US weakens its negotiating position
U.S. President, Donald Trump, in an abrupt announcement last week announced that half of his country’s forces will withdraw from Afghanistan in the coming weeks and months. The announcement has come as a surprise, for Washington that is currently in talks with the Afghan Taliban to discuss the terms of the latter’s surrender and the former’s eventual departure from the country.
President Trump’s announcement was not only a shook for his own country’s military establishment but also for concerned regional states which are heavily invested in the Afghan conflict. There are two reasons why Trump’s impulsive decision to withdraw from Afghanistan points towards a US foreign policy in shambles.
Just hours after President Trump’s announcement regarding Afghanistan, his Secretary of Defense, Jim Mattis, resigned in an apparent rebuke of Trump’s worldview. “My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held,” Mr. Mattis wrote. This was a resignation, which actually meant that Mattis didn’t have any more patience left to tolerate Trump’s irrational decision and worldview. And the decision on Afghanistan and perhaps Syria was a nail in the coffin. All security and administrative institutions in the US which actually operate and engage with local actors on the ground are scrambling to share Trump’s announcement into a policy language and action. However, this is something which cannot be done overnight when you have multiple state actors engaged with you or for their own interests to see a calm and peaceful resolution to the conflict situation.
However, this is something which cannot be done overnight when you have multiple state actors engaged with you or for their own interests to see a calm and peaceful resolution to the conflict situation
The U.S. may be a major player in Afghanistan but it’s the same player, which has not been able to defeat some local tribes with its military might. Its likely that a number of other NATO countries which are part of the U.S.’s military mission in Afghanistan were not even consulted before Trump made an announcement. Moreover, it’s not clear whether Trump even informed his team and sought their input regarding the timing of his announcement irrespective of whether this was a right decision to take when Washington was in talks with the Afghan Taliban. In UAE last week, the U.S. and the Taliban engaged in some of the highest-level talks the two sides have held since the war in Afghanistan began more than a decade ago. Pakistan was one of the countries which not only facilitated the latest round of direct talks but also participated in it. U.S. special representative for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, led U.S. team in talks that included envoys from Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, and a host country. The details of the meeting only underscore that both sides presented their key demands. The U.S. on its part demanded that the Taliban announce a ceasefire and present their plans to join the government. The Taliban, on the other hand, demanded that the US announce its plans to leave the country, work with the government in Kabul to amend the constitution and a number of high-level prison releases were also demanded.
However, none of this indicates that a decision was made during the first round of talks to announce a withdrawal of half of the U.S.’s forces from Afghanistan. Arguably, Washington’s military presence in Afghanistan is one of the key bargaining chips which the country can use to negotiate some sort of end to the crisis. By announcing that the US is leaving Afghanistan, the former gave an important bargaining chip away. It is still to be seen how angry the U.S.’s European allies and other stakeholders are going to be with this decision.
And this is exactly the situation which Pakistan has feared for many years: a sudden and unplanned withdrawal from Afghanistan which would leave Islamabad high and dry and security of its border under immense pressure. While this appears like a decision which has a potential to return the 1990s situation back in Afghanistan, fortunately, regional states such as China, Russia, Iran, and Pakistan are much more prepared and invested to make sure that Kabul doesn’t simply implode. Beyond what Washington deems fit to its interests in Afghanistan, China, Russia, and Pakistan have been holding meetings and preparing for a post-U.S. Afghanistan phase. It is not likely that Trump or his close aids even consulted with Pakistan before making the sudden withdrawal decision when all Washington has said over the past few months doesn’t go beyond complaints about the alleged non-cooperation of its allies, including Pakistan. Pakistan’s policy decision of not giving in to Washington’s pressures to deteriorate its ties with the Taliban is commendable. The world has already given legitimacy to the group and Pakistan should not be banished for protecting its interests in the region. It’s the U.S. whose policy has gone off the rails: “The announced partial troop withdrawal emboldens the Taliban to press for a full pull out. The action weakens the U.S. hand in negotiations, having made a concession and getting nothing in return. It also weakens the Ghani government which has staked so much on the US commitment,” said Marvin Weinbaum of the Middle Eastern Institute.