Afghanistan — perils of an irresponsible pullout

The United States has a history of unceremonial and abrupt military withdrawal from various conflict zones


Dr Moonis Ahmar July 04, 2021
The writer is former Dean Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Karachi and can be reached at [email protected]

The United States has a history of unceremonial and abrupt military withdrawal from various conflict zones. In April 1975, the US military left Saigon, the then capital of South Vietnam, in haste and in June 1993, it abandoned peacekeeping operations in Somalia. In both cases, America went for an escapist option rather than facing the situation boldly. The recent example of America abandoning another allay is Afghanistan.

Why does the US abandon its allies in haste and how can its irresponsible withdrawal from Afghanistan be called a strategic blunder? What will be the perils of America’s irresponsible withdrawal and how would Pakistan deal with the emerging dangerous situation in the conflict-ridden country? After wasting around one trillion dollars in Afghanistan in the name of the war on terror, America is ending the longest war of its history without achieving the desired results, and its irresponsible withdrawal from Afghanistan is creating panic in Pakistan and elsewhere in the region because of an imminent civil war in that country.

Yes, the US military withdrawal from Afghanistan should be called irresponsible, and there are three main reasons for that.

First, the Doha accord of February 2020 between the Taliban and the Trump administration happened without the Afghan government taken into confidence. Assurances given by Taliban that they would not let any terrorist group use Afghanistan against America or its allies were enough for Washington to ink an agreement with them committing to withdraw its forces by May 31, 2021. The US failed to seek guarantees from Taliban that after the American military withdrawal they would not forcibly occupy Afghanistan, including its capital Kabul. It was irresponsible on the part of the US to get rid of Afghanistan because of physical and material losses without ensuring peace and stability in that country.

In retrospect, the Soviet military withdrawal from Afghanistan had taken place as a result of third-party mediation done by the UN; and the Geneva accord of April 14, 1988 was guaranteed by the Soviet Union and the US, with Pakistan and the Soviet-backed Kabul regime as signatories. The Soviet withdrawal was not unceremonial as rose petals were showered on departing Soviet forces by Afghans along the Salang pass connecting the Soviet Republics of Central Asia; and Moscow continued supporting the Najibullah regime till the time the Soviet Union disintegrated in December 1991. Hundreds and thousands of Soviet forces left Afghanistan between August 15, 1988 and February 14, 1989. Therefore, the Soviet military withdrawal from Afghanistan was not done in haste, rather gracefully and orderly.

Second, the irresponsible nature of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan could be gauged from the fact that even in Congress and Pentagon voices were raised against the Doha accord with Taliban which critics warned as a an unreliable partner. By signing an agreement with Taliban without the involvement of the Kabul regime, the US gave legitimacy and confidence to the Taliban who used the opportunity to reinforce the perception that after US withdrawal they would reoccupy Afghanistan and establish an Islamic Emirate. Much of the responsibility for the prevailing disorder and panic in Afghanistan is primarily a result of the irresponsible US withdrawal from that country. Although, President Joseph Biden, in his recent meeting at the White House with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Dr Abdullah Abdullah, assured continued American support to the Kabul regime, the reports from Afghanistan are rather disturbing: out of some 400-odd districts, Taliban are in control of around 100 and are preparing a final assault on Kabul once the foreign forces leave the country.

Taliban also took a strong notice of reports that the US intends to keep some 600 troops to protect its embassy in Kabul and demanded a complete military withdrawal from Afghanistan. Taliban have also rejected Nato’s decision to give Turkey a responsibility to secure Kabul airport and said such a move would be counterproductive.

Third, a responsible withdrawal of foreign forces would have required serious arrangements for peace and stability in their country in the form of an intra-Afghan agreement seeking commitment from all the local stakeholders, including Taliban, for a ceasefire; a caretaker government mandated by the UN Security Council; and guarantees of adherence to a democratic political process. The Trump administration failed to prevail over Taliban for their serious involvement in the Afghan peace process and non-use of force in the post-foreign military withdrawal period.

By reaching an agreement in Doha with Taliban, the US not only antagonised the Kabul regime but all those stakeholders who had predicted anarchy in Afghanistan. The Biden administration gave signals of rethinking Doha agreement and it appeared that the US would defer its military withdrawal beyond May 31, but the manner in which the White House committed to withdrawing forces by September 11 further augmented the morale of the Taliban. It is true that foreign forces cannot remain deployed in Afghanistan forever, but in the absence of a viable alternate, it would have been better had a Doha-II been reached with Taliban and other stakeholders in Afghanistan, including the Kabul regime, for agreeing on a peace architecture with Afghan groups committing to refrain from use of force to occupy territories in the aftermath of withdrawal of foreign military.

However, in view of the cultural ground realities in Afghanistan, chaos, disorder and violence are imminent after the US/Nato military withdrawal from the war-ravaged country. When an ordinary Afghan, whether representing masses or the elites, lacks ownership of his country and does not follow the norms of tolerance, wisdom and political pluralism, nothing can be done to establish peace and stability in the country. If the Afghan National Army (ANA), which is composed of 300,000 personnel and equipped with ground and air power, cannot confront 10,000 Taliban warriors, it means foreign funding and support cannot prevent the ANA collapse. It’s a bitter reality which needs to be swallowed by Afghans that they lack national character and ownership — something that has destroyed their country.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 4th, 2021.

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