A Biden victory in the 2020 US Presidential Elections means there will be drastic changes in the US policy towards Afghanistan and the region and it is even possible that the rush exit plan for Afghanistan would be reversed once the new administration assumes office. But it is unclear now how soon will the new policy begin and since the new president-elect will officially be sworn in on January 20th, 2021, President Trump would still have the authority to keep his exit plan going until his successor takes office.
When Joe Biden takes the presidency in January next year, a major change that is likely to happen in regards to the Afghan peace process would be the removal of Zalmay Khalilzad as the United States Special Envoy for Afghanistan Reconciliation who also leads the US team to facilitate intra-Afghan dialogue by the incoming administration which could even result to the cancellation of the current talks in Doha.
In October, Mr. Khalilzad an Afghan-born American diplomat who had an upper hand in the overall US-Taliban peace deal and the ongoing Afghan dialogue has expressed his concern for not reaching any point to see a reduction in violence and ceasefire in Afghanistan since the talks began in September. In one of his tweets, he said,” I return to the region disappointed that despite commitments to lower violence, it has not happened. The window to achieve a political settlement will not stay open forever.”
Despite all the efforts and direct talks happening between the Taliban and the Afghan government delegates in Doha, the two sides haven’t been able to reach an agreement on a political roadmap yet to proceed with the discussions on a ceasefire and eventually a political settlement.
The impact of US Presidential Elections on the future of the talks in Doha and the fate of the Afghan government would be remarkably huge. Undoubtedly, it has a direct impact on the outcomes of the war and peace in Afghanistan.
In the meantime, the current US President Donald Trump said to be determined to withdraw all American forces from Afghanistan at the earliest possible. The withdrawal began after the US signed a peace deal with the Taliban in February. Even now that Mr. Trump lost the race to his democratic competitor Joe Biden, technically he is going to stay in power until January 20th, 2021 which gives him a fair amount of time to complete the withdrawal that is if he deems to do so. But now with Biden winning the presidency in the US, he may change the existing plan on how to end the Afghan war. Although, it is not clear whether Mr. Biden would also reverse the withdrawal plan which started following the US-Taliban deal signed in Doha.
Adam Smith a Democratic House Representative from Washington endorsed Trump’s withdrawal plan for Afghanistan although, he supported a minimal long-term US troop presence in the country which could protect America’s interests in the region. He was quoted in The Washington Times on October 30, saying they are not going to win the war in Afghanistan and that the peace talks in Doha will prove negative. He said, “If you are waiting until there is peace in Afghanistan… That’s not going to happen”. “we have been there almost 20 years now, I think it is pretty clear now that our military is not going to solve that problem,” he added.
There is a disbelieve in America about the Afghan war that’s being fought since 2001. Some Americans even go as far as to say, there won’t be any peace in that country (Afghanistan), and we can’t wait to fix things which we couldn’t in the past 20 years.
The Peace Talks in Qatar
With a new president going to assume office in the United States in January next year, all eyes are at what the new administration’s plan for Afghanistan would be and that how it will look to the Afghan government and the Taliban talks currently underway in Doha.
After signing a peace deal with the United States in February, the Taliban came to think, they don’t need to engage in talks with the Afghan government which according to them would be rather a demotion to their status. Now that they managed to get the United States to talk to them and sign a bilateral deal with them, why on earth would they talk to a government they consider puppet and less legitimate.
The Taliban know, they don’t need to agree on anything in the peace talks in Doha are relentless and haven’t given any concession on any issue yet. They believe the time is on their side and they don’t need to rush on anything in the ongoing talks.
On the other hand, the Afghan delegation is seemingly unable to make a breakthrough in the discussions in Doha. The talks in a crumbling situation are still in a preliminary phase. Nothing has been discussed thoroughly, so far.
Once again, the U.S special envoy for peace and reconciliation showed his concerns over the Taliban’s unwillingness to peace and their ill intention of ramping up the violence to leverage in the talks. But he also called on both the Afghan government and the Taliban not to miss this opportunity in making peace.
