A September exit, Afghanistan at the crossroads

GS 2: IR

Context: USA to withdraw it’s forces from Afghanistan and peace talk negotiations going on between both the nations.

The Issue at hand

  • In conflict resolution diplomacy involving multiple stakeholders, sometimes the venue becomes as important as the agenda of peace talks.
  • The fragile Afghanistan peace process has been in disarray as the Washington-desired conference to be hosted by the United Nations in Istanbul, Turkey remains suspended due to the reluctance of Afghan’s Taliban.
  • Turkey had to announce the postponement of talks until the end of Ramzan. Taliban have expressed an openness to attend the Istanbul summit.
  • The real issue regarding Afghan peace, however, should be: ‘what’ is to be done, and not ‘who’ does it or ‘how’ it is done.

An American calibration

  • United States President Joe Biden is insistent on withdrawing the troops on September 11, even without any power-sharing deal between the warring parties.
  • With rising level of violence, prospects of negotiating peace in Afghanistan seem bleak. Since the announcement of an exit date, Afghanistan continues to witness deadly attacks across its provinces.
  •  Taliban have kept the space open for engagement with the Afghan government. After a long pause in peace talks, they met in Qatar .
  • By indulging in arbitrary acts of violence the Taliban are demonstrating that they are capable of seizing by military force what is not offered to them in peace talk negotiation.
  • There is a difference of views among Taliban commanders but this will only be visible after US withdrawal.

Pakistan’s emergence

  • Pakistan is the most important player in the Afghan conflict.
  • US administration has not set timelines, upping the ante for many stakeholders.
  •  U.S. military presence in Afghanistan had kept Washington reliant on Rawalpindi for operational and other support, Pakistan not only treated the U.S. as its geopolitical pawn but also smartly mobilised this factor against India.
  •  Pakistan’s desire for “close economic cooperation, enhanced regional connectivity and common vision for a peaceful South Asia”.
  • To keep America invested in Pakistan on military, economic, and societal fronts, it needs to ensure a smooth transition of power in Kabul.
  • But Taliban-opposed Kabul government’s relations with Pakistan continue to be characterised by deep hostility and mistrust.
  • A Goodwill trip to Kabul by Pak Army Chief to Afganistan ,to assure the Afghan leadership of Pakistan’s support for an “inclusive power-sharing arrangement”, Afghanistan President  accused Pakistan of running “an organized system of support” for the Afghan Taliban.

Dealing with the President

  • US is trying to dissolve current government and set up a new governing system that would include the Taliban, which could finally decide the future distribution of power and changes to the Afghan Constitution.
  •  But current leadership refuses to step down for an interim regime to take over, insisting that a new government should emerge through elections.
  • Current Afghan leader is seen as a figure who has deepened divisions among an already fractured Afghan political elite, besides failing miserably to wean the Pashtuns away from the Taliban.
  • The rival contenders for power are increasingly attacking leader’s legitimacy, challenging his motivations and grounds of support.
  • The Taliban now draw support from a wide variety of regional powers, including Russia, China and Iran. However, these countries too want the insurgent group to moderate its position.
  • China, seems confused as the American exit looms large. The China have become more comfortable with America’s military presence in Afghanistan which has suppressed many terrorist groups which threaten China directly or Beijing-friendly regimes in Central Asia.

China and India

  • The US retrenchment has serious implications for China; it would leave it vulnerable to its spillover effects particularly in the restive Xinjiang province.
  • If all regional frameworks fail to achieve Afghan peace, Beijing will not hesitate in asking for a potential UN intervention, as revealed by Chinese authorities.
  • India has been the key regional backer of the Ghani government, supporting an “Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled” peace process.
  • India fears a Taliban-dominated regime in Kabul might allow Pakistan to dictate Afghanistan’s India policy. Thus India has underlined the need for “a genuine double peace” (within and around Afghanistan).
  • As opportunism and strategic boldness seem to have become the main structuring poles of Afghan conflict resolution diplomacy, India’s policy preference for courting Kabul’s traditional political elite has faced a distinctive drawback; it has no leverage with the Taliban.

Finally, India and Pakistan

  • The strategic competition between Washington and Beijing, China’s growing rivalry with India, and New Delhi’s tense relationship with Islamabad are some of the factors which will affect the situation in Afghanistan.
  • Any reduction in tensions between India and Pakistan, will have an indirect stabilising effect on Afghanistan.
  •  Pakistan has a direct stake in the success of peace talks because it is aware of the negative fallout of another cycle of violence in Afghanistan — unconstrained refugee flows and terror attacks inside its territory.
  • It remains to be seen how border fencing along the controversial Durand Line can minimise this negative fallout.


While the September 11 exit would bring the U.S.’s “forever war” to an end, it is unlikely to result in peace if Afghan stakeholders show their utter inability to take the process forward. But If the path of negotiations is either abandoned or accepted half-heartedly, it will be impossible to stop Afghanistan’s descent into chaos and civil war.


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