The ongoing peace process provided an opportunity for Afghan factions to unite and undo all the wrongs committed against them in the past 20 years. Unfortunately, the internal strife of Afghanis has again prevailed over this opportunity. Explicitly, compelled by the upcoming election promise, the US wishes to withdraw forces from Afghanistan. China and Pakistan are earnestly pushing the peace process. Pakistan appointed a special envoy Muhammad Sadiq Khan to facilitate the process. General Bajwa, Pakistan’s Army Chief visited Afghanistan and held talks with President Ashraf Ghani, the Foreign Minister of Pakistan held his first foreign visit to Afghanistan.
All this shows that peace in Afghanistan is in utmost interest of Pakistan. Recently, Pakistan has also opened transit trade facility for Afghan exports to India through the Wagah border. This initiative of resuming transit trade facility via Wagah might help strife-ridden Afghanistan to immediately boost its exports to India and support its economy.
The question arises who doesn’t want peace? According to Taliban official in Doha, Khairullah Khairkhaw, the Kabul administration doesn’t want the foreign troops to withdraw. As all the benefits they avail now shall be curtailed if the foreign forces will withdraw. Abdullah Abdullah recently reiterated his commitment to peace, but also asserted that violence must stop. On the other hand, Taliban on their website allege, that afghan intelligence is behind all the violence, even the attack on the hospital was carried by the Kabul administration to convince the foreign forces that Afghanistan will further plunge into chaos, if they’ll leave.
By closely examining, one can understand that if Taliban conducted attacks against civilians, they could have lost the support of local population. As in guerrilla warfare, support of the local population is of utmost importance. Ironically, the local population scarcely show any affiliation with the Afghan government. It can be further testified from a very slim turnout in afghan elections of 2019. The Afghan leaders, both Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani seem absorbed in their self-interest. By working together for four years in a government they could not build trust and again entered into a tug of war after the 2019 elections.
India is also closely watching the developments in Afghanistan. It has recently appointed Rudrendra Tandon as a new envoy to Afghanistan. He is considered as a specialist of Afghanistan. It would not be in interest of India, if Taliban take control of Afghanistan. On the other hand, Russia doesn’t want the US presence in Afghanistan. It is alleged that Russia had been paying bounties to Taliban to kill Americans. However, Taliban have denied the claims and attributed it as a mischievous plan of Afghan intelligence, to malign them.
A recent report by UN Sanctions Monitor has caused damage to Taliban who largely tout about severing ties with Al Qaeda. The report says that Taliban still have linkages with Al Qaeda. This report can have serious repercussions on the intra Afghan dialogue as well. In the backdrop of the report, US central command top general, Gen Kenneth F Mckenzie cautioned against the complete withdrawal of the US troops from Afghanistan until Taliban clearly demonstrate that they have no links with Al Qaeda. Interestingly, on the website controlled by Taliban, Taliban have mentioned various mistakes in the report, and termed it fictitious based on information provided by Afghan intelligence.
Amazingly, what Taliban have pointed out is true. The report says that Mawlawi Nooruddin was killed in American night raid and later mentioned his name as a current shadow governor for Samanjan. There are couple of other mistakes on similar pattern. In the peace deal, there was a provision that the UN security council must remove sanctions on Taliban by May 24th, 2020 and US sanctions by August 2020. This report shall certainly curtail this probable development. Is this report another spoiler?
With all this discussion another important question comes to the mind, does the US really wishes to withdraw troops? Dr. Maleeha Lodhi is of the view that the troops will drawdown even if the intra Afghan rapprochement is not achieved. However, Michael E. O’ Hanlon, an expert on Afghanistan at Brookings says that the US should be committed on stabilizing Afghanistan. He proposed a slogan of 5000 troops for five years. Apparently, the public opinion of the US is also not in favour of complete drawdown. According to a survey conducted by Shilbi Telhami, senior nonresident fellow at Brookings, American people do support maintaining US foot print in Afghanistan.
America has spent 3 trillion dollars in Afghanistan, it has built five bases, would it leave just like that. China might also benefit, if the US completely drawdown. China’s BRI project that includes almost 60 countries, cautiously excluded Afghanistan. However, in 2016 both counties signed a memorandum of understanding to enhance cooperation. Afghanistan is pivotal in connecting Chinese markets to the rest of Asia, Europe and East Africa. Afghanistan government with the help of China has launched projects such as the Sino-Afghan Special Railway Transportation. This will link Afghanistan to China, via Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, thereby prioritizing connectivity. Owing to the Belt and Road Initiative and CPEC, China does not want a protracted conflict near a key belt of its ambitious connectivity initiative.
But it appears, that the U.S wishes to have a ‘safe stay’ in Afghanistan. Till elections, it is trying to buy time. Once a new leader takes office, be it a republican or a democrat, the US shall perpetuate its presence in Afghanistan. Even now, it is preparing its nation towards fulfilling a ‘moral’ duty of the US to protect the freedom of people of Afghanistan.
It seems that Taliban are also buying time, they may not be conducting attacks against civilians but they are conducting attacks on the Afghan forces. In the recent interview of Khairullah Khairkhaw, a political representative of Taliban, the truce was to stop attacks on the US forces not the Afghan government forces. They know that they control seventy percent of Afghanistan. Once, the forces shall leave, the Taliban can easily take over.
Hence, all this discussion establishes that Afghan peace process is in doldrums. There can be two main scenarios afterwards. The US forces shall withdraw even if the intra Afghan dialogue fails to install a mutually agreed upon governmental setup. Or the US forces shall maintain presence. Both these scenarios entail serious implications for the region. Is the region ready for the fall out of the impending Afghan crisis?
Maryam Mastoor is a Research Analyst, Institute of Regional Studies, Islamabad