Peace is not coming to Afghanistan
After World War II, the US witnessed many failures in its ambitious wars, with meagre losses to its own economy but the total destruction of the countries where it intervened. It is no secret that America is keen to secure its own interests and it does not enjoy the reputation of being a reliable partner.
Now it seems Washington will leave Afghanistan with or without a deal, but the war it began in 2001 will have a far-reaching impact on the people it will leave behind. When US and NATO allies leave Afghanistan, even if one hopes against hope, the latter will not be a stable country, at least not for years to come.
As soon as the US leaves, an agreement like the one in 2001 Bonn Germany (where world leaders met to chalk out a plan for Afghanistan’s future) can be expected. The 18 years of bloody war have proven time and again that such agreements are nothing but a waste of paper in a country with a resistance force as strong as the Taliban.
A Taliban advance would likely follow the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. Events between 2014 and 2016 should not be forgotten, when the US minimized its airstrikes to allow the Afghan government to learn how to fight on its own. Instead, the Taliban captured many provinces including Helmand and Kunduz. Heavy causalities and destruction followed which thinned the ranks of Afghan forces.
Intra-Afghan peace talks are the first thing in the pipeline after the US reaches a conclusion with the insurgents. The Taliban spokesperson insisted in late December, that all Afghan sides will have their representation in Taliban-Afghan talks whenever they begin.
These intra-Afghan talks are bound to be tougher than US-Taliban talks because in the former case, each party thinks it is entitled to holding ultimate power in the country.
Regardless of how tactfully the US now negotiates, Afghanistan might plunge into a broader, more bloody and protracted civil war after Washington’s withdrawal.
In the few rounds of Afghan officials meeting with the Taliban, they met only in a personal capacity-- which undermines the hope that both sides will one day welcome each other for talks officially.
When the Soviet Union left Afghanistan in 1989, the Moscow backed government lasted only three years before being ousted in a bloody civil war where different regional actors supported different factions. US withdrawal doesn’t translate into a collapse of the government in Kabul, but a similarly bloody path can be expected this time around too. The government in Kabul will have to rely for its survival on different foreign aid.
The internal dissonance in the Afghan government and institutions is often held up as a sign of a weak state. In the post-2001 era, various NATO allies gave funds to various institutions, and because different donors formed different institutions, there was a lack of coordination and a disconnect in between those institutions.
Iranian foreign minister, Jawad Zarif, said in January last year: ‘I think it would be impossible to have a future Afghanistan without any role for the Taliban, but we also believe that the Taliban should not have a dominant role in Afghanistan.'
There have also been concerns that other countries could meddle in Afghanistan for their own self-interest. This is not good news and could take Afghanistan back into the 1992 era, where Afghan land was used as an extension of proxies for regional actors. After all, the Taliban are not very fond of giving way to others in a compromise.
The Taliban’s ultra-strict interpretation of Shariah law will threaten the freedoms Afghan women have achieved since 2001. According to a Gandhara news report from March last year, in the remote province of Badakhshan, the Taliban have revived stricter implementation of shariah law and do not allow women to step outside their homes without a male guardian. While in other areas like Kandahar, Helmand and Uruzgan, it is reported their stance on women has softened, this could be nothing more than a tactic to gain the public’s sympathies. In the eventuality they come to power, they can simply reverse the clock to 1996 and implement stricter versions of shariah for women.
Regardless of how tactfully the US now negotiates, Afghanistan might plunge into a broader, more bloody and protracted civil war after Washington’s withdrawal. The conflict has already consumed millions of innocent people’s lives under the guise of collateral damage. And yet again, the US stands on the brink of losing one more war of its own creation, after inducing more resistance than it ever curtailed.
– Naila Mahsud is a Pakistani political and International relations researcher, with a focus on regional politics and security issues.