US troop withdrawal and impact on Afghans

Reduction in external aid; depleting political & diplomatic interests; and increasing involvement of other countries


Samra Athar Kakakhel July 11, 2021
The writer is a social and political analyst

With the withdrawal of American and Nato troops from Afghanistan nearing completion, the looming question is: how will the exit of the foreign forces impact Afghanistan?

Well, it’s no revelation that the pullout of the United States of America, the world’s sole superpower, will be felt very deeply by all in Afghanistan. Three of the after-effects are particularly alarming for Afghanistan. They include: a reduction in external aid; depleting political and diplomatic interest of the world powers; and increasing indirect involvement of other countries in the region which would mean a rise in proxy war.

Firstly, Afghanistan’s ground power is a combo of money and troops. Over the years, the US has spent approximately $144 billion in Afghanistan on “relief and rebuilding”. An overwhelming portion of this staggering amount has gone towards infrastructure development, setting up of new security institutions, and support for Afghan forces. Apart from this, Washington has also spent more than $35 billion on state funding.

A discontinuation of US aid to Afghanistan, or even a cut, in the wake of the US withdrawal would be difficult for the Afghans to swallow. State institutions in the war-torn country remain heavily dependent on external aid. This does not seem to change even if the Taliban take over the reins of the country.

Reportedly, Afghans are already concerned that the military drawdown would mean a reduction in the US aid for Afghanistan. They have experienced a similar situation in 2014 when a majority of the US-led Nato forces had departed the country. A massive cut in aid would be significant in the context of public welfare programmes related to health, education, local governance, etc — something that would have a serious impact on the lives of common Afghan people.

The long-entrenched patronage system in Afghanistan has now become a key tool for managing (read buying) loyalties of elite power brokers, strong ethnic outfits, and local interest groups. It goes without saying that the political status quo cannot be managed without money. Therefore, an absence of external aid will damage this patronage system, whereby the anti-Taliban forces will be affected more than the others. The consequences of all this could lead to fights over control of the remaining resources.

Secondly, the US troop withdrawal is highly likely to fracture political and diplomatic commitment by the US and other NATO member states to support a settlement between the Taliban and other stakeholders, including the government in Kabul.

Third, the pullout will set a stage for an Afghan regional war. Pakistan, India, Iran, China, Russia, and the Gulf Arab states may all indulge in a military conflict through their proxies in Afghanistan. The absence of American assistance will hinder the political process. Taliban and their opponents may increase attacks on each other, with the civilians, mostly those opposing Taliban, bearing the brunt more in the form of bloodshed. No Afghan government would be able to handle this civil war situation. The exit of the US forces from Afghanistan would provide an avenue for extremists.

The withdrawal of international forces in Afghanistan is sure to cause an upheaval that would be too difficult to handle.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 11th, 2021.

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