US troops pullout may hurt Afghanistan more

Any peace initiative seeking Afghanistan going back into the hands of the Taliban at this stage when violence is refusing to die down will amount to throwing the people of the land-locked country to wolves

The US decision to withdraw 50 per cent of its troops in Afghanistan (7,000 out of the total 14,000 fighters) and facilitate the Taliban’s induction into the government in Kabul does not appear to be in the interest of peace in the war-ravaged nation as well as the world at large. The brief explanation that the stage has come when the Donald Trump administration wants the Afghans to depend more on their own security forces than those from foreign lands is meaningless in view of the fact that the Afghan National Army has proved to be too weak to make the Ashraf Ghani government’s writ run all over the country.

The Taliban even now control almost half of Afghanistan. What will, therefore, happen when the Afghan security forces will have to manage the situation on their own can easily be imagined. The chaotic situation may re-emerge as was seen when the country had a Taliban dispensation in the late nineties. There may be some change in the style of governance when the elected Afghanistan regime has a Taliban representation but not as much as would be required to ensure that the country ceases to remain a nursery for violent extremism as it has been.

Can the US and the rest of the world afford it after investing billions of dollars with a huge loss of human lives during the 17 plus years after the invasion of Afghanistan in the wake of the nine-eleven terrorist strike on the American mainland? Can the world feel safe in such a scenario? Will it not be an indirect admission of the US policy failure when it has decided to abandon the drive it had launched for eliminating terrorism root and branch? These and many other such questions come to one’s mind when one visualises the dangerous consequences of the US policy shift?

That is why the world was stunned when the Trump administration made its decision known a few weeks back. Most foreign affairs experts are convinced that the departure of the US forces from Afghanistan with their unfinished task will embolden extremists wherever they are.

The Trump administration’s illogical decision is being interpreted as a victory for the Taliban and defeat for the drive to end terrorism once and for all. Under the circumstances, extremist forces are bound to draw inspiration from the Taliban to convince their cadres to remain busy with their destructive agenda without losing hope whatever difficulties they may face as ultimately they are going to get crowned with success! How sad! The Pulwama terrorist strike, which resulted in the death of over 40 CRPF personnel and injuries to many, needs to be viewed against this backdrop.

Extremists all over the world may hold celebrations once the last US soldier finally leaves Afghanistan. This has been the top item on Taliban’s charter of demands ever since they started getting messages from the Trump administration for reconciliation and abandoning the path of violence to become a part of the political dispensation in Kabul. Anti-India extremist masterminds could not ask for more.

Thus, any peace initiative seeking Afghanistan going back into the hands of the Taliban at this stage, even with conditions attached, cannot be called a welcome development. This will amount to throwing the people of the land-locked country to wolves. Anyone who argues that let Afghanistan be governed by Afghans with no foreign forces remaining there under the prevailing circumstances is either not fully aware of the existing reality or that person is not a well-wisher of the Afghans.

Is Afghanistan ready for being allowed to run its affairs without any international protective shield? The question cannot be answered in the affirmative as there is no end to suicide bombings by various Taliban factions. First of all, violence must come to an end as proof that the Taliban factions have left their destructive path. Only then should the US forces leave that country. This would be quite logical as only then will peace and progress get the required opportunities to change the destiny of the Afghans for good.

While a heated debate is on about the likely fallout of the US decision, the scheduled talks with the Taliban in Islamabad have been called off owing to the extremist movement’s plea that some of its representatives would not be able to reach the Pakistani capital owing to the curbs imposed on them by the US and the UN still remaining intact. Now the talks would be held in Doha, the Qatari capital, where one round of negotiations has already been held.

Before the cancelled Islamabad talks Taliban representatives were called to Moscow for a similar peace dialogue. The event planned in Islamabad remained stillborn perhaps because it coincided with two major developments — the Pulwama terrorist killings and Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to Pakistan. The death of 40 CRPF personnel in the Pulwama incident created an atmosphere in which the Saudi leader might have expressed his displeasure to allow the Taliban to take part in any kind of negotiations at a time and place where he too would be present.

There appeared to be another reason for the Islamabad talks getting cancelled. The Afghanistan government expressed its strong resentment against the friendly treatment being accorded to the Taliban negotiators despite they being known forces of death and destruction. The Taliban factions continue to ruthlessly use their muscle power to make people toe their extremist line.

It is surprising why the US administration is so hell bent on placating the Taliban and holding dialogue with the extremist movement’s representatives when there is strong opposition to this move in a section of the US administration too as proved by Defence Secretary James Mattis’ resignation. When the Trump administration’s controversial decision was announced last December many experts expressed the view that it would be impossible for the US to honour its commitments in Afghanistan like providing training to Afghan national forces and conducting air campaigns against the Taliban and other militant groups as and when needed. The US, however, remains unmoved, giving little thought to the reaction of those who do not feel comfortable with its Afghanistan policy.

The time has come for the influential world capitals not convinced with the US policy moves on extremism and terrorism to formulate a strategy to suppress such forces active in the Af-Pak region. Depending on Pakistan for the success of such a strategy will be hoping against hope owing to its disappointing record on handling the problem. Islamabad has only one interest in the case of Afghanistan — to use it for having the strategic depth it has always been looking for.

India needs to convince the global community that the culture of violent extremism can be eliminated if the Afghans are made to develop their stake in economic growth and stability. India’s increasing popularity among the Afghans after its massive investment in Afghanistan’s reconstruction shows that the masses in that country can be weaned away from violence by spurring economic activity there.