani forces with a great cost.

Pakistan would also bear the brunt of hundreds of thousands of more refugees in case of a continued civil war.

The US seems to be looking for escape goats for its travails, but in reality, it has no body to blame but itself, for how it has conducted its twenty-year war in Afghanistan, and how it is about to leave abruptly without achieving sustainable peace.

The sad fact is that, barring a miracle, there has never been a peaceful transfer of power in Afghanistan in its recent history.

—The writer, based in Islamabad, is a former Health Minister of KP.

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