US Decides to Exit Afghanistan

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    Recently, the US and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) have announced that they will withdraw all their troops from Afghanistan by 11th September 2021, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

    • There are about 2,500-3,500 US troops in Afghanistan at present, plus a NATO force of under 8,000.
    • The troop pullout is expected to begin before 1st May and will conclude before the symbolic date of 11th September.

    About the Move

    • Earlier, in the Doha Agreement, the Trump Administration also made a similar decision of troop withdrawal by 1st May 2021, however it was conditional, viz.
      • Steps by Taliban to prevent al-Qaeda or any other group from sheltering in Afghanistan
      • A 90-day ceasefire.
      • Talks under the auspices of the UN for a consensus plan for Afghanistan among the US, Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran and India.
      • A meeting in Turkey between the Taliban and Afghan government towards an “inclusive” interim government.
      • An agreement on the foundational principles of the future political order and for a permanent ceasefire.
    • The Biden administration has not put any of such conditions.
      • The US military establishment had insisted that any withdrawal should be “conditions-based”, however, the Biden administration did not agree to that.
    • The decision is based on data gathered by American intelligence, which suggest that Al Qaeda or other terrorist groups do not pose an immediate threat to strike the US from Afghanistan.
    • However, the US will not withdraw all its troops and some will remain to provide diplomatic security, which is a standard practice.
    • After September, if needed, the US could rely on secretive Special Operations, Pentagon contractors and intelligence operatives to stem major threats from terror organisations such as Al Qaeda or the Islamic State.
    • Reactions
      • The withdrawal would help the US move past its “9/11 fixation”, in which counterterrorism had remained the most important foreign policy objective.
      • The US could devote greater energy in dealing with China and Russia.
      • There are fears that America’s departure could lead Afghanistan slipping into a civil war.

    Major Timeline of US War in Afghanistan

    • November 2001: The Taliban flee Kabul as the US-led coalition marches into the Afghan capital with the Northern Alliance.
    • December 2001: The Bonn Agreement is signed in Bonn, Germany, giving the majority of power to the Northern Alliance’s key players and strengthening the warlords. The Taliban regime officially collapses.
      • Karzai is sworn in as chairman of a 29-member governing council established under the Bonn Agreement.
    • 2004-2009: General elections are held and Karzai is elected President for two consecutive terms.
    • April 2014: After flawed elections, US negotiates a power-sharing deal for a so-called Unity Government, with Ashraf Ghani serving as President and Abdullah Abdullah as Chief Executive.
    • December 2014: American and NATO troops formally end their combat mission, transitioning to a support and training role and to carry out operations against Taliban and al-Qaeda targets.
    • 2015-2018: An Islamic State group affiliate emerges in the east and the Taliban seize control of nearly half the country.
    • September 2018: US appoints veteran Afghan-American diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad as negotiator with the Taliban.
    • September 2019: After intense escalation in Taliban attacks, the US scraps talks with the Taliban.
    • February 2020: Agreement on temporary reduction in violence as the first step toward a final peace deal.
      • The US and the Taliban signed a deal in Doha, Qatar, laying out the withdrawal of US troops and also envisioned intra-Afghan talks on a future political road map.

    Impact

    • On Afghanistan
      • The government of President Ashraf Ghani would undoubtedly face a tough task as the Taliban have been launching attacks for the last one year to bring more territory under their control and they are expected to make further military gains.
      • The possibility of the Taliban being able to strike a peace deal with the Afghan government is low, as the Taliban believe that they can triumph militarily.
    • On Taliban
      • The latest announcement has removed all incentives for the Taliban to agree for a dialogue with the Afghan government.
      • It declared that the US has violated the agreement by putting off the withdrawal from May to September, opening ways for the Taliban to take “countermeasures”, and the US will be held responsible for all future consequences.
      • The Taliban would not be attending a new round of talks to decide Afghanistan’s future scheduled in Turkey later in April 2021.
    • On Pakistan
      • For the Pakistani Army, which has always seen Afghanistan in terms of “strategic depth” in its forever hostility with India, a Taliban capture of Afghanistan would finally bring a friendly force in power in Kabul.
      • However, Pakistan will need to shoulder the entire burden of the chaos of a predicted civil war and the emerging issue of refugees. It will have to guard against instability in Afghanistan from spilling over the border.
    • On China
      • It would have much to lose from instability in Afghanistan as this could have an impact on the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
      • A Taliban regime in Afghanistan might end up stirring unrest in the Xinjiang Autonomous region, home to the Uighur minority.
      • Conversely, as an ally of Pakistan, it could see a bigger role for itself in Afghanistan.
    • On Russia
      • The US exit is for Russia a full circle after its own defeat at the hands of US-backed Mujahideen and exit from Afghanistan three decades ago.
      • Russia has taken on the role of peacemaker in Afghanistan but both the Taliban and the Afghan government have been wary of its efforts.
      • Russia’s growing links with Pakistan could translate into a post-US role for Moscow in Afghanistan.
    • On Iran
      • It shares borders with Pakistan and Afghanistan so it perceives active security threats from both and a Taliban regime in Kabul would only increase this threat perception.
      • However, Iran, with links to the Hazaras in Afghanistan, has of late played all sides. Despite the mutual hostility and the theological divide between the two, Iran opened channels to the Taliban a few years ago, and even hosted a Taliban delegation at Tehran.
    • On India
      • The earlier proposal gave India a role, by recognising it as a regional stakeholder, but the current proposal has ended all hopes for India’s involvement.
      • Another concern would be India-focused militants such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed, which the Indian security establishment already believes to have relocated in large numbers to Afghanistan.

    Source: IE