Need for speed: Safety or something else?

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Dr Farah Naz

The United States is set on the path to war in Afghanistan. President Joe Biden made August 31 the formal deadline for US troops to be out of Afghanistan, the withdrawal is for all intents and purposes complete, with the transfer of control of Bagram.

The commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, General Scott Miller, will soon be leaving the remaining forces in the charge of a two-star general.

Biden said his military commanders advised him that once he made the decision to end the war, they needed to move swiftly to conduct the main elements of the drawdown, and in this context, ‘speed is safety’.

He further mentioned that a different approach ‘would have certainly come with an increased risk of safety to our personnel,’ and noted that so far, no US military personnel have been lost in the process.

The question is why change in the withdrawal dates from formerly 11 September to 31 August.

The 20 years of war left behind serious concerns such as if the US came, saw and conquered or they came, destroyed and left? If the first concern is correct then why is the US panicking to withdraw at this fast pace and leaving Bagram airbase in darkness without even informing the Afghan commander of their exit? Or Do they not have the capability to repel the Taliban? Or why Biden says that Afghan must decide their own future while the US will leave after spending 20 years in conflict?

The US withdrawal is not condition-based. That’s why most of the states are requesting the US to depart in a responsible manner.

If not, the departure of US/NATO troops from Afghanistan will have policy ramification for the entire region including China and Iran which may destabilize the entire region perhaps that could be one of the objectives behind speedy withdrawal to leave behind a messy region.

From a pessimist perspective, how the Afghan situation develops will have an impact on US foreign policy for the region in the years to come.

The question is will the peace agreement signed in Doha by the US administration and the Taliban will be realized as envisaged? From the military perspective, stalemate is always considered a victory for the insurgents but post 9/11 arrangements failed against the Taliban.

This is also evident that the US is about to cut and run from the region based on an artificial arrangement or closure that indicates that the peace deal is not working well.

If we reflect on the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) it took place between the Taliban and the US. With recent developments this is obvious that the US is leaving without considering the success or failure of the agreement.

The Intra-Afghan dialogue is itself challenging in the current scenario. Without a responsible US attitude, this arrangement seems to be difficult.

Though, they realized that the peace process according to the CPA should be Afghan-led which means the Taliban should be involved. But here the issue is can Pakistan remain active in this environment? I am afraid to say that no.

The challenge for the US is that once it withdraws its forces the US will not be in a position to bargain with the Taliban. With the sudden departure, there will be no agreement on what the Taliban are about to react to.

Regarding the ability and capability of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) covers most of the ethnicity. Because of the ethnicity involved once under greater Taliban pressure, ANSF may disintegrate.

Ahmad Shah Masood’s son has already started accumulating guns to protect the northern alliances against the Taliban. These ethnicities may be abundant in the Afghan Army.

At the moment there is greater Taliban pressure post withdrawal. In any combat people will side with the power they suspect is winning to protect their life and property.

But, will congress be willing to provide $5 to $6 billion to the Afghan security forces post-withdrawal? This seems to be difficult. Despite the fact, there will be more combat operations to control the situation.

Taliban have both internal and external financial support in the form of the drug business, mining, taxation, attacks on government check-posts etc. Therefore, they seem to be a resilient enemy to deal with.

This is worth considering that the peace deal is sought by the US, not the Taliban. Even in a scenario if the peace deal is initiated by the Taliban they may not compromise on their sense of clear victory.

Post exit likely scenarios could be: a) overthrow of the current government; b) chaotic civil war in Afghanistan with Taliban as a dominant player with control of Kabul and some provinces; c) the Afghan military may disintegrate.

This scenario can be avoided by creating a conducive condition for the establishment of a broad-based Afghan government.

Otherwise, Afghanistan may replicate the violence that broke out in Iraq and Libya. If the Taliban get in power through peaceful or violent means their manner of governance may be less violent.

The US is preparing for counter-terrorism operations outside Afghanistan against the Taliban. In this regard, Pakistan is being requested with pressure to provide bases for drone strikes and military attacks.

Historical facts indicate that Pakistan provided bases, land and airspaces in the War on Terror phase. But the cost Pakistan paid was huge.

The total losses Pakistan had to face as a result of its partnership with the US during the War on Terror according to the official statistics are some close to 80,000 human loss and its economy suffered $130 billion in the war on terror.

No other country sacrificed so much in terms of man, material and finances than Pakistan. Therefore, the urge for a stable and peaceful Afghanistan is in the supreme interest of Pakistan.

Because this country has paid an enormous price for the war on terror. It is in this background that Pakistani government is making an all-out effort to bring peace to Afghanistan through a broad-based Afghan-led Afghan-owned government in Kabul.

In addition to the above loss, Pakistan suffered one of the worst Internally Displaced Persons’ (IDP) crises in 2009.

Along with the above issues, the writ of the government was challenged that led to a surge in crime. The education sector paid a heavy price.

The US maintained a transactional relationship with Pakistan on a need basis. In foreign relations, the US always uses hard power to get its job done and never believed in soft power.

Based on the above pain and suffering loss to human life and capital is it logical to think that Pakistan will repeat the same mistake as it did in 2001? Pakistan has learnt her lesson the hard way that never get partnered in others war and never interfere in neighbours’ affairs.

In this case, Pakistan would like to be a partner in peace in Afghanistan rather than a partner in war and violence.

Currently, Pakistan provided land and airspace facilities for the US peaceful withdrawal except for military operation use against the Taliban

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