What will happen when American military forces withdraw from Afghanistan? Donald Trump told aides that he wanted U.S. forces out of Afghanistan before the 2020 election. There are various reports in the media that an agreement has been reached between the Taliban and the U.S. on a time frame for a withdrawal as well as on the outline of an interim government.
U.S. special representative Zalmay Khalilzad denied reports of an agreement for an interim government, and he didn’t mention a possible time from for withdrawal of U.S. troops.
As the Taliban spokesperson stated earlier, we have had no discussions about an interim government. Governance decisions are for Afghans to make in intra-Afghan negotiations. #AfghanPeaceProcess
— U.S. Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad (@US4AfghanPeace) August 24, 2019
Clearly, we are getting closer to ending America’s longest war. But Senator Lindsey Graham, appearing on Fox News, warned of severe consequences if the U.S. withdraws prematurely.
“If we left tomorrow, the Taliban cannot be trusted to take care of ISIS and Al Qaeda,” Graham told chief intelligence correspondent Catherine Herridge. “They don’t have the capability. So when you ask our intelligence community…what would happen to America if we withdrew all of our forces. They tell us without any hesitation it would lead to another 9/11 in a matter of time.”
Beg your pardon, senator, but if the Taliban has the capability of taking over 70 percent of Afghanistan, they can take care of their enemies in ISIS. In fact, the Al-Qaeda-Taliban alliance in the 1990’s, which gave Bin Laden a safe haven to plan the attacks, would not exist today. Nor would there be any kind of alliance with ISIS, whom the Taliban view as their mortal enemy.
But Graham says that the Taliban don’t have the capacity to remove the terror group, and said he had been briefed by General Austin “Scott” Miller that the Afghan version of ISIS, ISIS-K, is also trying to set up operations against America and are perhaps more lethal than Al Qaeda.
“It would be insane to outsource our national security to the Taliban when it comes to ISIS,” he said.
Some reports suggest that the U.S. and the Taliban are actually close to a deal:
The second day of their ninth round of dialogue had been due to begin on Friday but “both sides decided to postpone it until Saturday”, the Taliban’s Doha spokesman Suhail Shaheen said, citing “other engagements”.
“We have made progress and are now discussing the implementation mechanism and some technical points,” he said, referring to discussions that took place two days earlier.
“The agreement will be completed after we agree on these points,” he said.
The agreement would include a withdrawal of U.S. troops in exchange for “guarantees” that the Taliban will not allow the country to be used as a base for international terrorism. As fanatical as the Taliban are, they should be smart enough to realize that allowing international terrorist groups to operate on their soil would be suicide.
What happens to the current Afghan government? President Ashraf Ghani is looking to hold elections next month — already twice postponed — to strengthen his position before starting peace talks with the Taliban.
On the other side, confident of a second term, President Ashraf Ghani steadily but consistently pushed for the election. While the exclusion of the Afghan government from the US-Taliban peace talks in Doha weakened the position of his government internationally, it saw a surge in the President’s popularity compared to the pre-peace-talk phase inside Afghanistan. Supported by an extensive media campaign which drew parallels between the civil war years that followed the Soviet troop withdrawal and the US troop withdrawal, President Ghani was able to reestablish his position as the President who would not allow for history to repeat itself. This brought him public support and silenced many of his critics.
In a post-election scenario of a Ghani.2 government – with a much stronger mandate – the government is imminent to make room for the Taliban as reaching an agreement with them is essential and indispensable to bring peace to Afghanistan. However, in this constellation, the Taliban will remain the smaller partner of a Ghani-led government, with limitations especially in the domains of foreign policy, economy, and security. Nonetheless, an overall right-shift in governance renewed interpretation of particular constitutional provisions adhering to Taliban’s understanding of Islam, and changes in the polity of Afghanistan are to be anticipated.
The Taliban take a junior position in a coalition government? Why? They’re winning the war. Ghani is delusional if he really believes he and his ministers maintain control once they partner with the Taliban.
But, at bottom, it doesn’t matter. U.S. power has run its course in Afghanistan and it’s time to go. Whatever face-saving device U.S. negotiators can come up with will serve as a basis for Trump’s declaration of victory — and bring the troops home.