By Mohammad Mazhari

U.S. irresponsible exit from Afghanistan will lead to civil war, researcher predicts 

June 29, 2021 - 15:3

TEHRAN - A Pakistani researcher is confident U.S. “irresponsible withdrawal” from Afghanistan will pave the way for a civil war in the country which will adversely affect the region in its entirety.  

 Arhama Siddiqa tells the Tehran Times an extension of U.S. presence in Afghanistan would “lend some legitimacy to the Taliban” to continue fighting but “if irresponsible troop withdrawal takes place as is currently the case, without a doubt, there will be a civil war which will have domino effects on the entire region and gradually global implications as well.”

On Wednesday, Taliban fighters were battling government troops inside the northern city of Kunduz after occupying the main border crossing with Tajikistan the previous day and reaching the outskirts of northern Afghanistan’s main hub, Mazar-e-Sharif.
Overall, the Taliban’s lightning offensive in northern Afghanistan resulted in the fall of dozens of districts over the past week, putting much of the countryside under insurgent control.

“The failure started when the Bush administration not only avoided talks with the Taliban but also outright rejected agreements that the Afghan government had itself belted with the Taliban in 2001 and 2004 which might have brought the war to rest 15 years ago. Similarly, the Obama administration made the same mistake,” Siddiqa argues.

Following is the text of the interview:

Q: How do you assess U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan?

A: When President Biden announced that the U.S. would start downgrading troop presence from July 2021, the responsibility of ensuring peace in Afghanistan shifted in the Afghan populace, particularly on both the Taliban and the Afghan government to come to a workable and sustainable compromise. However, contrary to the previously optimistic estimates, there are fears now in the backdrop of the recent violence in northern Afghanistan and what can be termed as a completely irresponsible withdrawal on part of the U.S. administration that Kabul could collapse within six to twelve months of complete withdrawal of U.S. troops. Another major concern is that the ungoverned spaces left by U.S. troops supplemented by the focus of Afghan factions towards infighting could be filled by militants such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS.

Q: Imran Khan has said Islamabad won't allow the U.S. to use Pakistan as a base for its Afghan operations. How do you read his statement?

A: I would like to make three points here.

First, if you analyze Prime Minister Imran Khan’s statement in the years leading up to his election, you will notice that he has continuously criticized previous Pakistan governments to allow U.S. boots in Pakistani soil. His vehement opposition has left little room for Mr. Khan’s government to roll out a red carpet and submit to any U.S. requests.

Second, hypothetically if Pakistan was to aid the U.S., it would most likely damage Islamabad’s ties with the Taliban which the former can ill afford to do so.

Third, if Pakistan accepts U.S. request, it would be a cause of concern for two of Pakistan’s neighbors – China and Iran. The ongoing U.S.-China rivalry is no secret as is the U.S. aversion to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Hence, China would not want the U.S. keeping tabs on CPEC’s development especially in close proximity to Gwadar. Similarly, Prime Minister Khan has been trying to reset ties with Iran and if he submits to U.S. proposals it would put a damper on that and also his statements regarding mediation/facilitation between Iran, Saudi Arabia and the U.S. will be contested. Moreover, it would disturb the neutral balancing act Pakistan maintains in the Middle East (West Asia) and would result in grave security consequences.  

Q: How can Iran and Pakistan cooperate to establish the peace in Afghanistan?

A: Both Iran and Pakistan share not only borders with Afghanistan but also a unique cultural connection and henceforth, have direct stakes in the Afghan peace process. Both Tehran and Islamabad also maintain a certain amount of influence over various Afghan factions. Both countries can also cooperate in countering threats such as those posed by Al-Qaeda and ISIS. 

Moreover, in order for the development of their economic and strategic interests, a stable Afghanistan is equally important for both sides. It should also not be forgotten that Iran is now formally part of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and any instability in Afghanistan will affect the implementation of the deal adversely. Here I must mention that the China-Iran deal holds immense benefits for Pakistan as well henceforth it too has a stake in maintaining its sanctity. The China-Iran deal gives further impetus for the CPEC to be extended into Afghanistan as well. Hence, both Iran and Pakistan can help to cooperate peace in Afghanistan through counter-terrorism measures, maintain their development trajectories and continuing to facilitate the Afghan peace process by bringing all sides to the negotiating table.

Q: Do you predict a civil war in Afghanistan?

A: There are two aspects to this. The first is that it goes without saying that elongation of U.S. presence in Afghanistan would lend some legitimacy to the Taliban to continue fighting and would continue to prolong the status quo. Secondly, if irresponsible troop withdrawal takes place as is currently the case, without a doubt there will be a civil war which will have domino effects on the entire region and gradually global implications as well.

Q: Why did America fail to contain the Taliban in Afghanistan?

A: Given that it has been 20 years since the U.S. invaded Afghanistan and what President Biden has termed as ‘a forever war’ seems to have been more driven based on emotions and irrational behavior as opposed to careful strategic planning.

I believe the failure started when the Bush administration not only avoided talks with the Taliban but also outright rejected agreements that the Afghan government had itself belted with the Taliban in 2001 and 2004 which might have brought the war to rest 15 years ago. Similarly, the Obama administration made the same mistake.

The Taliban cannot be excluded from the peace process. They are very much a part of the landscape of Afghanistan if sustainable peace and development is to prevail. In Afghanistan, they will have to be part of the government. This is what the U.S. has failed to recognize for years.


 

Leave a Comment

3 + 1 =