The Afghan conundrum

Erfan Khan

The gradual drawdown of US forces from Afghanistan as directed by Biden’s administration and the recent Taliban forces’ advances capturing large swaths of different districts, fueled fears about the warn-torn country once again plummeting into deeper armed conflict, perturbing the regional countries.

Equal is on the horns of dilemma the US backed Afghan government leadership, that appeared to have faltered in establishing its writ in different parts of Afghanistan, and is now witnessing crumbling of law and order structure at the hands of fast advancing Taliban group.

A big question is posed on the fate of much trumpeted peace and reconciliation pact signed among the warring parties in Doha, Qatar, the US and other stakeholders in February last.

If the Afghan factions failed to stick to their commitment of abiding truce and peaceful transition of power through political means, what feared most is the reeling back of Afghanistan into turmoil as witnessed during 1992-96 civil war after the Soviet forces’ withdrawal.

The apparent reluctance and stalemate in the peace process on part of Afghan parties due to past distrust are the factors, resulting in growing mayhem with each passing day.

However, despite all these uneasy nights for President Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of chairman of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation, Biden’s administration is adamant with its plans of total pullout.

Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby, referring to US pullout, told a presser recently that these things were constant and would not change.

While the remaining 7,000 allied troops would also withdraw by 9/11 deadline.

According to US Defense Department, the longest US drawn war since 2001, spanning over two decades had left a total of 2,442 U.S. troops dead and 20,666 wounded.

The Afghan conflict also took lives of 1,144 personnel from the 40-nation NATO coalition.

In this unwinnable war, the US pumped a colossal $2.26 trillion to meet different expenses of war machinery, logistic support and other infrastructure projects.

So, what prompted the US to leave Afghanistan amid transitional period marred by political and military gains as feared by different world capitals. Though the Pentagon realizes that it has achieved its military targets, but the durable peace in the country ravaged by ethnic and religious strifes, is still a distant dream.

As the region, recently witnessed a growing specter of geo-economics and regional collaboration, mainly driven by Russia and China, may be a growing concern for the US after fast losing its influence in the post-cold war scenario and the policy shift of key partner Pakistan under prime minister Imran Khan, who himself has been an avid advocate for peaceful settlement of Afghan issue through Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process.

The recent ‘absolutely not’ rebuke to hosting US bases inside Pakistan, is more than enough to show a marked tilt in government’s policy towards the other key regional players.

With presence of its proxy India to check growing influence of China and Pakistan, the US administration, considers leaving its feet on the ground, which already costed it hugely in financial and human terms.

Leaving Afghanistan as a cauldron of uncertainty would serve its purposes more than its physical presence in the region. The infighting and tug of war among the Afghan groups will definitely scuttle the prospects of Afghanistan as major conduit of transporting natural gas resources from energy rich Central Asian Republics and Russia including $10 billion TAPI project, to energy starved country like Pakistan, besides hampering China’s $8 trillion ambitious Belt and Road initiative.

Will not it be a major setback to regional connectivity and cooperation! Certainly, as it has made Russia, China, Pakistan and CARs scampering to goad Afghan parties to sort out their differences through political means.

As reports pour in, half of 407 Afghan districts in 34 provinces were claimed or threatened by the Taliban faction.

A recent study report by Long War Journal on Afghanistan situation puts Taliban’s control over 124 districts, while mounting attacks on other 186.

Again, the worst sufferers would be the innocent war weary Afghan people and the lurking nightmare of internal displacement of local population as witnessed in the past bloody episodes among Mujahideen factions and later under Taliban regime of 1996.

In these forty years of external and internal fighting hundreds of thousands of Afghan civilians, mostly children and women were killed, while innumerable others left paralyzed for life and forced to leave as refugees in Pakistan and Iran.

The Soviet invasion, according to an estimate, forced 6 million Afghans to flee the country.

Still, Afghans remained the largest and protracted single refugee group in the world for the past 20 years. About more than two million, are still residing mainly in Pakistan and Iran.

Whereas, about one million Afghans have been internally displaced by these unending conflicts since 1992.

The hope for peaceful and stable Afghanistan grew stronger with the Doha agreement, setting a roadmap for comprehensive and sustainable peace agreement that would guarantee to prevent the use of Afghan soil by any international terrorist groups or individuals against the security of US and other countries, besides, finding a political settlement resulting from intra-Afghan dialogue and negotiations between the Taliban and an inclusive negotiating team of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, by holding a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire.

The country with highest mortality rates, scant rudimentary health and education services, fragile security and 47 per cent poverty rate as reflected in World Bank report of 2020, cannot afford another turmoil which carries grave implications for the whole region.

It must be the shared responsibility of all regional countries and stakeholders to bring the warring factions on the negotiation table and let not the country once again dip into imbroglio.