On Wednesday, US President Joe Biden announced the complete withdrawal of all US troops from Afghanistan by September 11, the twentieth anniversary of the attacks on New York and Washington that resulted in the state-led military invasion. -United.
The announcement proved controversial in American political circles. Some called for a conditional withdrawal, subject to obtaining adequate counterterrorism guarantees and a peace settlement between the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Taliban. Assessments by U.S. intelligence agencies in recent months have revealed that a withdrawal absent an intra-Afghan peace deal would likely lead to the collapse of the government in Kabul within a few years and the potential resurgence of ‘Al-Qaeda in the country.
However, Biden’s long opposition to “wars forever” has seen him unwilling to extend the exit deadline, as his administration focuses on emerging security challenges in East Asia. It has limited room for maneuver given the ceasefire agreement signed with the Taliban under President Donald Trump last year which urged the United States to withdraw by the 1st. May 2021. The Taliban have repeatedly claimed that failure to withdraw within this timeframe would lead to war.
The disaster can still be avoided if the Taliban opt for a reasonable response to this announcement, the Afghan government manages to find a unified position on a peace settlement and the international community offers the necessary political guarantees to both parties.
A transatlantic withdrawal
Biden’s announcement of a new withdrawal date aims to undo the damage done by his predecessor’s Afghan strategy. Although it was seen as an attempt to buy time to counter the poor sequencing of the 2020 peace accord, the purpose of the delay is above all to repair relations with NATO, which had been damaged. under Trump.
The transatlantic relationship suffered from Trump’s accusations that NATO members were not paying their contribution to the alliance and his threats to sanction Germany, the first contributing country in Afghanistan after the United States. The negotiation of the troop withdrawal agreement with the Taliban last year also took place without sufficient consideration of the needs of NATO members, who depend on the US military for airlift support.
The choice of September 11 as the withdrawal date is therefore as logistical as it is symbolic. It is designed to give NATO members sufficient time to coordinate with the United States their departure from Afghanistan. The day after Biden’s announcement, NATO issued a statement saying its troops would also be leaving on the same date.
This move by the Biden administration must be seen in the context of its efforts to shift U.S. foreign policy toward multilateralism. Rebuilding relations with NATO and other partners is seen as necessary for the United States to be better equipped to deal with various global challenges, such as the rise of China and climate change.
The timing of the pullout announcements seems to indicate that the Biden administration was aiming for the United States and NATO to speak with one voice at the UN-hosted intra-Afghan conference in Istanbul, originally scheduled for the 14th. April.
The Istanbul Conference is the centerpiece of the accelerated diplomatic push launched by the Biden administration last month to try to find a solution before May 1. It was created to engage regional powers and advance an intra-Afghan peace settlement before the US withdrawal. After the Taliban failed to respond to the proposed April 14 date, it was pushed back to April 24. Now, with the postponement, this could become unnecessary, especially since there is still no guarantee that the Taliban will attend. The group’s spokesperson issued a statement claiming that the unilateral extension of the withdrawal violated the agreement and allowed the Taliban to take “necessary countermeasures.”
The value of the Istanbul conference will need to be clarified to Taliban leaders to ensure their participation. Some of their demands – the release of Taliban prisoners, the removal of UN Security Council sanctions and a specific request from Turkey for a reduction in military support for former Afghan vice president Abdul Rashid Dostum – will have to be processed.
In light of this uncertainty, the fact that the Afghan parties and many international actors have apparently jumped to Istanbul and abandoned the negotiations in the framework of the Doha process is dangerous for this delicate stage of the peace process. Switching between mediation channels without a commitment to a clear end will only take time at the expense of a peace deal, especially since the key issue remains the lack of a mandate for a formal mediator role.
Divisions within the Afghan government and competing peace proposals from President Ashraf Ghani and the United States have further complicated matters. It further convinces the Taliban of the inability of government negotiators to make sound and unified decisions.
Regardless of what happens with Istanbul, the Afghan government, led by the High Council for National Reconciliation, must take a unified position and both sides should aim to announce a formal declaration of guiding principles as a point of reference for future talks. .
The way forward to peace
As the United States and the world signal their interest in Afghanistan wanes, it’s time for the Afghans to take the lead in the negotiations and agree to a permanent ceasefire and peace settlement . The months ahead will be crucial in determining whether the Taliban and Afghan governments can show the leadership necessary to rule the war-weary Afghan people.
Now is the time for the Taliban leadership to demonstrate political prudence to the Afghans and to the world. For them, at least, there is a silver lining to the withdrawal announcement in that it represents a marked difference from previous reports that NATO troops would remain without the United States on a longer schedule. long based on conditions.
It is essential that the Taliban leadership carefully consider the context of the US and NATO withdrawal commitment in order to avoid falling into the trap of launching retaliation due to a narrow concern for dates.
The lack of credible guarantees from the Taliban that her return to Kabul will not erode the rights of women and minorities and her failure to reduce violence to an acceptable level has increased insecurity and driven other factions politicians to start arming themselves. It is clear that the high level of polarization and anti-Taliban sentiment across Afghanistan as well as opposition in the region to an Islamic emirate or similar regime risks triggering conflict if the group attempts to break into the region. capital in September.
It is important to note that the Taliban have always stated that they do not want a repeat of the civil war of 1992 and that they do not want the collapse of the Afghan state. These long-standing positions could be cited to set new parameters for what is to happen between May and September, instead of grappling with the US announcement.
This would allow Afghanistan, with the support of the United States and its allies, to offset the destabilizing influence of states in the region, including Pakistan. Cooperation to ensure an orderly and peaceful withdrawal can come in exchange for regional and international political and security guarantees for Afghanistan.
The good news is that many of the main obstacles that have held up negotiations in the past have been removed. President Ghani has accepted the withdrawal and a possible early end of his mandate, the leaders of the various Afghan political factions have shown a willingness to engage, and a high level of trust has been established between members of the Afghan negotiating teams in Doha, which paved the way for an agreed set of principles. Now that the way forward has been cleared for Afghan leadership, Afghans must take responsibility for the success or failure of future proceedings.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.