USA Strategic Limbo in Afghanistan By Reema Shaukat

THE USA entry and exit from Afghanistan is an interesting debate now as the superpower never had an idea that it has plunged into a quagmire from which it cannot escape. USA not ever assumed that despite spending stacks of dollars from its budget, it will not be able to end the war it started to end terrorism. USA wanted to put an end to Al-Qaeda, Taliban and other rogue state elements but still passing of more than one and half decade in Afghanistan, these threats still loom around where ISIS, now has become another challenge for long term peace and stability in the region. Year 2018 witnessed many ups and downs in Afghanistan where US announced its departure from Afghanistan but at the same time depleting security situation pose a serious question to US claims of leaving Afghanistan. Options of negotiations and dialogue also remained elusive strategy because of no seriousness of stakeholders.

The war-torn Afghanistan is now looking towards state actors to play role in restoration of its peace, a long awaited desire by its countrymen. It is definitely disturbing and chaotic for people of certain country when their part of land is used as a playground by superpowers for practising its military dominance. Definitely for Afghan nationals, firstly Cold War and later post-9/11 war against terrorism, led to the instability in Afghanistan. Equally contributing factors to the deterioration of the country were economic crises, social deprivation, political quest and foreign invasions. Pakistan, being a victim and a warrior to fight back terrorism, has always desired for a peaceful and stable neighbour, Afghanistan.

It has always assured and still on every forum raises voice for peace in Afghanistan. Relations between two neighbours have remained frosty in the past because of constant blame game by Afghanistan. Afghanistan in the past often blamed Pakistan for supporting insurgency, giving safe havens to militants, providing routes to Afghanistan and non-cooperation in eradicating terrorism. However Pakistan time and again has asked Afghanistan to stop blame game and show sincerity towards peace initiatives and cooperate in combating terrorism as both countries are facing challenges for internal peace and regional stability. Pakistan has always supported dialogue for peace in Afghanistan and has played role of a moderator whenever required.

According to recent media reports, the Trump Administration has ordered the military to start withdrawing roughly 7,000 troops from Afghanistan in the coming months. This decision by Trump is seen impulsive by many while others in Afghanistan view this announcement as a new beginning. Some believe that the reduction of US forces in Afghanistan is an effort to make Afghan forces more reliant on their own troops and not Western support. But some fear that this step will jeopardise the Afghan troops, who suffered high casualties and still struggling against Taliban despite American support. However, Fazl Fazly, Chief Advisor to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on the apprehensions that Afghan forces might not sustain against Taliban said “In the past four and half years our security is completely in the hands of Afghans and the final goal is that Afghan national defence and security forces will stand on their feet to protect and defend our people and soil on their own.” It must be kept in mind that along with the presence of 14,000 US troops in Afghanistan, there are also 8,000 NATO and allied troops deployed in Afghanistan tasked primarily for the training and advisory to Afghan forces. It is interesting to highlight that if American troops level drops to around 7,000, they will be at their lowest since March 2002, when the largest ground assault of the war at that time began during Operation Anaconda.

Trump, previously in his new war strategy increased number of strikes both on ground and in air and somehow US believes that its use of military power and surge in air strikes has forced Taliban to move towards peace. But Taliban have never considered themselves on back-foot while operating in Afghanistan. They still believe they have a major power share in Afghanistan and are still able to extend their influence in any area of the country they want to. Likewise regional powers such as Russia, China and Iran believe that Taliban should be brought to dialogue table because they carry major identity as insurgents and long-lasting peace in Afghanistan depends on them. Afghan Government on the other hand is very much reliant on the USA not only for military and economic aid but for exercising its policies also.

Whatsoever decision US takes for the betterment of Afghanistan, people in Afghanistan believe that this war will end some day and locals will unite to create new and safe Afghanistan. Hence, leaving Afghanistan will bring an end to US problems also as it is unable to control Afghan imbroglio in terms of military and economic restraints. So to legitimise decisions by Trump Administration, some circles in the US are justifying that if US pulls out, Afghanistan’s neighbour fear refugee crises which surely is wrong assumption. Pakistan in the past supported millions of refugees after Cold War period and now to secure its border work on fencing of Pak-Afghan border is on despite extreme weather conditions. Now it all depends on USA to plan and execute its strategy wisely in Afghanistan instead of leaving countrymen in limbo.

— The writer works for Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies, a think-tank based in Islamabad.


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