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Post-withdrawal Afghanistan

Col (r) Ikram Ullah Khan

As the US war on Afghanistan comes to an end without achieving anything substantial except a few strategic gains, and troops withdrawal is nearing completion after a long and bloody slog spanning over two decades, thick clouds of uncertainty are hovering over Afghan horizon with future of Afghanistan hanging in the balance. With the hasty departure of US-led coalition forces from Afghanistan, the country is fast heading towards anarchy and chaos that is likely to engulf the whole region and  may plunge the war-torn Afghanistan into an all-out civil war as both the Taliban and Afghan government seem reluctant to show flexibility to find a middle path to resolve their internal differences through peaceful negotiations.

Resumption of the stalled Doha peace talks brokered by Pakistan looks a remote possibility with the ever growing strength and ascendency the Taliban are gaining in the absence of tough resistance on the part of a  demoralized, psychologically battered and militarily enfeebled Afghan army stripped of potent air support after the US has wound up its four military bases including Kandahar and Bagram air bases. Emboldened by their  unimpeded advances, Taliban prefer to remain nonchalant and uninterested in peace talks. They seem to be all set to achieve their long-cherished dream of establishing  an Islamic regime with a puritan streak. This is precisely the reason that they are not ready for any peace deal with Kabul which could end in a power-sharing with Afghan government.

The emerging security situation doesn’t bode well for the future of Afghanistan indicating in no uncertain terms that Afghanistan which is called the graveyard of empires is destined to be the graveyard for Afghan people themselves with their freedom snatched in a post-US withdrawal Afghanistan. Unfortunately, the US-backed Afghan government has not been able to consolidate itself during the last two decades to rule the country thereby giving rise to suspicion that perhaps it was not the intent of the US to see stability in the region for seemingly obvious reasons. As the security situation in the region is gradually unfolding, it gives credence to the popular belief that the US would like to see instability and chaos in and around Afghanistan more specifically in Pakistan to secure its strategic and economic interests in the region and that could forestall the growing influence of China in the region as an economic super power by creating conditions where it wouldn’t be possible for China to spread its tentacles as an economic giant.

 As the completion of US troops withdrawal is drawing closer, a spike in violence and insurgent activities is ramping up without let-up. A fierce fighting between the Taliban and Afghan security forces is continuing with Taliban’s rapid advances in different parts of the country that is  likely to result in the final debacle of Kabul in not too distant future.  President Ashraf Ghani’s beleaguered government has started feeling the heat of Taliban’s blitz with waning US military support.

However, in the event of Taliban coming to power, they would soon realize that it’s not that easy to govern Afghanistan because it’s not all milk and honey around and that they would find it pretty hard to mould public opinion in their favour as the people of Afghanistan have undergone a complete metamorphosis during the past two decades of US occupation.  Besides, they would face an intense  international rebuke in the form of economic, political and recognition challenges as the world is not going to welcome them with open arms given their frigidity of mental make-up and rigidity of approach to mundane life backed by their orthodox mindset. Without international recognition, it wouldn’t be possible for Taliban to survive long.

The global outlook of Taliban has undergone a huge change during the past two decades. This time around, there would be none to recognize Taliban regime. It may be recalled that back in nineties, only four countries, i.e. Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Turkmenistan out of 193 member states of the United Nations Organization (UNO) recognized the legitimacy of their government. This time even these four countries would feel reluctant to look at them with positivity and will think hundred times before recognizing their regime as the entire international community stands united against them. Hence, sooner or later they would feel compelled to get off their high horse and come to a negotiating table to strike a compromise patch-up with Afghan government.

It’s about time for Taliban to understand that much blood has been shed in the streets of Afghanistan making Afghans’ blood cheaper than water and that with the exit of foreign occupation forces from Afghanistan there remains a scant justification for insurgency that is sure to bring along more bloodshed. Their struggle against the occupation forces was well received by a sizeable number of countries and elicited support of Afghan people and the Muslim world at large as long as they were fighting against foreign troops. Now that the foreign forces have left Afghanistan, there exists no legal and moral justification to fight against each other. This is the right time for both the Taliban and Afghan government to call it (the infighting) a day, show flexibility, sit together, iron out mutual differences, come to terms with each other and find out an amicable solution to Afghan conflict with some sort of a quid pro quo acceptable to both sides.

Taliban and Afghan government need to understand that there are spoilers around in the garb of friends and sympathizers with Afghan people who don’t want peace and stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan as keeping the temperature in and around Afghanistan at the boiling point suits them. Insurgency breads terrorism which in turn has created fear, chaos and instability in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, and this is what our enemies want. Taliban must understand that by getting embroiled in internal strife they are inadvertently serving the interests of those against whom they have fought a long war spanning over two decades.

 It may  be appreciated that Afghanistan serving as a gateway to trade and commerce for the world through Central Asian Republics (CARs) has always been viewed with concern by India and the Western world. America and India consider peace and stability in Afghanistan as a threat to their economic sovereignty because they take China, Russia and Pakistan to be the direct beneficiary of peace and stability in the region. The US has a grim realization that unipolar status it has been enjoying since 1989 is likely to see its last days. With the rise of China as a potential super power that could fill the vacuum created by the US, it had become necessary for  Washington to wind up the pointless war and concentrate on China as an emerging super power. But it seems to be a huge strategic miscalculation on the part of the US because China might take the advantage of US withdrawal and make huge investments in Afghanistan, though a big gambling by China as the US wouldn’t let it easily happen and ensure that Afghanistan is fraught with a perennial instability and insecurity that denies China an environment in Afghanistan conducive for investment.

China has already made investment of 65 billion dollars in Pakistan under China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and again intends to make huge investment of 400 billion dollars in Iran. If China succeeds in his future economic ambitions, the entire region can come under Chines sphere of  influence as it would make things easier for China to make inroads into Central Asian Republics (CARs) through Afghanistan. But it’s too early to say anything about all this with certainty as there are many a slip between the cup and the lip  and it’s quite difficult to predict if Afghanistan can see peace and stability in near future after American involvement ceases.

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