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Friday, August 13, 2021, 14:47 (GMT+7)
Fragile peace and stability in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops

After 20 years of the “global war on terror” in Afghanistan, the U.S. and NATO will have withdrawn all of their troops from this country by the 11th of September, 2021. However, the public is wondering whether the withdrawal will bring peace and stability to Afghanistan or not.

A look back on the “global war on terror” in Afghanistan

Since the Soviet Union as one pole in the bipolar world order during the Cold War collapsed in 1991, the U.S. has devoted effort to realising its global strategy to build a unipolar world order under the control of Washington. To that end, the U.S. has implemented a global plan in various directions, particularly the two ones as follows. First, contrary to the pledge not to expand NATO after reaching an agreement with the Soviet Union on demolishing the Berlin Wall and reunifying Germany in 1989, the U.S. has continued expanding and using this alliance as the vanguard force to execute its global strategy after the end of the Cold War. To make excuse for the policy on the continued expansion of NATO after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Treaty Organisation - a military alliance of Eastern Europe socialist states, the U.S. must create an “worthy opponent” that has been called “international terrorism” by Washington. Second, the U.S. has tapped its military superiority over all other countries to establish “democratic regimes” in Washington’s “orbit” within the Third World. It is worth noting that countries in the political belt, which is named as Great Middle East by Washington, stretching from Afghanistan to Central Asia, South Asia, the Balkan Peninsula, North Africa, and the Middle East, play an important role in the Third World. The event on September 11th, 2001 commenced the U.S. realisation of those two strategic directions after the Cold War.

Only one day after completely surprising and horrible attacks at the World Trade Centre in New York on September 11th, 2001, the then U.S. President George Walker Bush announced to the entire world that Osama bin Laden, founder of the terrorist network Al-Qaeda sheltered and supported by the Taliban government in Afghanistan, was the “instigator.” Instead of using the special and intelligence forces to hunt and annihilate Osama bin Laden, President George Walker Bush launched a “global war on terror” in Afghanistan. Since then, Washington has considered terrorism as a global threat to national security of the U.S. and its allies as well as the whole world. Also since that moment, NATO has been provided with a reason for its long-term existence as the front-line force in the fight against international terrorism. The U.S. has been in need of creating global enemies so as to make excuse for the NATO’s existence and gather other countries under Washington’s “security umbrella.” More specifically, when waging the war in Afghanistan, President George Walker Bush issued a call for other states around the globe to engage in the U.S. fight against “international terrorism.” In addition, since launching the war in Afghanistan with the motto of bringing “sustainable peace” to this country, the U.S. has started using its military power to establish “democratic regimes” within countries of the Great Middle East geo-political belt.

Nevertheless, the goal set by the U.S. in the 20-year “global war on terror” in Afghanistan has not been fulfilled. Not being destroyed, the Taliban has regained the control of a large rural area of Afghanistan and threatened the survival of the political regime established by the U.S. in Kabul. In the past, the Taliban had been seen as an opponent that must be destroyed by Washington; however, the U.S. had to allow the Taliban as a partner to join negotiations for the Peace Agreement signed on February 29th, 2020. Moreover, not being destroyed by Washington, many international terrorist organisations have now spread to various regions in the world, such as Middle East - North Africa, Southeast Asia, and even Europe. Therefore, the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces from Afghanistan means an indirect recognition of failure of the 20-year war in this country. On July 8th, 2021, at the White House, the U.S. President Joe Biden announced that the U.S. Military had “reached its goals” of killing the terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, undermining the terrorist organisation Al-Qaeda, and preventing many terrorist attacks against the U.S. after 20 years of war in Afghanistan. “We did not go to Afghanistan to nation build. And it's the right and the responsibility of the Afghan people alone to decide their future and how they want to run their country,” said the U.S. President. That announcement by the U.S. President Joe Biden proves that Washington’s strategy of using military strength to “promote democracy” has also failed.

