The US Script Plays Out
Of the many articles and comments written on the Biden decision to leave Afghanistan to the Afghans by 11 September 2021, the common thread is despondency and gloom. The years of effort that went in for a US superior strategy of a truly global outreach has just met a roadblock in Afghanistan. The resonance is far-reaching and not restricted to the landmass of the Afghans. The US ‘will’ to continue against a shadow resistance has been seen and absorbed by regional and extra-regional countries. Whichever way one looks at the US involvement, the gap between understanding that country and geo-military strategy never meshed. “The prosecution of a war on changing strategy and mission creep has resulted in a wasteful and bloody war that has left all of the antagonists, weak and battered. A series of mistakes, friction caused by the inter-agency process, and applying a strategy Coined” in Iraq and applied to a different environment and incorrect assessments of the ground situation have contributed to the ignoble exit of what used to be the sole superpower. Ancient wars were hidden wars, news of which trickled down well past the event. Modern wars are real-time wars that impact immediately. Washington has finally determined that it’s best to leave when a window of opportunity exists, unlike Vietnam. Therefore, the Doha Talks had the sole objective of reaching a US-Taliban understanding of an exit plan. Khalilzad did that well. It is also evident that the US having war-gamed all end game scenarios concluded that they want no part of the intra-Afghan dialogue. Neither do they have the patience to wait for any agreement between Kabul and the Taliban.
Neighboring countries view the US withdrawal differently from their shores; however, none wants the return of chaos or an exclusive Taliban Government. The vacuum which thus is created is sadly again a recipe of such events taking place. Leaving Afghanistan will never be easy. It will be traumatic and psychologically devastating for the Afghans to be left again to warlords and religious warriors. Thoughts of the return of the 1992 Rabbani-Ahmed Shah Masoud era have started haunting the population. Pakistan, Iran, China, and Russia must be prepared.
In the wake of Biden’s announcement, Pakistan’s policy must focus both on a short-term and a long-term framework.
A sensible approach could be: –
- All countries mentioned earlier must arrive at a common approach to deal with the Afghan problem.
- Not be apologists for the Taliban and, along with China and Russia, encourage the Taliban to participate in the Turkey talks on the future governance.
- Never take responsibility for any Afghan groups.
- Must continue recognizing Kabul as the Government.
- Deny Taliban of the opening of any official office in Pakistan.
Pakistan must again re-emphasize Indian manipulation in Afghanistan and its continued effort to create unrest in our border regions with the US and EU. In addition, Indian outreach to the Afghans through Iran is a concern that needs to be addressed.
The ‘Do More Mantra’ will resurface again once Washington feels sufficiently secure after its assets have withdrawn. Pakistan needs to blunt this.
Overflow of violence into Pakistan is visualized as Baluchi dissidents, TTP, and the ISIK threaten our security. Pakistan is aware that as long as Indian money funds the NDS, this threat will persist.
The Taliban will face a change of strategy soon as the rallying cry of Jihad will not be relevant against their new enemies, their own people. Unlike 1996 where they were generally welcomed as saviors, this time, they are seen as any other power-hungry Afghan group. It is unlikely that with their stringent interpretation of Islam, any changes in their past governance methodology will happen. If any, it will be cosmetic. The Taliban opposition is far more organized and better equipped now than before. The Hazaras and the Northern Alliance have open channels and links with their sponsors, and they will not lack funds or shortage of war effort. Ashraf Ghani may or may not survive, and the Taliban have a greater fight ahead. Their opponents are equally prepared for resistance. Pakistan, therefore must keep clear of these internal power struggles and keep its channels open to all groups.
The US withdrawal signals an end to their war but the beginning of ours.