Arlington National Cemetery Virginia on 14 April 2021, President Biden while paying homage to the sacrifices made by American soldiers in Afghanistan, officially pronounced his decision to end America’s longest war, as this obstinate conflict no longer aligned with American priorities. Accordingly, U.S. and NATO military presence in Afghanistan will end by 11th September, coinciding with 20th anniversary of the World Trade Centre attack. With this inglorious conclusion of war without victory, the U.S. opens itself to criticism that this withdrawal embodies a de facto admission of fiasco on part of successive U.S. administrations.
President Biden’s announcement of an absolute and complete military extraction of American forces from Afghanistan is not a source of optimism for those who sought a ‘condition-based’ withdrawal of American troops with the assurance of a long-lasting peace in the region. In the absence of American stimulus in the political process, the Taliban and Afghan government could intensify attacks on each other, significantly increasing the risk of violence faced by Afghan population. That is what exactly seem to be happening. Civil war certainly a path that can be envisioned if this continues on the present trajectory.
U.S. is leaving behind a huge strategic void upon which many local and foreign powers have set their eyes, and this might only produce more instability. It can be safely said that no country in the region will persist unscathed. The picture that comes to mind will be of an everlasting loop of security complexes and strategic undertones after the withdrawal.
Pakistan can’t be insulated from Afghanistan’s uncertain future as it will affect Pakistan in more than one ways, implying drastic security, political and strategic implications. Security situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan is interlocked, where the unrest in one country casts deep impact over the other. Pakistan’s stability has been gravely undermined by the twin blowbacks from Afghanistan: first the Russian occupation which bequeathed a long lasting plot of militancy, weapons and drug proliferation and a 3 million Afghan refugees challenge; second the unintended consequences of the 2001 U.S. intervention which pushed the conflict into Pakistan and further fuelled the forces of militancy. Pakistan had been on the receiving end since the start of this two decade war, and lost much of its pricey possessions including human life, Pakistan has lost 83,000 lives during the war on terror that has cost the country almost US$126 billion.
However, Pakistan played an important role in exercising its leverage with the Taliban to sign the agreement with the U.S. for the sake of peace and stability in the region. Pakistan’s political and military leadership believe that a prosperous Afghanistan at peace with itself and its neighbours is in Pakistan’s national interest. Pakistan is not ready to bear more loss as is evident by the statement of PM Imran Khan during his interview to Axios on HBO stating that “Pakistan will not give its land for the U.S. bases, as it will lead to war and tension in Afghanistan which will, in turn, have consequences on Pakistan in the shape of revenge”.
Neither Afghanistan’s neighbouring countries like China, Pakistan, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan nor Russia and India, will benefit from a Taliban takeover or a full scale civil war. The disruption to regional trade and influx of refugees are major concerns, along with the destabilizing effects of regional rivals supporting various proxies in a vicious conflict. Therefore, the investment temptation for regional powers to hedge and support proxies must be countered with meaningful support, a peace process and all-inclusive government.
United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) should play its positive role to achieve peace and stability in accordance with its mandate as a political mission. UNAMA should back conflict prevention and resolution, as well as strengthening regional cooperation. The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) must play its part in Afghan peace and to find a political solution to the Afghan problem that is acceptable to the Afghan people.
Contrary to the international community’s consensus of finding a political solution to the Afghan conflict, India wants to prolong it by supporting terrorist groups such as the Tehreek e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), and other militant groups operating from Afghanistan. Pakistan has provided substantial evidence of India’s upkeep and financing of UN banned organizations like TTP. UN Analytical and Monitoring Team also acknowledged Pakistan’s efforts to uproot terrorist groups involved in subverting activities in the Pak-Afghan region.
Although, a just solution to Afghan quagmire is desirable however presence of spoilers like India, makes return of peace and normalcy difficult. Pakistan’s NSA recently said in a virtual interview with The Wire, “Pakistan won’t accept if India deploys its people in Afghanistan in the garb of development workers and uses them to incite terrorism in Pakistan, Afghanistan should never become a sanctuary for terrorists.” During his recent visit to the U.S., NSA Moeed Yusuf once again reiterated Pakistan’s unconditional support to Afghan peace process. Although, the U.S. has often and again appreciated Pakistan’s peace efforts but unfortunately recent airstrikes by U.S. forces in Afghanistan puts question mark on the fate of peace talks.
Pakistan desires and continues to support a peaceful, independent, democratically sovereign and prosperous Afghanistan. It is important that Afghans should seize this historic opportunity for reaching an inclusive, broad-based and comprehensive political settlement to bring an end to the decades-long internal conflict in Afghanistan.
*Sharjeel Afzal holds a Masters Degree in Strategic and Nuclear Studies from NDU Islamabad.