Editor’s Note: This article is added for keeping the readers of the DND Thought Center updated about regional as well as international developments.
By Agha Iqrar Haroon
“You think you are killing me. I think you are committing suicide”
This was said by Antonio Porchia, an Italian-Argentinian poet, and it looks that he wrote this line for the US-Afghan conflict and it also looks these words are not from Porchia rather from a Taliban leader or a soldier.
Just some days over a month are left to meet the May 1, 2021 deadline for withdrawal of the US from Afghanistan, the US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin had a surprise visit to Afghanistan on March 21 after having meetings with the Indian leadership in New Delhi. What he discussed about the Indian role in South Asia or in the Afghan peace process is yet to come out officially. The current deadline of May 1 was agreed between the Trump administration and the Taliban last year.
The US President Joe Biden in his ABC News interview this week stated that it would be “tough” for the US to meet the deadline of May 1 for the total withdrawal of US-allied forces from Afghanistan. However, he indicated that if the deadline is extended, it will not be by a “lot longer”——- Nobody knows how many extra months or years are “a lot longer” or less long for President Biden.
The Biden administration is in the process of reviewing its policy towards the fate of Afghanistan and the US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin held a meeting with the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and discussed the peace process and rising violence.
The Trump-Taliban deal shut out the government of President Ghani, whom the Taliban dismiss as American puppets or ‘the Kabul administration. If Biden goes for the same deal with the Taliban then there would be no role of President Ghani in the future politics of Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned in a letter written to Afghan President Ghani that it was likely the Taliban would make swift territorial gains if the US and NATO troops withdrew.
Since October 2001, the US has spent $4 billion a year to sustain Afghanistan’s forces without achieving any results and goals set by the Oval Office at the time of attacking one of the poorest nations on earth — Afghans.
On March 22, the Taliban delegation held a meeting in Moscow with the Russian peace negotiators and warned the US against defying the May 1 deadline.
It is pertinent to mention that the US has given the Taliban and the Afghan government an eight-page peace proposal, which both sides are reviewing. It calls for an interim “peace government” which would shepherd Afghanistan toward Constitutional reform and elections. Ghani has resisted an interim administration. He says elections alone are acceptable to bring a change of government.
It’s also pertinent to mention that the last Presidential Elections of Afghanistan were so controversial that nobody accepted the results that came out after months and President Ghani and his competitor Abdullah Abdullah tailored an arrangement to work together although both took oath as “Presidents of Afghanistan” same day but the US administration traded a deal between them and made one person the President and the other as the Chief of High Council for National Reconciliation.
The Taliban say a ceasefire would be part of peace negotiations and they have not attacked the US or NATO troops since signing the agreement in Doha, Qatar, and their only target is the Afghan National Army.
According to the Washington Post, the US defense secretary said during his visit to Afghanistan that the US wants “a responsible end to this conflict” and “a transition to something else”. What is this something else — is not clear.
There are 3,500 US troops present in Afghanistan. According to Pentagon statistics, more than 2,300 US troops have died in Afghanistan since the US invaded Afghanistan in October 2001.
Senator Durbin, from Illinois, called for the administration to end America’s longest war.
“I had no idea at that time that I was voting for the longest war in the history of the United States. It is time for it to come to an end. We ought to consider a debate under the Constitution for authorization of the use of military force, as it relates to Afghanistan.
“At this point, I see no end in sight for our presence there. I want to make sure there is a safe exit for our troops. We try to keep the environment as stable as possible [but] as far as engaging in Afghanistan war for another decade, I’m opposed.”
After meeting with President Ghani, the Secretary for Defence Austin said on Twitter he had come to “listen and learn”, on his first trip to the Country since his appointment by Biden.
“This visit has been very helpful for me, and it will inform my participation in the review we are undergoing here with [Biden],” he added.
Austin has said little on the record about the ongoing impasse. After a virtual meeting of NATO defense ministers, Austin told reporters: “Our presence in Afghanistan is conditions-based, and Taliban has to meet their commitments.”
Last month, the NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance “will only leave when the time is right” and when conditions have been met. This statement indicates that neither NATO nor the US is in hurry to leave Afghan soil.
“The main issue is that Taliban has to reduce violence, Taliban has to negotiate in good faith and [the] Taliban has to stop supporting international terrorist groups like al-Qaeda,” Stoltenberg said.
The forthcoming Ninth Ministerial Conference of the Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process – is scheduled to take place on March 30, 2021 in Dushanbe, the Capital of Tajikistan.
The Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process is a regional initiative of Afghanistan and the Republic of Turkey, which was launched on November 2, 2011 in Istanbul. The process aims to promote regional security, economic and political cooperation centered on Afghanistan through dialogue and confidence-building measures (CBMs).
Meanwhile, the United States proposed a peace plan for a power-sharing interim government in Afghanistan, and Afghan officials, the Taliban, and the US had suggested that Turkey host the negotiation. The conference will be held in April but the date is yet to be announced.
The US and NATO allies do not want abrupt withdrawal from Afghanistan and want to keep a certain number of forces in Afghanistan to overlook not only Afghanistan rather the entire region of Central Asia, Iran, and Pakistan.
The interim government is political death of President Ashraf Ghani; therefore, he is against any US-Taliban deal
Russia has become a full stakeholder in any kind of the Afghan Peace Initiative and the Taliban have strong footings in Russian, Iran, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Turkey, and Doha. Therefore, the Taliban are no more isolated diplomatically as they were 20 years ago and the US understands that it cannot stay in Afghanistan for next decade; therefore, it is working out with Taliban to keep a minimum level of US troops in Afghanistan for manning the region because the US-NATO wants a permanent presence in the region and permission for having airbase in Afghanistan and Taliban may be considering such approval.
“He who knows when he can fight and when he cannot be victorious”, said Sun Tzu, 5th century BC, the Chinese general military strategist
Now, this is time for the US allies to know and understand that can they fight for another unending period in the quest of staying in Afghanistan?
The views and opinions expressed in this article/Opinion/Comment are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the DND Thought Center and Dispatch News Desk (DND). Assumptions made within the analysis are not reflective of the position of the DND Thought Center and Dispatch News Desk News Agency.