The withdrawal of the remaining US and NATO troops from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021, without any framework for the intra-Afghan dialogue and its finalisation has caused quite an anguish not only in the region but also amongst many American leaders. Such concerns are not new; many analysts had also discussed the situation in Afghanistan after NATO’s drawdown of troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, by painting different scenarios as a consequence.
As new developments unfold now, former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton has warned that the US could face “huge consequences” of President Joe Biden’s decision to pull all US troops out of Afghanistan. Commenting on the situation, she said, “It’s one thing to pull out troops that have been supporting security in Afghanistan, supporting the Afghan military, leaving it pretty much to fend for itself, but we can’t afford to walk away from the consequences of that decision.” She predicted a potential for a Taliban-controlled Afghan government and subsequent “huge refugee outflow”. There could be “a largely Taliban-run government at some point in the not-too-distant future”. She also predicted the resumption of activities by global terrorist groups, most particularly Al Qaeda and the Islamic State. Former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, in the same chorus, expressed her views before members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee saying that they were worried about Biden’s plan to withdraw all US troops from Afghanistan.
Although US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a policy statement assured of the preparation to deal with every scenario. He also committed to economic support, developmental and humanitarian, not only from the US, but also from partners and allies. However, the questions of ceasefire and sustainable peace have been left unaddressed and in ambiguity.
Despite all these assurances, the situation appears to be quite nebulous. In this context, the likely impact of various scenarios upon social, political and economic life in Pakistan, requires an in-depth and impassionate analysis.
The three possible scenarios could be: first, a stable Afghanistan under the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), with a capacity to fend off any onslaught of anti-government insurgents, including the Taliban. Second, the country may again plunge into a protracted civil war between the Taliban forces and the Afghan government, thus escalating violence and flow of refugees to safer places. Third, an ultimate fall of Kabul to the militants.
Using history as a guide, it can be said that if the going gets tough, the probability of mass desertions by military personnel cannot be ruled out. While this may be a source of happiness for sympathisers of jihadi rhetoric, it should not be forgotten that state failure in Afghanistan may not augur well for Pakistan.
This may negatively impact counter-insurgency and counter-organised crime operations, with a spillover into Pakistan, clearly posing an imminent threat to Pakistan’s security and stability as well. The domino effect will be stronger in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan, and the merged tribal areas, already having experienced security challenges like insurgency, drug proliferation, and religiously inspired militant extremism.
Being on the same wavelength, the Taliban government will sponsor the Pakistani Taliban movement both militarily and with indoctrination, having a severe backlash on the law-and-order situation, especially in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. Sectarian conflicts in all likelihood will sharpen, further emboldening outfits such as Al Qaeda and ISIS. As Senator in 2008, Joe Biden had said, “If Afghanistan fails, Pakistan could follow because extremists will set their sights on the bigger prize to the east.” This may be true, as they clamour to realise their dreams of a renaissance of Islam from Khorasan. In such a situation, Pakistan may face diplomatic complications in its relations with the international community, having a negative impact on the economy.
The strategists in Pakistan seeking inspiration from the success of a radical militant Islamist movement will find a chance to brainwash young recruits in Pakistan, drumbeating the defeat of the collective power of all of West. The country will be in a catch-22 situation because the past ties with Taliban may fracture its relations with other countries in the region, with a lesser chance of connectivity with Central Asia.
In this backdrop, the Afghan president expressing his mind in an article, “Afghanistan’s Movement of Risk and Opportunity”, stated that in case Pakistan chose to support the Taliban then it would be perceived as an international pariah.
In this connection it is imperative to understand the paradigm of the Taliban’s ideologues who aspire to extend their control across the borders through a caliph (ameer-ul-momineen) in pursuit of the transnational ideology. All radical campaigners picking up courage will promote their propaganda against democracy in Pakistan and will ultimately form a strategic alliance. Consequently, such elements converged into a unified force, will use all means, soft and hard, to achieve their strategic goal of One Caliphate.
The emerging situation offers difficult choices for Pakistan and how to balance relations with all stakeholders of the Afghan peace. This of course requires a paradigm shift in dealing with jihadi elements within Afghanistan by staying neutral and acceptable to all.
In order to avoid the aforementioned negative fallout, it is necessary to have a government in Afghanistan which carries the values of democracy, multiple discourse, plurality, gender equality, neutrality and connectivity. In a nutshell, a sovereign and democratic Afghanistan is the solution.
In order to have a sovereign and democratic Afghanistan, the role of the United Nations assumes greater importance during the transition. Therefore, all stakeholders must give this role to the UN with an objective to ensure a peaceful withdrawal, to prevent forceful occupation of political power, to monitor elections and to disarm militias.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 12th, 2021.