In his much-anticipated announcement of the drawdown of troops from Afghanistan, US President Barack Obama declared that the United States will withdraw 33,000 troops from Afghanistan by September 2012. Striking a confident tone, he assured his nation that the drawdown of troops was being undertaken from a ‘position of strength.’ Under his assessment, ‘the tide of war is receding…in Afghanistan, the light of a secure peace can be seen in the distance.’
The decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan is certainly going to be game changer. But will it lead to greater or less stability in Afghanistan?
Certainly, the early indications are that the Taliban might have been emboldened by Obama’s announcement. They’ve stepped up their activity, and the attack on the fortified Intercontinental hotel in Kabul this week is a bad omen. Such a projection of resilience is in stark contrast with the desperate lack of governance in Afghanistan, combined with lax security, rampant corruption, high unemployment, weak institutions and rising civilian casualties from Western air attacks.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
The problems are compounded by the fact that Afghanistan, Pakistan and the United States – the three key players in this war – have divergent views and interests over counterinsurgency operations and reconciliation with the Taliban. And, with the three likely to pursue different agendas as the US troop drawdown begins, expect them to move to try to maximize their own gains in the post-withdrawal phase.
Already, the United States is engaged in secretive talks with the Taliban, with an eye on being able to hasten its drawdown. US hopes lay in putting together a political arrangement that includes the Taliban, and to this end it has already softened its position, helping to ensure that the Taliban are separated from al-Qaeda operatives on the list of entities under UN sanctions. The idea here is to induce the Taliban into breaking its links with al-Qaeda, renounce violence and recognize the Afghan constitution as part of any talks.
Yet the US efforts to talk directly with the Taliban have upset the Pakistanis, and there seems a genuine possibility that, as in the past, Pakistan will try to scuttle US discussions with the Taliban. The United States would therefore do well to heed the words of Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, who said, ‘Nothing will happen without us, because we are part of the solution.’
Why? Because Pakistan regards Afghanistan as a rearguard, and it sees US efforts as being at odds with its own interests.
The US raid that killed Osama Bin Laden, who was hiding deep within Pakistan, has seriously strained US-Pakistan relations. The Pakistani Army has been publicly criticized for having failed to defend the country’s sovereignty, and Pakistan has forced the United States to withdraw 120 of its operatives, including those who were providing training for the Frontier Corps.