The announcement made by US president Joe Biden that the remaining American troops stationed in Afghanistan will be flying back home on September 11 sounds more like a disposition of America fleeing the battlefield with her tail between its legs while leaving a luckless Afghan government to the mercy of a much anticipate forthcoming full-fledged attack and probable takeover by the Taliban giving Pakistani military establishment and the ISI a strong foothold in the mountain rugged country.
Massive US troop withdrawal since September 2020 have already created a security vacuum in the Afghanistan which has readily been exploited by the Taliban. The Taliban have refused to conduct any peace talks until the last American boots on the ground are removed. The Doha talks that began in the Qatari capital last September have failed to bear fruit and attacks on Afghan security forces by the Taliban have only intensified.A former Senior Adviser to the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Carter Malkasian, notes in his recent article published in Foreign Affairs, “Over the last six months, the Taliban have won major battles and recaptured large swaths of territory, likely incentivizing them to fight on and shun compromise at the negotiating table”. He then wraps up his argument by asking, “Why agree to share power when you can take it by force?” 1 After all it was the presence of the US troops in Afghanistan that have so far prevented the Taliban from winning the war. Malkasian notes “Taliban in Doha readily acknowledged that as long as the United States remained in Afghanistan, they would be unable to achieve a military victory." 2
All this however might change. The Taliban, emboldened by their success to survive the American and NATO operation, could very quickly begin their march towards Kabul.
The Taliban have already regained control of much of Helmand province (October 2020), as well as most of the farms and the countryside around the city of Kandahar. Therefore, Arghandab, Panjwai and Zharey, which were in government control thanks to the US surge of 2009-11, are now firmly in the hands of the Taliban, again. (Malkasian:2021).
Therefore, in a post-US-troops-withdrawal state of affairs the Afghan government under president Ashraf Ghani will have to come up with an operational strategy in order to conduct a winnable domestic parliamentarian political struggle, a conclusive armed civil-war and simultaneously be able to launch an effective international diplomatic campaign to defeat the Taliban and Pakistani and other regional state’s interference in Afghanistan’s internal affairs.
Old regional scavengers are reemerging. Iran, China and Russia are already eyeing upon the opportunity that the anticipated power and economic vacuum will provide.
Since traditionally civil war in Afghanistan literally always comes to a halt due to severe weather conditions during the winter, one of the most crucial task at the moment for the Afghan president is to buy time. If he can somehow manage keep the Taliban insurgency at bay till the end of the summer and let winter set in, then he can bid more breathing space and crucial preparatory time.
India has a major stake in Afghanistan. Currently, there are more than 400 development projects that India and Afghanistan are conducting jointly. Hence, it is crucial that India joins the negotiation table when and wherever the next session of peace talks between the Taliban and Ashraf Ghani government restart.
In the final analysis, Joe Biden is the third American president to promise a US troops withdrawal from Afghanistan. In my view, even if by September 11 all of the remaining US troops flee Afghanistan there will still be hundreds of CIA operatives who could remain in Kabul to advice Ashraf Ghani. Besides US can always strike terrorist targets at will inside Afghanistan if need be.
And finally, US troops might even have to make a desperate dash back to Kabul if the Taliban come convincingly close to capture Kabul. In which case it will be a repeat of October 2001 when the attacks on Afghanistan’s Taliban government began that put an end to the barbaric Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.(Dr Amjad Ayub Mirza is an author and a human rights activist from Mirpur in PoJK. He currently lives in exile in the UK.)