0 comments   |     by Ikram Sehgal




Recent reports coming out of Washington suggest that the proposal by US National Security Adviser (NSA) Mr. MacMaster for a moderate rise in the number of US troops or their private security company substitutes has been rejected by President Trump. If this is true it would at least conform with Trump’s declared goal to put ‘America first’ and use the money that the US has kept spending in Afghanistan for the last more than 15 years to not only finance their own troops and civilian personal but also to pull the plug on financing an unpopular Afghan government. A so-called ‘moderate’ rise in the number of US troops would have been unlikely to bring any favourable change in any case: If the huge troop rise under the previous government did not bring the end of the Talibaan insurgency, several thousand more troops wouldn’t be able to achieve that either.


That is why news about possible plans about a possible alternative –a complete withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan – seems less surprising and may have a chance to succeed that they never had before. With China and Russia already involved in Afghanistan and the US supported peace strategies in doldrums, American withdrawal would probably give a new lease of life to peace initiatives in Afghanistan. If we remember US withdrawal from their country has been one of the main preconditions of the Talibaan movement for their participation in peace talks.


Such an option would also conform to the situation in the country. There is no doubt that the Talibaan insurgency is far from receding; on the contrary it is gaining support and territory by the day. Up to half of the territory of Afghanistan is today under stable or latent rule of the movement. The Talibaan have successfully re-adjusted to the change of leadership that was necessitated by the death of successive leaders. Recent research into the Talibaan ideology published on the webpage of Afghan Analyst Network (AAN) suggest that not only leadership but Talibaan ideology as well has changed and modernized during the last twenty years. Today the Talibaan are more of nationalist movement that is upholding the demand for the sovereignty of their country. Other than in the past they are more open to modern Islamic ideas. They imagine themselves as Afghans and do not intent to extend their rule to unite the ‘Ummah’. In a 2009 statement addressed to the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, the Talibaan said: The IEA wants to have good and positive relations with all neighbours based on mutual respect, and to open a new chapter of good neighbourliness of mutual cooperation and economic development... The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, as per its peaceful policy, wants constructive interaction with Shanghai Forum members, for permanent stability and economic development in the region on the basis of mutual respect.” This should be a good basis for a negotiated peace within the country and for fruitful relations within the region. After a conference organized by Pugwash in Qatar last year though the Afghan government did not participate some important points were agreed upon among the participants one being the point of withdrawal of foreign troops.

A withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan while fulfilling one precondition for peace set by the Talibaan would have another consequence: the probable fall of the current Afghan government that had come about with the tacit support and manipulation of the US and the collapse of the untenable power-sharing formula that has gradually paralysed its rule and undermined its acceptance in the country. A period of turmoil and re-arrangement of power relations would follow. One has to consider the idea if this could be prevented by bringing in some balancing forces that could fill the void possibly with the help of China, Russia and or Shanghai Cooperation Organization – if that would be acceptable to the Afghans.

One major irritant in relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan have been the suspected ‘evil intentions’ of the Pakistani Army and security forces. Pakistan has been used as a whipping boy by both the US and the Afghan government to carry the blame for all their defeats and failures. One major part of removing such irritants would be an effort to develop trust between the security institutions of both countries. If such trust deficit could be reduced it would greatly help future peace talks between an indigenous Afghan government, the Talibaan and other interested parties (the writer is a defence and security analyst).

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