Col Ikram Ullah Chitral

Biden-Ghani meeting and future of Afghanistan

Col (r) Ikram Ullah Khan

The recent meeting between US President Joe Biden and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Chairman of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation Abdullah Abdullah at White House (Oval Office) has stunned the Afghan leadership as it went against their expectations and couldn’t go beyond mere lip service and verbal assurances of diplomatic and financial support to Afghanistan.

The meeting has come at a time when peace negotiations have stalled and violence raging with Taliban’s offensive while Afghan security forces fighting a losing battle against battle-hardened Taliban fighters. The meeting doesn’t offer anything substantial except its symbolic value for Afghan leadership.

According to insiders, to the much dismay of Afghan leadership, President Joe Biden expressed his inability to extend any active military support to Kabul to halt Taliban advances beyond intelligence and technical assistance for aircraft maintenance and financial support thus squarely throwing the ball in their court by making it very clear to them that “it’s up to the Afghans to decide their future, what they want” and the US can’t do much in this regard.

To put it more bluntly, Joe Biden, in a way seems to have turned his back on Afghanistan and rightly so because he has the realization that when the US couldn’t vanquish the invincible Taliban while sitting right in the heart of Afghanistan for two decades with full might duly backed by the NATO forces with latest weaponry and fighting machinery, it’s not possible for it to use its military muscle against them sitting thousands of miles away.

The promised help is mostly financial and seems rhetorical. During the meeting Joe Biden is reported to impress upon the Afghan leadership to forge unity among different Afghan factions laying aside political differences in order to put up a united and determined fight against the Taliban. Joe Biden underlined the need to reach a peaceful settlement of the Afghan conflict the chances of which are getting slimmer with every passing day as the Taliban while making rapid advances are least interested to sit with the Afghan government to reach a peaceful political settlement thereby making prospects of peace and  reconciliation deal between Kabul and Taliban a remote possibility.

According to security analysts and experts in Afghan affairs, President Joe Biden seems mainly focused on the safe exit of US-led coalition forces from Afghanistan and not much interested in the future of Afghanistan as such beyond the sore concern about how to stem the possible regrouping and re-emergence of Al-Qaida that may pose a security threat to the US. As per the US stated policy, the safety and wellbeing of the US and coalition troops always comes first and that of the Afghans comes last.

However, many US lawmakers and experts have expressed deep concerns that the Afghan government without US active support is not in a position to fight back the Taliban offensive;  and in case Taliban return to power, they would topsy-turvy everything that has been achieved during the past two decades and reverse progress made regarding women’s rights who, according to them, were harshly repressed and barred from education and liberty to work during their 1996-2001 rule.

With the precipitous US troops withdrawal, the war-torn Afghanistan stands at the precipice of civil war. Joe Biden’s hasty withdrawal plan has struck a fatal psychological blow to Afghan forces. The enfeebled resistance and poor fightback offered by the ragtag Afghan army with incredibly shaky morale has emboldened the fearless and ever determined Taliban fighters to gain ground and conquer villages one after the other making the Afghan forces surrender and turn tail.

According to Taliban sources, so far they have captured around 100 districts mostly in Northern Afghanistan out of a total of 421 without much resistance by Afghan forces. However, as per their well thought-out strategy, Taliban  have intentionally avoided capturing provincial capitals. It appears that the rapidity with which the Taliban are advancing and capturing districts one after the other with ease, it will have a domino effect, and it may not take them too long to storm Kabul. Fighting between Afghan forces and the Taliban has seen an upsurge in recent weeks as the Taliban intensified attacks on Afghan security forces and police raising fears for a renewed civil war.

Since May this year when the US started withdrawing its troops, the Taliban fighters have taken over swaths of territory surrounding provincial capitals raising alarms in the US and at the UN. According to US, Taliban’s attacks are not in keeping with “Doha Agreement”.  “We are looking very carefully at the situation on the ground In Afghanistan.” The US foreign secretary Antony Blinken told reporters at a media conference in  Paris. He further said: “We are also looking very hard at whether the Taliban are at all serious about a peaceful resolution of the conflict. We continue to be engaged on the diplomacy but actions by the Taliban to take the country by force are totally inconsistent with finding a peaceful resolution.”

Having seen the Taliban’s blitz and unimpeded advances and sensing their ultimate possible takeover of Kabul, the US is preparing to evacuate thousands of Afghan translators, interpreters, security guards, drivers and all the ancillary staff who worked for the US-led coalition forces and embassies as the withdrawal of troops is continuing and likely to be completed in the coming few weeks. To begin with, 80 Afghan interpreters working with coalition troops and embassies have been granted visas and flown to safety in Australia and the process is continuing.

According to US intelligence assessment as reported by the Wall Street Journal, Ashraf Ghani’s government may fall within six months after coalition forces leave the country as the moribund peace talks between Kabul and Taliban have almost fizzled out without achieving peace and reconciliation objectives. President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw all the US-led coalition forces finally deserts Afghan government in difficult straits to face the onslaughts of the ferocious Taliban alone. All this unwelcome development bodes ill for the region in general and for Pakistan in particular as In the final analysis, the grim security situation in Afghanistan, leaves  Pakistan in a perilous position forcing it to remain on guard all the time because the infighting in Afghanistan will have its repercussions and a wave of terrorism with much more intensity is likely to hit Pakistan the trailer of which we are witnessing in the form of terrorist incidents in Lahore and Quetta these days.

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