There are two possible scenarios on the Doha talks; the first one is let’s hope the talks do not collapse at any point now. If they do it would be a disaster for Afghanistan and the future will look even darker. Whereas the best scenario would be if the talks carry on for sometimes and the aid money continues to flow into the Afghan government. For the government of Afghanistan to survive, it desperately needs to receive foreign aid money to avoid collapsing.
A coalition type of government with the Taliban likely part of it and the aid money coming will look an optimal choice for the future of the country to move on. If talks fail and the government cannot defend itself and the ANSF disintegrates, things will go south for once and all.
Afghanistan Post US elections
Afghanistan is experiencing a tough time at this juncture, with the US planning to leave the country and presumably put a full stop to its military presence after almost 20 years of fighting an insurgency, and a stalled peace talk underway in Doha the capital of Qatari state, the Afghan government is entangled in a state of despair to handle all alone by itself. Fight an insurgent Taliban, and render governance to its people in need of security and services equally.
The Afghan people who once had high hopes and saw their future in this country are partly shocked to see their ally the Americans who initially came to their country with loads of rosy promises are now leaving without the main goals achieved. They expected that the United States of America and its allies will help build their state and give them a hand to join the international community as a partner and flourish accordingly.
Keeping that in mind, the Afghans are divided on the view of whether to support a permanent US military in Afghanistan. Some view, the US should only stay here if they are honest in their commitments in supporting the Afghan government in its journey towards development and prosperity. Others believe since the US could not help us get on our own feet and become self-reliant, they are not going to do that in the future too, so let them leave for good. Let us deal with our problems ourselves, if we only get to manage our issues by ourselves we are going to succeed no matter how bumpy the road ahead may be.
While others believe, the future looks bleak and unpredictable. God knows what is next for us and we can’t even decide to say what is good for us. Unfortunately, this group believes they have no role in their future and it’s all up to God and a miracle could change things for good.
Afghanistan Post US presence
The future looks very uncertain for Afghanistan now and words like ‘democracy’ and ‘human rights’ are literally absent from the political dictionary of the country these days.
A sense of pessimism covers the horizon in the country, women and those Afghans who once dreamt of democracy are desperately unsure about their future. Something is lost in between which could not be seen anywhere anytime soon, and those who think in one way or the other that they were betrayed by the US post-September 11, are in a state of confusion.
I don’t know what is next for us, what is next for me, and for those who saw their future in this country after the international community intervened in 2001.
No matter what, the current government is way too good on many terms than a Taliban Emirate which denies women their rights, denies girls to go to school, and treats people with disrespect in many other ways.
Looking at what can the Taliban offer in terms of services and welfare to the people, literally there is no service under the Taliban’s authoritarian rule. People cannot object or raise criticism of any sort towards them. It will be an Orwellian rule where people’s life will be watched and monitored and basically any freedom of any sort is denied.
In case the US and NATO forces leave Afghanistan post US elections, the country is abandoned abruptly, and a Taliban return is a must. Some say, with the blink of an eye, the government will collapse and the army will disintegrate. The country will turn into fiefdoms likely ruled by more than one government.
Millions of people who live in the country will be left in a state of despair and dead-end and no one would know what to do next. Schools will close, businesses if any will collapse, electricity which illuminates major cities will be cut off, and people all across the country will be astoundingly horrified.
The streets of Kabul city will see no women and a sense of horror will prevail. Those people who could afford to leave will not spare any time to stay. As many people will try to flee the country mainly because of the Taliban’s retribution.
Everything will get back to where it started in 2001. A new era of darkness will surround the environment and the people will have to live in a state of wicked hopelessness and despair, it applies to the people both inside and outside the country.
Let’s hope we don’t go back to those dark days, and let’s hope we are not left alone to experience the sufferings once again but to rather move forward with great aspirations and for our people to prosper and flourish and live in peace.
*Jawad is an Afghan journalist who reported in Afghanistan for many years including for The New York Times. He has a BA in Political Science from Goa University and an MA (MPS) from Indira Gandhi National Open University. Jawad was a Knight Wallace Fellow at the University of Michigan in its class of 2019.
Follow Jawad on Twitter @JawadSukhanyar