US withdrawal leaves little hope for many Afghans

Gul Muhammad joined the Afghan army in 2016 when he was just 22 years old. He wanted to serve his nation by fighting the Taliban and earn an honest living as a soldier.

But after the United States signed a peace deal with the Taliban last year, Muhammad felt increasingly desperate as the military lost territory and suffered heavy casualties.

In December, Muhammad surrendered to the Taliban, one of four soldiers in his company who deserted around the same time. “Our commander was reckless about the lives of the soldiers, they stole our food and our salaries and deployed us without planning,” he said. “This war has no morals, the Taliban are stronger and they are brutal.”

Muhammad’s desperation is rampant across Afghanistan after US President Joe Biden announced his intention to “end the war forever” and withdraw all US and NATO troops from Afghanistan by the 11th. September, 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks.

“The war in Afghanistan was never meant to be a multigenerational endeavor,” Biden said in remarks Wednesday.

The United States is leaving Afghanistan at a time when the government in Kabul is fragile, rife with corruption and poisoned internal rivalries. Some Taliban say they are convinced that if they bide their time they can set up an Islamic emirate, a scenario that risks completely overturning US efforts to democratize and modernize Afghan society.

“Our jihad will continue until we establish and restore an Islamic regime,” a Taliban leader and former governor of eastern Afghanistan told the Financial Times. “Our weapons and bombers are ready to attack the remaining forces in Afghanistan and the puppet regime.”

As the United States steps back, Afghanistan’s neighbors – Pakistan, Iran, Russia and China – wait to enter the power vacuum, citing major power rivalries in the region of the end of the 19th century between Great Britain and Russia.

Sajjan Gohel, an expert on South Asia at the London School of Economics, said there were worrying parallels between the current US withdrawal and the Soviet withdrawal 30 years ago.

After the collapse of the Soviet regime, Afghanistan became a haven for Islamic militants around the world. “The house of cards has collapsed,” Gohel said. “Ungoverned spaces are the greatest asset for the flourishing of extremism.”

Zalmay Khalilzad, the United States’ special representative in Afghanistan, shakes hands with Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar in Doha last year © Karim Jaafar / AFP / Getty

Biden set the withdrawal date after resuming a deal brokered by the Trump administration that he said was “maybe not what I would have negotiated myself.” The Doha agreement, signed between the United States and the Taliban in February 2020, set a timetable for withdrawal. In return, the Taliban gave assurances they would not allow al-Qaeda to threaten the United States from Afghanistan and reduce levels of violence, a pledge politicians say has failed. to hold.

The Taliban secured the release of thousands of prisoners while launching a relentless assault on Afghan security forces and civilians. More than 500 civilians were killed in Afghanistan in the first three months of 2021, a 30% increase from the previous year, according to the UN. The Taliban have been accused of a wave of assassinations of journalists, judges and activists that rocked civil society.

Talks between the government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in Kabul and the Taliban to reach a power-sharing deal have been halted, prompting the Biden administration to suggest a new multinational peace conference in Istanbul to chart the course to be continued. The Taliban refused to attend.

Christopher Kolenda, a retired army colonel who negotiated with the Taliban, said the United States had little leverage after a series of “missed opportunities” to come out.

He warned that in the absence of a comprehensive regional approach to peace “Afghanistan’s neighbors continue to stir the pot with their proxies and hand over security concerns.”

Afghan security personnel remove damaged vehicle after deadly roadside bombing in Kabul

Afghan security personnel remove a damaged vehicle after a deadly roadside bomb attack in Kabul in January © Rahmat Gul / AP

Chris Alexander, a former Canadian diplomat, has been blunt that the United States and its allies do not hold Pakistan accountable for its role in supporting the Taliban by providing funding and sanctuary for its leaders.

“The allies of the United States and NATO have not yet tried even the best strategy available to end this war: sanctions against those responsible in Pakistan. With or without international military forces on the ground, united political action is needed to end Pakistan’s proxy war, ”he said on Twitter.

Afghans are preparing for a future without the United States to hold the Taliban at bay. Many, like Ghousuddin Frotan, try to flee to Europe or neighboring countries.

“Due to the worsening security situation and targeted assassinations, I want to leave the country,” said Frotan, director of a social development organization, “I know a lot of other people who want to leave.”

Madiha Afzal, of the Brookings Institution, said women’s rights have been put at risk. “The Taliban leadership has learned to sidestep some of these rights issues to gain international legitimacy, but the group’s ideology remains the same,” she said.

A senior US administration official said Washington would support women’s rights through diplomatic means and still have significant counterterrorism assets in the region to counter a terrorist threat in Afghanistan and to compel the Taliban to respect their commitment to ensure that al Qaeda does not do it once. threaten the United States again.

But the Taliban are “emboldened” by the diplomatic legitimacy the US deal has given them, said Naheed Farid, member of the Afghan parliament. “They have not severed their ties with Al Qaeda. If the mission was to fight international terrorism, the mission was not accomplished. ”

A former US military commander also questioned the feasibility of the Biden administration’s commitment to providing assistance to the 300,000 Afghan national security forces that the United States had spent years training and equipping.

“It is to be expected that these extremist groups [the US took military actions against] will establish new sanctuaries in areas not controlled by the Afghan government in the future, ”they said.

Muhammad, the former soldier, fears that the Afghan army is not strong enough. “Without American and foreign troops, Afghans will be killed like chickens in a butcher shop.”

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