So at long last, the US withdrawal plan from Afghanistan is public as the US has finally decided on the total exit of the U.S. and NATO forces from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021. White House separately told media that the withdrawal is not conditions-based nor does it include plans for any residual U.S. force in Afghanistan.
The plan also includes President Biden asking the regional countries, especially Pakistan, to do more to support Afghanistan. Now how will this announcement, along with the US withdrawal plan, impact the Afghan peace negotiations?
Indeed, US President Joe Biden’s announcement on troops’ withdrawal from Afghanistan was different with significant takeaways: he did not repeat cliches like conditions-based withdrawal; responsible withdrawal; staying to preserve social progress, and so on.
In other words, the President has chosen a middle path between the two extreme courses: stay and exit. It’s a convenient but pragmatic solution in the short term but has long-term challenges.
Now come the speeches by other officials of the administration to qualify and clarify by what the plan meant: on whether or not to leave some forces in Afghanistan.
The CIA Director Burns said, “America’s ability to collect intel on threats emanating from Afghanistan will diminish post-US withdrawal but the US will maintain a [suite of capabilities] in Afghanistan to contest a terrorist rebuilding effort”.
He was speaking at the Senate Panel implying that the US is considering leaving behind some anti-terror capability, probably drones, strike forces, CIA presence, etc.
High stakes for the Taliban
The Taliban have strongly reacted to the President’s plan to extend the withdrawal time frame. But their hardline posture is temporary as they can not completely veto the parallel track of talks.
The stake is very high for them, i.e. their 50 percent victory from the battlefield can only get legitimacy through table talks. So far they have not abrogated the US-Taliban agreement.
They have also not abandoned the Doha process and have not ruled out attending the Turkey Conference. Nor have they threatened to attack the US and NATO forces beyond the May 1 deadline.
Pakistan is central yes as the President underlined in his speech. The CIA Director Mr. Burns also acknowledged: Pakistan playing a “constructive role” in peace talks with the Taliban.
But Islamabad has a balancing act and that is not to push the Taliban to the extent of losing leverage when they are poised to winning on the battlefield and also getting credit for “defeating another superpower”.
But also, Pakistan has an incentive to press the Taliban to come to the table, get rid of the Ghani govt and stamp out other Indian proxy elements. So deftness, diplomacy, and some hard leverage will only help achieve these goals on Pakistan’s part.
The uncertainty ahead
No one wants a repeat of 1990, not even the Taliban who just want legitimacy, funds, and sustaining governance in their area, unlike in the past.
So, the stark warning by President Biden, in messaging: “We are going anyway whether you are ready or not, conditions met or not” has had an unforeseen impact. What is clear is that President Biden’s plan has plunged the region into uncertainty.
The US withdrawal is an opportunity for Afghan elites to show unity and lead their country out of this crisis. The question now is whether they can stand up for their national interests and rise above petty personal and factional interests? Sadly, history offers little optimism.
— Abubakar Siddique (@sid_abu) April 15, 2021
Regional players are perplexed, particularly Pakistan, which has been singularly mentioned to shoulder the responsibility of post-US Afghanistan. Afghan stakeholders are fearing the repeat of the 1990s, (e.g. civil war and abandonment by the international community). We are all in for a rough ride.
Read more: Afghanistan: 40 years of conflict
The writer is a geopolitical analyst, a politician from Balochistan, and an ex-adviser to the Balochistan Government on media and strategic communication. He remained associated with BBC World Service. He is also Chairman of the Centre for Geo-Politics & Balochistan. The views expressed in the article are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.