The US has decided to withdraw all its forces just ahead of the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks that had paved the way for the invasion of the country. On Wednesday, US President Joe Biden announced that the withdrawal will begin on May 1 in line with an agreement President Donald Trump’s Administration made with the Taliban.
Led by the Trump Administration, Afghan parties reached a consensus on procedure and method in the negotiations that started in Doha in September 2020, and completed the first round in January. However, in the negotiations that resumed on February 22, the content could not be approved and the talks were canceled.
After the negotiations in Doha, attention has turned to a proposed Summit in Istanbul. Turkey will host a peace summit for Afghanistan from April 24 to May 4. The meeting would also include the United Nations and Qatar as a part of the continuing intra-Afghan negotiations in Doha.
We spoke about the intra-Afghan peace process with Syed Muhammad Ali, Director (Nuclear & Security Affairs) of the Centre for Aerospace & Security Studies (CASS), Pakistan.
The complex dynamics of the Doha agreement
The intra-Afghan peace talks that were initiated in Doha under the leadership of the US during the Trump administration have been canceled. The Doha negotiations that had been ongoing for 5 months ended without any concrete gains. Why do you think the talks failed? How do you evaluate the Biden administration’s withdrawal program? What is the US’ interest in this process?
The US’ interest in the withdrawal of its military forces from Afghanistan should be seen in the context of its growing global concern towards returning to the great power politics and a much greater focus towards changing the posture of its military forces more against China and Russia than combating terrorism. Therefore, the primary US interest behind the decision of withdrawing its military is that the Biden Administration, despite conflicting advice from the military, has finally decided not to commit any more American lives, wealth and resources fighting the Taliban, as long as they can commit the following: Not to attack the US and its allies and not to allow any other entity or organization to use Afghan territory to threaten the US and its allies in future.
The Biden Administration is convinced that the main military objectives of the Afghan War, namely the elimination of Osama Bin Laden, the mastermind of 9/11 attacks, and destruction of Al-Qaeda have been achieved but political objectives such as the survival of democracy, human rights etc. are not militarily achievable. The Taliban’s main interest is to achieve the departure of foreign military forces in order to present it domestically and regionally as a victory, which they hope to convert into further political gains and in particular to weaken the Kabul Government.
Therefore, Afghan Taliban have deliberately reduced their attacks against Western forces in order to encourage them to leave but are reluctant to recognize Ashraf Ghani’s current government and have not made any commitment on not using force against them in future. Moreover, the failure of the intra-Afghan dialogue is a consequence of the failure of the Afghan stakeholders to achieve a compromise and their inability to reduce violence.
In addition, the Taliban considers the Biden Administration not meeting the May 2021 military departure deadline as a violation of the Doha accord which could further complicate the peace process in the coming months. In addition, US trust in the ability of Ghani Government to govern the country effectively has also gradually declined. In result, Washington is no longer interested in offering economic and security assistance to Ashraf Ghani’s government for long. These complex dynamics are collectively eroding the commitments that were made as part of the Doha agreement.
The role of Turkey is very important
It was announced that a new phase of negotiations between Afghani parties will take place in the coming weeks and the summit will be held in Istanbul with high level participation. How do you see the role of Turkey in this process?
The role of Turkey is very important for the continuation and future of the Afghan peace process because it enjoys the goodwill, trust and confidence of several key stakeholders of the Afghan conflict. Ankara’s efforts to reach out to Afghan stakeholders and different countries reflects its firm commitment towards the Afghan peace process.
It is hoped that Turkey will be able to make a substantive and timely contribution toward the process by ensuring and maintaining an inclusive and comprehensive approach towards finding a political and negotiated resolution to the decades long conflict that could yield lasting peace in accordance with the wishes of the Afghan nation and interests of its immediate neighbors.
Pakistan believes that there is no military solution
Pakistan is also playing an active role in the peace process. It is noted that Pakistan, which attended the summit held in Moscow in March, will also participate in the Istanbul Summit. What is Pakistan’s position and policy in the intra-Afghan peace process? Is a peaceful-political solution possible?
Pakistan has consistently reiterated that peace and stability in Afghanistan is in its own interest and has strongly reaffirmed its abiding commitment towards a peaceful, stable, united, democratic, sovereign and prosperous Afghanistan. Pakistan has been consistently supporting and facilitating all international diplomatic efforts to achieve durable peace and stability in Afghanistan. Pakistan believes that there is no military solution to the conflict in Afghanistan and a negotiated political solution through an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process is the only way to achieve lasting peace and stability in the country.
The U.S.-Afghan Taliban Agreement of 29 February 2020 signed in Doha helped lay an important foundation to further facilitate negotiations towards finding a permanent ceasefire and end the violence. Pakistan considers the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan must be in sync with a proportionate progress in the peace process.
The upcoming meeting in Turkey would be an important opportunity at a critical stage for the Afghanis to make progress towards a negotiated political settlement. Pakistan expects a well-planned and responsible troop withdrawal in coordination with Afghani stake-holders to ensure that this delicate process is not disrupted or leads to further violence. Pakistan also hopes that the US will continue to urge the Afghan leaders to seize this critical and time-sensitive opportunity and achieve a political settlement in the country. How this process is negotiated and managed will ensure that the long term interests of the people of Afghanistan, neighboring countries and the US is simultaneously and amicably secured, thus avoiding any disrtuptions to the process.
Pakistan believes that another key feature in the efforts for lasting peace and stability in Afghanistan should be a time-bound and well-resourced plan to enable Afghani refugees to return to their homeland and their reintegration within Afghanistan.
Afghani national security depends on the socio-economic development of Afghanistan and the region
How can regional countries such as China, India, Iran and Russia contribute to the Afghanistan peace process? Is it possible to create a regional cooperation mechanism for the conflict resolution in Afghanistan?
In order to achieve durable peace in Afghanistan, it is essential for all neighboring countries to make commitments and timely and substantive contributions towards not only the peace process but also to promote regional progress, development and connections. This will enable the immediate neighbors and regional countries to not only promote peace, security and stability within this conflict-prone region but also allow them to benefit mutually from the resulting socioeconomic progress, investments, regional trade and other significant dividends of peace.
Over the years, several major powers have spent billions of dollars and sacrificed the lives of thousands of their soldiers in Afghanistan. Their ability to secure their own national security as well as to build durable peace in Afghanistan will depend upon their commitment towards the socio-economic development of Afghanistan and this region in order to give hope and a better quality of life to the Afghani people which could convince them not only to return to their homelands but also to build their nation and give up violence as a way of life.
Syed Muhammad Ali is a well-known international policy analyst. He has rich experience of high-level multilateral and bilateral negotiations on strategic, nuclear and security issues with the US, China and India. His work on foreign, security, nuclear and energy policies has been published and quoted in world’s leading think tanks such as the Brookings Institute, CSIS, IISS and RUSI and prestigious publications including Brookings Arms Control & Non-Proliferation Series, Non-Proliferation Review and the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists.