• Saleem Qamar Butt

Afghanistan Post US’ Exit

A narrative is like a room on whose walls a number of false doors have been painted; while within the narrative, we have many apparent choices of exit, but when the author leads us to one particular door, we know it is the right one because it opens. John Updike

The sudden announcement on December 20, 2018 by President Trump of 50% phased withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan in next few months, essentially to the dismay of US Department of Defence, marked by resignation of Secretary Defense General James Mattis, which either underscores the saying “Every exit is an entry somewhere else” or it may simply mean for America “You enter strong and you exit strong, and you're going to be OK.” Although it may appear rather too early to write about “Afghanistan post US’ exit”, yet the intricacies involved and preparations needed to ward off potential devastating fallouts by the affected countries attach a sense of urgency to consider likely scenarios and reactions by each and every major and minor stake holder.

Some American analysts believe that in deciding to withdraw from Syria and Afghanistan, President Trump is taking a political risk that George W. Bush and Barack Obama avoided after 9/11: being perceived as weak on terrorism. While Trump’s sudden announcement to commence draw down may have more to do with his pre-election promises to pull out from external wars to save money to consolidate internally under America First rubric, yet it also give rise to many other speculations i.e. admission of defeat in Afghanistan, agreeing to Afghan Taliban’s demands, handing over Afghan mess to Pakistan, leaving the arena open to old strategic rival Russia and now China, short circuiting Indian design to encircle Pakistan and China though executing Greater India strategy by contesting China as new strategic partner of USA in the region, leaving the devastated war zone to regional players to settle on their own expenses and perils, continue to maintain significant influence by privatizing the war in Afghanistan through contractors provided by Feinberg the owner of DynCorp International military contractors and Erik D. Prince who founded the security firm Black water Worldwide, and putting in place different set of options to take care of Nuclear Pakistan, Iran’s nuclear aspirations and resurgent Russia are few to quote. However, Trump’s differences with his own handpicked senior administration are indicative of internal widening gulf that cast shadows on his presidency with even external ramifications.


The second main actor in the Afghan quagmire is the incumbent Afghan Government itself that is visibly upset on Trump’s withdrawal decision as also expressed by Afghan security bosses. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Sunday, December 23, 2018 replaced two of the country’s top security chiefs with staunch anti-Taliban and anti-Pakistan officials, in a major shake-up days after US President Donald Trump’s decision to slash troop numbers in the country. Amrullah Saleh and Assadullah Khaled, both former heads of the Afghan intelligence agency, have been appointed to the critical posts of interior minister and defence minister respectively…..thus reconciliation with warring Afghan Taliban becomes even trickier and may result in heightened militancy, that is bound to undermine Pakistan’s and Chinese reconciliatory efforts. Needless to mention, the already frail Afghan Government is seeing the writing on the wall and its survival with or without presidential elections in second quarter of 2019 looks bleak.

The third major stakeholder in the Afghan conundrum are Taliban, who after engagement by US in UAE in Mid December 2018, appear to have gained visible upper hand, with US seemingly wilting under pressure and agreeing on some of their demands. Taliban had always believed that they could wait out invaders, saying,” If American have the watches, we have the time”. With almost 50% Afghanistan already under Taliban control or strong influence and public at large disenchanted with so called Afghan Government and unattractive Western promises, the US military drawdown will obviously result in quick resurrection of Taliban who may not face much difficulty in defeating their new but relatively minor rival Islamic State and other foreign proxies operating from their soil predominantly by India. What will be agreeable formula for bringing back normalcy to Afghanistan among USA, Afghan Government and Taliban? What will be the give and take among main stakeholders? Will Taliban agree to form a coalition Government? What will incumbent Afghan Government do to survive and last longer? What will be the sinister game plans getting unfolded by Afghan aspirant power brokers and big mafias with internal and external support? How will Taliban or a coalition Government bring back order and better security situation? How will they survive economically? How will a potential civil war in Afghanistan be avoided with spillover to neighbouring countries? How will the positive or negative stakeholders in Afghan quagmire settle on their respective interest? These are only a few questions that need to be discussed and settled by Afghans, outgoing American and allies and all the neighbouring countries.


However, as stated earlier in an article, as long as the major and real stakeholders in this imbroglio i.e. America, Afghan Taliban, and Afghan Government do not agree to compromise on their well known stances, demands and aspirations, and main players in the new Great Game do not reconcile, all efforts by Pakistan will remain subject to a number of challenges. Moreover, regional proxies need to stop and all regional and extra regional stakeholders need to sit on a round table to play a positive role while safeguarding their respective noble interests. Above all, Afghan Warlords, drug barons, smuggling mafias, installed government and warring factions need to stop exploiting the world and their neighbours and be sincere to their own country and ever suffering population.


Pakistan will be well advised to remember that the regional peace in Central Asia and South Asia (CASA) will remain hostage to great power play in Afghanistan; besides, exploitation by emboldened Indian greed hidden in her Hindutva doctrine, which is being spread duly sugar coated through semi nude Indian movies, massive onslaught by Indian diasporas and crafty business deals all over the world including Afghanistan. Iran being another affected country because of both instability as well as presence of arch foe USA in Afghanistan, will not only be better served by enhancing strategic cooperation with Pakistan instead of allowing herself to be exploited by Indian business charm through Chabahar port and new road and railway ventures. Pakistan may have to continue to fight on many fronts though; yet, Pakistan and USA do not have the option to part ways both for regional as well as for global peace and stability. Both countries need to jump over trivial affairs and think beyond Counter terrorism or Afghanistan puzzle.


As of now, it is safe to guess that we may find US’ complete withdrawal well before next presidential elections in 2020; therefore, in the face of enormous challenges associated with troubled and war ravaged Afghanistan that directly threatens CASA region, it will be prudent that all regional and some extra regional countries including China, Russia, Afghan incumbent government, Taliban representatives, Pakistan, Iran and all Central Asian Republics with additional presence of KSA, Qatar, UAE and Turkey join heads to formulate a joint plan to ensure that another round of civil war does not happen and peace and normalcy returns to Afghanistan. Pakistan may like to host first summit to let the ball rolling followed by China and other countries. The Afghan owned, Afghan led and all inclusive slogan for peace in Afghanistan, now need to be updated and broadened to make it all inclusive regional solution for sustainability and durable peace in Afghanistan and the region. That may also help in avoiding invasion of smaller countries and consequent death and destructions of humans, culture, civilizations and economy of smaller countries under more fabricated and few real pretexts as witnessed in Afghanistan and other Middle Eastern Countries.


All’s well that ends well!


December 24, 2018


Saleem Qamar Butt, SI (M) is a retired senior Army officer with rich experience in Military & Intelligence Diplomacy and Strategic Analysis. (sqbutt61@gmail.com)