By Sajjad Shaukat for VT
In the agreement signed between the US and Taliban on February 29, this year, in Doha-the capital of Qatar, it is committed that within the first 135 days of the deal, the US will reduce its forces in Afghanistan to 8,600 from the current 13,000, working with its other NATO allies to proportionally reduce the number of coalition forces over that period. Under the agreement, if the Taliban adhere to their security guarantees and ceasefire, the Pentagon was to bring troop levels down from about 12,000 to 8,600 by mid-July, before withdrawing all forces by May 2021. Other NATO countries will also leave Afghanistan. As desired by the US-led NATO states, the Taliban agreed not to allow Al-Qaeda or any other extremist group to operate in the areas they control and Afghan soil will not be used to conduct attacks in Afghanistan and on Western forces.
According to the AFP, “The US military withdrawal from Afghanistan is considerably ahead of schedule; an official told…a senior US defence official said the troop number was already at approximately 8,500, as commanders accelerate the withdrawal over fears of the coronavirus”.
The New York Times also wrote on May 29, 2020: “Senior military officials are set to brief President Trump on options for pulling all American troops out of Afghanistan, with one possible timeline for withdrawing forces before the presidential election…The proposal for a complete withdrawal by November reflects an understanding among military commanders that such a timeline may be Mr. Trump’s preferred option because it may help bolster his campaign”.
In this regard, the prisoners’ exchange is part of the US-Taliban agreement as a confidence-building measure ahead of formal peace talks. Kabul freed around 2,700 the total number of prisoners, while Taliban have so far released 420 government prisoners.
In the recent past, the Taliban announced a May 24-26 cease-fire to coincide with the Eid al-Fitr Islamic holiday. The developments have raised prospects of an extended cessation of hostilities and the long-delayed launch of direct talks between the government and the Taliban over a permanent cease-fire and a future power-sharing agreement.
Since the truce ended, the militants have observed an unofficial reduction of violence, despite staging several deadly attacks on government forces in response to the Afghan forces’ strike on the Taliban. But, they did not target NATO forces, as the Taliban leaders have repeatedly made it clear.
These developments have also been appreciated by US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad who had played a key role in the US-Taliban deal.
Meanwhile, American forces conducted two airstrikes on Taliban fighters on June 5, this year to foil the militant group’s plan to launch attacks on Afghan security forces. Such a move could hurt the peace process, providing the Afghan government a pretext to further the peace talks with the Taliban leaders. On the same day, the deputy leader of the Taliban SirajuddinHaqqani said that despite the group’s belief in the peace negotiation talks as one of the core components of the solution to the conflict in Afghanistan, the Taliban will still continue the path of jihad (holy war) and strengthen its military power”.
Earlier, the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had rejected prisoner swap with the Taliban. Afterwards, he also availed the opportunity of coronavirus to delay the process. The political crisis in Afghanistan worsened on March 9, 2020, as Ashraf Ghani and former Chef Executive Abdullah Abdullah took separate oaths as country’s president in connection with the September elections, as the latter did not recognize the election-results.
In fact, President Ghani thought that if the US-led NATO forces which are well-equipped with latest arms failed in coping with the Taliban fighters, as to how Afghan forces can encounter them. Therefore, he wants that NATO forces should continued their presence in the country.
Likewise, India which does not intend to see peace in Afghanistan and is undermining regional stability by creating unrest in Afghanistan, also desires the presence of the NATO forces in that country in order to protect its billions of dollars-investment there.
However, it was due to the US pressure that President Ghani agreed to release the Taliban prisoners, while Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah resolved their differences and signed a power sharing deal on May 17, this year.
In this context, Abdullah Abdullah said on May 31, 2020, “The negotiating team [of Afghanistan] is ready to begin the talks [With Taliban] at any moment.” However, he added that there must be a fresh cease-fire during the talks.
Despite all of this, the implementation of the US-Taliban peace agreement has been delayed. In this connection, besides late release of the Taliban prisoners and the peace talks between the government and Taliban, which were scheduled to begin before March 10, 2020 has not been started so far.
It is notable that setting aside the completion of various phases of the US-Taliban deal, America has started withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan.
Nevertheless, the US-led NATO’s withdrawal from Afghanistan will have drastic implications inside that war-torn country by creating further unrest which will affect the entire the region, especially Pakistan.
It is mentionable that Pakistan shares common geographical, historical, religious and cultural bonds with Afghanistan. There is a co-relationship of stability and peace in both the countries. Therefore, since Khalilzad started his efforts to convince the Taliban to have direct talks with the US, Pakistan had been playing a major role. Zalmay Khalilzad who repeatedly visited Pakistan and met the civil and military leadership, including country’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Quershi, admired Pakistan’s role in the US-Taliban historical agreement.
It is noteworthy that after the 9/11 tragedy, President George W. Bush insisted upon Islamabad to join the US global war on terror. Pakistan was also granted the status of non-NATO ally by America due to the successes, achieved by Pakistan Army and country’s primary intelligence agency ISI against the Al-Qaeda militants.
