The Afghanistan conundrum | By Frank F Islam, USA


The Afghanistan conundrum

THE last remaining the US soldiers stationed at the Bagram Air Base, once the symbol of US presence in Afghanistan, returned home on Friday 02 July, just in time to spend the Fourth of July weekend with their families.

The transfer of the airfield — just 40 miles to the north of Kabul — to Afghan forces marks the virtual end of the longest war in American history.

After this drawdown, approximately 650 US soldiers are expected to remain in Afghanistan with the limited mission of protecting the US Embassy and Kabul’s international airport.

In order to allay the fears that the United States was abandoning Afghanistan and to reassure the Afghans that the United State would continue to back them even after the pullout, President Biden hosted an Oval Office meeting, on June 25, with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation.

Referring to Ghani and Abdullah as “two old friends” whom he “met many, many times in Afghanistan for long hours,” Biden promised to extend “sustained” military, economic and political support to their country. [“Our] troops may be leaving, but support for Afghanistan is not ending,” the President said.

While Biden’s words may have been reassuring for the two beleaguered Afghan leaders, the sombre tone that surrounded the summit was hard to miss.

Most people knew that it could well be the last time a US President would be hosting a pro-American Afghan President at the White House in a long while — possibly forever. This is the case because the nation of Afghanistan exists in a precarious position today.

The Taliban already in Afghan assisted by those streaming in from Pakistan have gained broad swathes of territories with little resistance from Afghan government troops.

On the weekend after President Biden’s announcement, Taliban swept through a series of districts in northern Afghanistan and more than 1,000 Afghan government troops fled across the border.

On ABC’s This Week on Sunday, 04 July, Gen. Austin Scott Miller, the man overseeing the troops pullout stated, “You look at the security situation, it’s not good,” “The Afghans recognize it’s not good.

The Taliban are on the move.” Some intelligence reports now predict a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan within six months to two years of US departure.

The consequences of this could be disastrous for the people of Afghanistan and peace in the region. Under Taliban rule, many of the gains made during the past two decades, especially in the areas of literacy and women’s empowerment, might be wiped away.

In addition, it is questionable whether Taliban would deliver on the counterterrorism guarantees it has made.

Given this dire situation, the question becomes why is this turnaround on Afghanistan occurring. There are myriad reasons.

The primary ones include: The mindset of the US on Afghanistan, the positions of the players in the region, and the nature of Afghanistan itself.

Nations in the region and those invested or interested in Afghanistan have seen the writing on the wall regarding Afghanistan’s future.

Through the years, many of the neighbouring countries have been preparing for the American departure.

It is reported that similar to India, Russia, Iran, China and others have held secret negotiations with the Taliban.
Finally, there is Afghanistan itself.

The country has been in an almost endless state of conflict and civil wars since 1978. The US presence in this latest war brought a modicum of stability beginning in 2001 but at a heavy cost.

Over the past two decades, more than 66,000 Afghan soldiers and a hundred thousand civilians have died, and over 2.7 million have been rendered homeless. In conclusion, Afghanistan is a conundrum. There is no simple answer to what lies ahead.

It appears likely, however, that in the near term the Taliban will gain control of much of the country except for Kabul which is well fortified and protected by the US and selected international involvement.

That said, the US Embassy in Kabul already has an “emergency action plan” in place and arrangements are being made for the evacuation of thousands of Afghan interpreters who assisted the US during this war.

The Taliban have been emboldened by the American withdrawal and the prospects for a negotiated peace for Afghanistan have grown exceedingly dim. In spite of this, it should be remembered that hope dies last.

Peace talks must be pursued. Peace must be given a chance. It is the last best hope for Afghanistan and its people.

—The writer is an Entrepreneur, Civic Leader, and Thought Leader based in Washington DC.

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