How the Afghan Endgame can spiral out of control

Lt. Gen Tariq Khan, former Inspector General FC and Commander 14th Infantry Division in South Waziristan, looks at the complex challenges for all stakeholders in Afghanistan end game as Biden administration orders a review of Doha Peace Deal - and Indians want the US to stay back.

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People are waiting in anticipation to see how the Biden Administration reviews the US-Afghan Policy. Those with a bated breath and the highest expectations include the sitting Afghan Government and the Indians. It is their greatest hope as well as endeavour, that the United States prolongs its stay in Afghanistan and that there are no further peace talks; the status quo survives. What is seriously wrong with this expectation is that the United States did not plan on a withdrawal, from one of the many options they had the luxury to choose from, but suffered from a lack of alternative.

It some how has not sunk in yet: “The United States has lost the war in Afghanistan and is now attempting to withdraw in good order with a fabricated notion of some sort of military victory — and that the plan to withdraw from Afghanistan was not a product of a Trump Strategic Design but a pragmatic decision to disengage from an unwinnable war.

Biden or no Biden, these facts will remain unchanged. Yet, in the event the Biden Administration prolongs the war in Afghanistan, it would appear that they are willing to bear the cost as well as the causalities which had convinced the United States to pull out of Afghanistan in the first place. There is no material change in the overall situation in the war-ravaged country which may lead to a change of heart by the US planners, regardless of which administration they serve.

Read more: Biden administration to review Taliban violence levels in Afghan peace deal

Issues occupying Taliban’s agenda

The Taliban are not showing any enthusiasm in the negotiations primarily because militarily they dominate on the ground and are convinced that they are winning. They do not feel the need to extend any concessions, to what they perceive to be a losing entity.

Why should they? Their demands include the scuttling of the present Constitution – and that was what they were fighting for in any case.

For them to give up on this demand would render the last 20 years of combat useless and without purpose. There is no way that any flexibility will be shown on this account.

The second main issue is the official name of the country. They insist it must be the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and they are unlikely to give in.

The third issue is the conflict over the power sharing agreement. Although, some room for discussion exists here, but nothing substantial. The Taliban accept the notion that to be a major stake holder in the future of Afghanistan, some nominal ethnical or ideological representation in the government is necessary. However, it will be temporary and rudimentary; a cosmetic allowance for better optics.

Other matters such as emancipation of women, education and administration are minor issues which they would be willing to discuss albeit, would not agree to a totally western point of view.

The Taliban see the sitting government as treasonous and liable to trials with possible punitive action. They see them as aiding and abetting the illegal occupation of Afghanistan by an alien force and thus would like to see almost all the main characters in the sitting government tried for these crimes.

It appears the sitting government should focus on how to get clemency for what is perceived to be their treachery, a safe passage to some other country or total forgiveness – rather than assuming they are still relevant and a serious party to any negotiated settlement for the future of Afghanistan.

Pretences towards projecting the sitting Afghan Government as an entity possessing the administrative control of the state, would at best be delusional, leading to deceptive conclusions.

Read more: FM Qureshi wants Biden to remember US’ promise to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan

What to expect from a US withdrawal?

In the near future, the United States will continue to withdraw from Afghanistan, having lost the appetite to remain in the conflict zone for over nineteen years.

However, if they decide to stay – in violation of their agreement with the Taliban – they will become involved in a direct confrontation with the militants, leading to more violence and bloodshed.

After having exhausted from the battle – the US will likely opt for withdrawal once again after anywhere between six months to a year of fierce fighting – but this time, the withdrawal won’t be possible in an orderly manner.

The United States’ withdrawal, now or later, will lead to the collapse of the current Afghan Government. In the aftermath, an ethnic and ideological conflict will most certainly begin leading to a civil war. The Hazara and Shia communities may be supported by Iran just as Pakistan may have to support the Taliban.

As a preemptive measure, it is important for Pakistan and Iran to both come to an agreement to let Afghanistan settle its business within its own borders and that no outside elements should interfere.

Alternatively, through a mutual agreement, a Peace Keeping Force from Islamic Countries could be raised to carry the peace process in Afghanistan to its logical.

In any case, the next 6 months are critical for Afghanistan with a far-reaching impact in the region.

Presently, negotiations between the Taliban and other stakeholders are about to resume. It’s noteworthy that no other party has as much a leverage in the negotiation process as the Taliban.

It is why the talks are unlikely to move ahead if the Taliban’s point of view is not considered. An attempt to secure a permanent ceasefire will remain a wishful thought, until an agreement is not only concluded to the Taliban’s satisfaction, but also implemented on the ground.

This is essentially because military application strengthens the Taliban negotiation capacity and they would be foolish if they fail to utilize their advantage, and agree to some intangible promise or assurance.

It is surprising to see analysts come up with various solutions to what appears to be a very obvious outcome. In the near future, the US will leave by May 2021; the Taliban will overwhelm the sitting government; India will exit the country since their position will no longer be tenable; and there will be a new Afghan Constitution based on Sharia in place.

Read more: US decreases troop levels to 2,500 in Afghanistan and Iraq

Anarchy in Afghanistan: Impending challenges for Pakistan

It’s speculated that there will be a violent uprising against the Northern Alliance and the people sympathetic to the present Government leading to a near anarchy like situation. People associated with the incumbent government will either flee the country or stay back, later only to be tried and executed for treason.

The Afghan Army and the security apparatus will collapse and most of the manpower will either desert or join the Taliban ranks. Daesh and ISIS would absorb TTP in Afghanistan into their own ranks and then go on a loot and plunder spree with intent to secure spaces, generate revenue and remain relevant by being a nuisance.

This may allow them a bargaining position to get into main stream administration and politics in the future.

For Pakistan, the fluid situation would result in more cross border movement and crime. Violence may scale up in KP and Baluchistan. GB may be affected as well. This makes it necessary to take preemptive measures against communal and social disgruntlement.

The Pak-Afghan border must be put under surveillance, real time observation, biometric systems and data management. The no man’s land should be safeguarded by physical patrolling of the Frontier Corps and the Military.

Drones must supplement the patrolling efforts by ensuring visibility of spaces. Complaint Cells must be established at the district level to interact with the people. Road and communication Lines must be physically secured by Levies or Police. Village-defence must be organised and arranged.

Separately, as an influential player, Pakistan may aid Afghanistan in rebuilding the country; its infrastructure, communication and transport facilities must be revamped.

Mineral research centres, education and mining industry could be developed and improved through assistance packages and programmes. Training of the security forces and the police should be ensured, either through exchange programs in Pakistan.

The refugee camps in Pakistan should be shifted to Afghanistan under the UN auspices. Pakistan may assist in their management and administration.

Read more: Pakistan remains determined to bring peace in Afghanistan: FM Queshi

The second half of 2021 would be a challenge for Afghanistan but an opportunity as well. The region could benefit by the connectivity Afghanistan offers to the Central Asian Republics and the unlocking of huge natural resources such as oil and gas. Growth in industrial potential through energy and power development may further bring greater contiguity to the region. Amid testing times, how Pakistan manages its borders, ensures stability and safeguards CPEC is extremely important.

Lieutenant General Tariq Khan, HI(M) is a former Commander of 1st.Strike Corps based at Mangla and has been the Inspector General of the Frontier Corps. He has also commanded the 1st Armored Division in Multan and the 14th Infantry Division in South Waziristan. Khan gained fame when he led the Frontier Corps to victory against the Taliban in the Battle of Bajaur in 2009. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.

 

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