After the end of the Cold War, America left both Pakistan and Afghanistan to face the fallout of the Afghan war 1.
As a consequence, civil war and instability in Afghanistan had implications on Pakistan which faced numerous problems Afghan refugees, criminals and gangsters, drug traders, supply of weapons, drone attacks, terrorists’ attacks etc. Because of the longest porous border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, consisting mountains and terrain area, it was easy for these elements which used to enter Pakistan from Afghanistan. The infiltration infected the country with sectarianism, Kalashnikov culture and religious extremism.
Nonetheless, after the departure of the US and other NATO forces from Afghanistan, external economic and security assistance will diminish. Other international donors who are fighting the COVID-19 endemic will be unlikely to step in to replace US spending. The US-led puppet government in Kabul will lose influence. Reduction in funding will have negative impact on the capacity of the government and its combat capabilities. Governance structures in Afghanistan consist of overlapping layers of formal, centralized de jure authorities; regional power brokers with mixed official and informal authority at the local level. So, like the past, a civil war will start in Afghanistan among various local warlords who control their own Militias. It is likely to weaken the center, resulting into the rule of Taliban who already control almost 70 percent areas of the country, will defeat the Northern Alliance and afterwards, will occupy the non-Pashtun areas dominated by other warlords.
As a matter of fact, Indian and Afghan rulers who are feeling the pinch of the US-Taliban peace agreement are trying to sabotage it for their collective interests at the cost of Afghan people, Pakistan and regional stability.
While, Indian RAW which is in connivance with Israeli Mossad and Afghanistan’s intelligence agency National Directorate of Security (NDS) has well-established its network in Afghanistan and had been fully assisting cross-border incursions and terror-activities in various regions of Pakistan through Baloch separatist elements and anti-Pakistan groups like Jundullah and Afghanistan-based Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), including their affiliated outfits.
Notably, Pakistan’s Armed Forces and particularly Army have successfully broken the backbone of the foreign-backed terrorists by the military operations Zarb-e-Azb and Radd-ul-Fasaad, while ISI has broken the network of these terrorist groups by capturing several militants and thwarting a number of terror attempts. So, peace has been restored in various regions of the country, especially in Balaochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) provinces.
But, in the recent past, some terror-attacks in Pakistan and Balochistan show that New Delhi is trying to damage the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Both India and America has already opposed this project.
Indian desperation has been increasing in the backdrop of growing engagements of Pakistan, Afghanistan, China and Russia which want stability in Afghanistan.
It is misfortune that on Indian direction, in the recent past, President Ghani accused Islamabad for terror attacks in Afghanistan.
New Delhi and Kabul which desire to prolong the stay of the US-led NATO troops in Afghanistan are exploiting the dual policy of America against Pakistan, China, Russia and Iran.
Undoubtedly, after the withdrawal of the US-led NATO troops from Afghanistan, Afghan regime will fall like a house of cards owing to the Taliban assault. Even, India would not be in a position to maintain its network in wake of the successful guerrilla warfare of the Taliban—rendering Indian proxy support against Pakistan ineffective.
Regarding Indian activities in Afghanistan the then NATO commander, Gen. McChrystal had pointed out: “Indian political and economic influence is increasing in Afghanistan…is likely to exacerbate regional tensions.”
In this respect, Washington must be aware of the coming negative developments, which could create misunderstanding between America and the Taliban, as before the NATO’s departure, RAW and NDS can use some terror outfits like TTP and Daesh (ISIS) for targeting the military installations of the US and its allies to shift the blame game towards those Taliban whose leader has signed the peace deal. Even, after the NATO’s withdrawal, when Afghanistan will further face lawlessness and civil war owing to the negative role of these secret entities, New Delhi and Kabul could also accuse Islamabad of cross-border terrorism in Afghanistan like the past approach, because the US and Pakistan have been promoting cordial relations due to President Trump’s positive approach towards the latter.
In the meantime, if any terror attack occurs in the US homeland, Indian-Afghan rulers are likely to manipulate it against Pakistan by convincing Washington that Islamabad is behind it.
At present, coronavirus which affected almost every country has also enveloped Afghanistan which has reported more than 14,092 cases, infected by this deadly virus and more than 270 deaths. In America, more than 1,861,200 cases have been recorded with more than 107,100 deaths. Besides the spread of COVID-19, the US is also not taking much interest in completion of the US-Taliban agreement owing to unending violent protests across the country over the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died on May 25, 2020 in the police custody in Minneapolis. During clashes, the police killed several black people.
By availing this golden opportunity, Afghan rulers may create complications which could castigate the US-Taliban deal.
We may conclude that besides the whole region, US-led NATO’s withdrawal from Afghanistan will create unrest in that country, particularly affecting Pakistan which will, again, face the drastic fallout in wake of the COVID-19 pandemic which impacted 93,000 persons with death toll of 1,800 people.
Sajjad Shaukat writes on international affairs and is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power: Dangerous Shift in International Relations
Sajjad Shaukat writes on international affairs and is the author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power: Dangerous Shift in International Relations and can be reached at email@example.com