Updated: April 20, 2021 8:29:01 am
Written by Shamil Shams and Masood Saifullah
After almost two decades since the United States invaded Afghanistan and toppled the Taliban regime, Washington is set to exit the country. President Joe Biden has decided to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan by September 11.
The military withdrawal will not depend on the situation on the ground — despite fears that the Taliban could make major gains, many say.
“The president has judged that a conditions-based approach, which has been the approach of the past two decades, is a recipe for staying in Afghanistan forever,” an official told reporters on condition of anonymity on Tuesday.
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Germany will match US plans for the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said in an interview on Wednesday. “We have always said we are going in together, and we are going out together,” Kramp-Karrenbauer told German public broadcaster ARD. “I stand for an orderly withdrawal, and I expect us to decide this today (at NATO).”
Former US President Donald Trump’s administration had set the pullout date for May 1, but Biden’s decision will delay the end of withdrawal by another five months. Biden’s complete and unconditional decision to withdraw comes as a surprise for many experts, who had hoped that his administration would reverse Trump’s policies, which many believe have emboldened Islamist militants in Afghanistan.
A victory for the Taliban?
Violent attacks in Afghanistan have spiked since the signing of the US-Taliban agreement in Doha, Qatar, in February 2020 to end the protracted war. The Taliban deny involvement in these attacks, but their refusal to agree to a nationwide ceasefire has raised doubts about their intentions.
The Islamist group, which feels more powerful than ever, also says it would not attend a planned summit in Turkey until all foreign troops leave the country.
“The result of the upcoming Afghan conference in Turkey will determine how the withdrawal of US troops will impact the future of the country,” Mohammad Shafiq Hamdam, a Kabul-based security expert, told DW. If the conference succeeds in forming a government that includes Taliban and other Afghans, then the damage of such a hurried exit from Afghanistan will be manageable, he continued. “But if the conference fails, and the Taliban continue to reject peace, I am afraid Afghanistan could face an all-out civil war.”
The US decision to pull out all troops from Afghanistan would also leave President Ashraf Ghani’s elected government at the mercy of militants. US intelligence has released a report finding that Afghanistan’s government would “struggle” to stand its ground against the “confident” Taliban.
The US national intelligence report states that the Taliban “is confident it can achieve military victory.”
“Afghan forces continue to secure major cities and other government strongholds, but they remain tied down in defensive missions and have struggled to hold recaptured territory or reestablish a presence in areas abandoned in 2020,” it said.
Analyst Hamdam says that Afghan security forces “are financially and militarily dependent on the US, and without its support, they will be in a tough spot.”
The Taliban are not the only threat to Afghan forces; other militant groups, such as “Islamic State” (IS), have also gained a foothold in the war-ravaged country.
“The Taliban are stronger than ever. IS and other terrorist groups have gained a foothold in Afghanistan. Therefore, the consequences of a hasty and irresponsible withdrawal from Afghanistan could be dangerous not only for Afghanistan but also for the region and the world,” Raihana Azad, a member of the Afghan parliament, told DW.
‘No excuse for war’
Concerns is great that gains made over the past two decades, especially in the area of women’s rights, could be lost as the Taliban unleash further violence. It is unclear whether the Taliban would agree to protecting human rights and freedom of speech in Afghanistan.
“The US has made too many concessions to the Taliban. The Afghan people will pay the price for it. They are disheartened and feel abandoned by the international community,” lawmaker Azad said.
Some experts hold the view that the withdrawal announcement could also put the Taliban into a difficult position. “By announcing an unconditional pullout, the US has accepted Taliban’s main demand. Now the international community expects the Taliban to join the political process. There is no excuse to continue the war,” Assadullah Nadim, a Kabul-based military expert, told DW.
Bigger role for Pakistan?
Biden’s decision to pull out troops from Afghanistan will also give an upper hand to regional players, which are vying for a bigger role in the country. Countries like Pakistan, India, China and Russia have their own strategic interests, which are better served without a US presence in Afghanistan.
Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, who held talks with his German counterpart Heiko Maas in Berlin earlier this week, told DW that Islamabad will remain an important player in the Afghan peace process.
“Pakistan will benefit from peace in Afghanistan. It will open the door to increased trade with Kabul, and many pending development projects can be completed,” he said.
Pakistan has been wary of an increased role of its regional rival India in Afghanistan since the US invaded Afghanistan in 2001.
Experts say that the 2020 US-Taliban deal would not have been possible without Islamabad’s backing. Pakistan has a considerable influence over the Taliban, and it played a key role in bringing the insurgents to the negotiating table.
Yet Pakistan wants a strong role for the Taliban in future Afghan governance. Its regional interests are better served with a powerful Taliban presence in its western neighborhood. This, however, would not guarantee peace in Afghanistan.
The article comes in special arrangement with Deutsche Welle, the German public broadcaster.
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