The White House and Pentagon are at loggerheads on the issue of American troop withdrawal from Afghanistan after Donald Trump, on October 7, pitched shockwaves in the Department of Defense and the State Department by announcing bringing troops home before Christmas and spreading fears of endangering the intra-Afghan dialogue in Qatar.
His national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, said Trump was expressing a hope and that troops would be reduced to 2,500 early next year. Albeit chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley warned him not to “speculate”. While O’Brien claimed to be speaking for Trump and Milley touted his conversation with the President, tensions between the US federal government and establishment are being reflected in Afghanistan.
After the US military carried out airstrikes against the Taliban in Helmand last week, the US forces spokesperson in Afghanistan, Colonel Legget, defended the bombing in the wake of its support for Afghan security forces. He also denied the militants’ accusation that the aerial bombardment violated the Doha Agreement.
Since the agreement between the Taliban and the US in February, violence in Afghanistan has increased and should be a source of great concern for the international community, regional stakeholders and peace brokers.
Notwithstanding, the Taliban pledged to act against IS and its affiliates and to not allow Afghan soil to be used for terrorist activities against other countries, it refused to end its attacks on Afghan military. They however gave their assent to discuss a “permanent and comprehensive ceasefire” in the intra-Afghan dialogue.
But there’s no sign of stopping the carnage of Afghans as an unclaimed suicide car assault last Sunday killed 15 civilians. The attack in central Afghanistan urges both sides to exercise responsibility and build a climate of trust to prevent a collapse in peace negotiations.
The Taliban must understand their high stakes in the country and that despite controlling a large expanse of Afghanistan, they do not represent a significant proportion of the population, which backs the national government.
Engagement is the ultimate solution to the sweltering Afghan dispute. It therefore would be wise that the Taliban commit to violence reduction and a successful discussion for peace and stability in Afghanistan.
Conversely, the Trump administration must keep the Afghan peace away from the US presidential election and avoid making empty promises about troop withdrawal. The Pentagon too shouldn’t display its gripes with the US federal government through mounting strikes in Afghanistan.
Showing reservations over a complete withdrawal of US forces in Afghanistan by December, experts suggest Trump changed tactics to shift the news cycle away from Covid-19 and Pentagon would likely decline executing such an executive order before November 3.
Escalation to seek leverage by Washington (or combatants) could result in catastrophic consequences for Afghans as it would further dampen the trust of civilians in the peace process and push Afghanistan into unrest.
The greater responsibility rests with the US — being the lead sponsor of the intra-Afghan dialogue — to restore the Afghans’ confidence in the process and emphasise on the significance of warding off another war.
The Afghans have undergone excruciating infighting between pro- and anti-government forces with US persistent inflating their social and economic challenges. They desperately wish all warring parties to forge a peace consensus.
Nonetheless, peace still requires more “patience and compromise” and protection from “regional spoilers”, as per PM Imran Khan’s article for The Washington Post last month in a whistleblower alert. Khan was pointing at India that has equivocally supported the peace process. New Delhi remains wary of talking to the Taliban regardless of assurance to Abdullah Abdullah for “active involvement” in dialogue.
While the US should guard the progress on Afghan peace from regional firebrands, the Trump administration must let off the Afghan peace for crass partisan politics, which could undermine the dialogue and breed new conflicts in the distraught country.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 26th, 2020.
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