Fragile peace and stability in Afghanistan

On February 29th, 2020, after long negotiations, the U.S. and the Taliban signed the historic Peace Agreement in the capital city of Doha (Qatar), opening the hope of ending the U.S. 20-year war in Afghanistan. The deal includes commitments from the two sides. The Taliban is committed to breaking off its relations with the international terrorist network Al-Qaeda and other global terrorist organisations, working with the U.S. in the war on terror, ending attacks on the U.S. force and the Afghan Government’s security force, joining dialogues and discussions with the Afghan Government and other forces about a long-term ceasefire and a political process to resolve the conflict, and releasing 1,000  government prisoners in exchange for 5,000 Taliban ones.

Meanwhile, the U.S. is committed to reducing the number of its troops in Afghanistan from 12,000 to 8,600 within 135 days, closing 5 military bases in this country, and recommending the United Nations Security Council to lift sanctions against members of the Taliban by May 2020, maintaining a certain force in Afghanistan to conduct intelligence operations, and continuing to provide support and training for this country’s security force. Needless to say, within 20 years, together with NATO and the strongest military apparatus in the world, the U.S. has failed to remove the Taliban and had to negotiate with this force for a peace agreement to end the war. The U.S. has also failed to gain the control of Afghanistan in order to implement its Great Middle East Strategy.

After the withdrawal of the U.S. and NATO by the 11th of September, 2021, the prospect for peace and stability in Afghanistan is still dependent upon many factors. The external factors include the U.S. and NATO’s continued economic and security support to maintain the Kabul regime’s existence, the mediator role of Russia, China, Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, and some other Persian Gulf countries, and the spread of terrorist organisations to Afghanistan. Amongst those factors, it is worth mentioning the weapons left by the U.S. and NATO after their withdrawal and the construction of new bases in Afghanistan by the self-proclaimed Islamic State and several other terrorist organisations in preparation for their intrusions into neighbouring countries and new attacks. According to proposals by Zamir Kabulov, Russian presidential envoy to Afghanistan and United Nations Adviser for Afghanistan, Russia could deploy forces to Kabul to fight terrorism once being officially requested by the government of Kabul like it did to assist Syria in combating terrorist groups at the request of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Above all other, Russia will devote effort to providing support for Afghanistan to build a new government of sustainable development in peace and national harmony. Besides, China hopes that Afghanistan will develop stably to realise its “Road and Belt” Initiative in Central Asia and South Asia.

Furthermore, internal factors will greatly impact on the prospect for peace and stability in Afghanistan. First, since the presidential election in September 2019, there has been a serious political crisis in Afghanistan. To be more specific, after the election, candidate Ashraf Ghani (the incumbent President of Afghanistan) from the Pashtun ethnic group and candidate Abdullah Abdullah from the Northern Alliance (a coalition of non-Pashtun groups) both claimed victory. Therefore, Abdullah Abdullah announced that he would form another government, extend its influence in Afghanistan, and at the same time deny the legitimacy of the current government of Kabul. This will be a potential obstacle to the upcoming negotiation between the Taliban and the Government of Kabul. Second, Islamist extremist forces within the Taliban would not accept the ceasefire order as part of the deal with the U.S. on February 29th, 2020. Third, the Taliban stated that it would not admit the current political system in Kabul and advocate the building of an Afghan Islamic Emirate. Fourth, while the U.S. wants to maintain a certain force to combat terrorism in Afghanistan in a long time, the Taliban resolutely requires Washington to withdraw all troops from this country. Fifth, since the military presence of the U.S. and NATO in Afghanistan, this country has become the largest drug manufacturer and exporter accounting for about 80% of global production. Drug trafficking has been a horrible obsession in Afghanistan and other regional countries. However, there has been still a positive move. On July 8th, 2021, during a negotiation held in the capital city of Tehran (Iran), delegations of the Afghan Government and the Taliban agreed to take actions towards a political and peaceful solution to the crisis. In that direction, the two sides also agreed to maintain negotiations about a specific mechanism for building peace and an Islamic State. Nevertheless, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani believes that political transition in this country is extremely complicated.

What will happen to the political alliance of Ashraf Ghani is the most crucial factor in the future of Afghanistan. Besides, the political elite’s support for the incumbent government or their connection with other political groups, including the Taliban could be the most important indicator revealing the survival or collapse of Ashraf Ghani’s Government after the withdrawal of the U.S. and NATO.

Sr. Col. LUU BACH DINH, PhD

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