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  • Writer's pictureSaleem Qamar Butt

Let’s Make it a Graceful Exit

Updated: Sep 5, 2021

Incumbent Afghan President Ashraf Ghani met with U.S. President Joe Biden in Washington on 25th June 2021 in a bid to convince him and US Administration to reinforce the classic politico-military failure despite guzzling billions of dollars of American taxpayers for a long time without delivering positively on anything. Ashraf Ghani’s last ditch effort yet again based on faulty assumptions and request for continued more economic and military support with US Air Force and drones attacks on fast winning Afghan Taliban tantamount to adding more fuel to the raging fire. Nevertheless, according to confirmed and authentic reports, the Biden administration is mapping out a strategy for Afghanistan after the U.S. military completes its withdrawal that is centered around the boosting of economic support for the government, even as many Afghans are “increasingly skeptical” of the government’s competence. The reported assessment reveals as to how the Biden administration is contemplating U.S. engagement with Afghanistan after it winds down 20 years of war that cost American taxpayers some $2 trillion. It also provides a more sober, behind-the-scenes assessment of how the Biden administration views Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his ability to tackle corruption and manage the economy after the United States departs. However, many American officials inside the administration are privately voicing concern that the fragile government lacks the basic ability to govern, even as a surge in Taliban offensives threatens to topple the government or plunge the country deeper into civil war. Saner minds in the US State Department are of the opinion that “negotiated settlement” between the Afghan government and Taliban “is the only way to end 40 years of war and bring Afghans the peace they seek,” and the more conflict could hinder U.S. aid.

Nonetheless, hoping against hope, Biden’s post-withdrawal strategy is still focused on increasing the Afghan government’s transparency, providing more avenues for citizens to participate in democracy, tamping down on rampant corruption, and strengthening the rule of law, which had remained missing during the last 20 years. Due to Ashraf Ghani’s stubborn response, the Taliban have refused to move forward on peace talks with the Afghan government and taken over more than 80 districts since Biden’s withdrawal announcement, and more are falling as domino effect. The American experts on Afghanistan are showing surprise at the quick takeover of so many districts in the north in just the last couple of weeks despite much effort by the deep state to reinvigorate the old Taliban rivals there. It goes without saying that during his desperate visit, Ashraf Ghani got the home work to make renewed efforts to fend off further losses and reverse the Taliban’s gains by coordinating with other Afghan power brokers who have their own militias, such as the controversial warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum. However, Ashraf Ghani downplayed U.S. intelligence assessments that indicated the Taliban could topple the Afghan government in six months, but he appeared to acknowledge the possibility of a potential civil war. Strangely, Biden insisted the United States would remain a key partner for Afghanistan after the withdrawal of U.S. and coalition troops, which denies assessment by his state department, Pentagon and Langley; either it is just a diplomatic commitment or there is a well prepared covert plan in it, only time will tell in the very near future. So far, Biden has insisted that the money will keep flowing, pledging to back Ghani’s government with $266 million in humanitarian aid and $3.3 billion in weapons assistance. Reportedly, during other meetings at D.C., Ghani was motivated by the American hawks to push for American air support to stave off Taliban attacks on major cities, as well as keeping residual presence of Western contractors to help maintain the hatchling Afghan Air Force. To please them in turn, Ghani also made the case that Afghan was a “neutral” country, in what some analysts read as a messaging effort to try to stop Pakistan and other neighboring countries from maneuvering for control of parts of the country after the U.S. withdrawal.

According to David Sedney, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for Afghanistan and Pakistan in the Obama administration, “the ability for the Afghan leaders to work together instead of fighting among themselves doesn’t seem to have been moved in a positive direction by this visit. The unity of the Afghan government is much reduced and the reliance of the Afghan government on the United States has proven to be a huge error in judgment on their part. Right now I don’t see any sign that they’re going to improve”. On the contrary, the Taliban have warned their fighters in internal decrees not to attack American forces or harbour foreign militants under a withdrawal deal negotiated by the Trump administration, the group hasn’t shown any willingness to budge on peace negotiations due to Ghani’s obstinacy. As per the commander of NATO’s waning Resolute Support mission Gen. Austin Scott Miller, the security situation was “not good” and hinted that the country could be on a path to civil war if the trajectory continues. But some of Biden’s allies in Congress still see a way to engage with Afghanistan after the U.S. troop withdrawal. Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut who sits on the Foreign Relations Committee recently stated that a troop withdrawal doesn’t mean the end of U.S. engagement with Afghanistan—there are still areas where we can support the Afghan people without a permanent military presence there.

As analysed earlier in my column “Kabul Crumbling yet Again”, Pakistan has to brace up for a host of diplomatic, political, economic and military eventualities without any waste of time. The pitfalls of a civil war in Afghanistan are too obvious to be stated. The war of narratives already in motion to further malign Pakistan, attempts to bolster proxies within Afghanistan for infighting for to create geographic or ethnic division, heightened covert war inside Pakistan to exacerbate law and order situation in the urban centers, efforts to generate political mayhem by on the anvil corrupt political elite, flux of refugees, efforts to create cleavage among Pakistan, Turkey, Iran and other Muslim states, targeting BRI/CPEC projects, energising ETIM against China or even Taliban against China are some of the important aspect that need detailed preparations and timely firm response. China in coordination with Russia, Pakistan, Iran, Turkey and Central Asian Republics will have to take the lead role in handling the Afghan conundrum being the strategic competitor of the USA. Finally, my two cents advice to American friends, let’s make it a graceful exit by learning the right lessons instead of making it even a worst challenge. Or will it take another twenty years to realise the folly of abandoning and coercing Pakistan and initiating yet another futile Cold War?

5 th July 2021

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