Towards Afghan endgame
Dr Raja Muhammad Khan
Apparently, President Obama has given a clear signal of pulling out of all US forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. During the joint News Conference with Afghan President Hamid Karazai, President Obama said on January 11, 2013 that, “By the end of next year, 2014, the transition will be complete. Afghans will have full responsibility for their security, and this war will come to a responsible end.” However, “Still, the war’s endgame is punctuated with uncertainty, beginning with doubts about whether the Afghan government can build legitimacy by credibly serving its population. Also in question is whether Afghan security forces will be capable of holding off the Taliban after international forces leave.”
Indeed, the much awaited visit (8-11 January 2013) of President Hamid Karazai to Washington has a mix feedback. Optimists’ view that everything went well during the visit, as President Obama has assured his guest of a continued and guaranteed US support in all fields viz; security, economic and political. President Karazai however, did not promise immunity for the US troops after December 2014. This aspect seems to be a big setback for the hosts at White House and Pentagon. In the absence of any immunity, President Obama has ruled out the possibility of keeping troops in Afghanistan.
On this demand, President Hamid Karazai said that, he would go back and consult his people to have such a mandate, “I can go to the Afghan people and argue for immunity.” However, such an arrangement can be made through a ‘bilateral security pact’ otherwise being negotiated between Afghan Government and US and included in the joint statement too. In the past, President Karazai has been critical to the role of ISAF over the killing of thousands of innocent Afghan civilians through night raids and other combat operations. On their part, Afghan people may not grant such a mandate to President Karazai, in the light of their ill experiences. For his own credibility and in order to remain relevant in the future politics of Afghanistan, President Karazai too would not be very keen and forthcoming for such a concession. Indeed, except the group of beneficiaries, generally Afghan people do not like foreign troops on their soil.
Within U.S, there is generally a lack of consensus, whether to implement or otherwise a speedy pull out of its 66000 remaining troops. In the joint statement between President Hamid Karazai and President Obama, it was agreed that, Afghan National Security Forces would take over the responsibility of entire country by mid 2013, shifting the role of ISAF and US troops from combat to supportive and advisory responsibility. Pentagon military strategists however wants a gradual pull out and even leaving behind a certain number of US troops in the post 2014, with combat capability. General John Allen, the US Military Commander in Afghanistan has recommended Defence Secretary Leon E Panetta three different plans for the US troops to be retained in Afghanistan after December 2014. These three plans suggested troop’s level; 6,000, 10,000 and 20,000 respectively has their own implications and risk factor.
The Republicans in US also oppose the President Obama’s total and speedy pull out plan. Being the architect of this military invasion in 2001, Republicans desires to follow a slow and gradual pull out, while maintaining a substantial level of troops in Afghanistan after 2014. Though President Obama announced total pull out from Afghanistan before embarking on the second term of his Presidency, yet the sources close to White House say that, President Obama is keeping his options open on the pull out plan from Afghanistan. White House is considering an option of maintaining 3000-9000 troops in Afghanistan, which is being resented by Pentagon, considering it a high-risk option. Then, through an improved strategy and pressure tactics, President Obama wants that, Afghan Government should make a personnel request for the retention of US troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014 and promise immunity for them in return.
While the strategy of pulling out of the US and NATO forces from Afghanistan is fine tuned, there has been little progress in the negotiations process with Taliban and other anti Government groups in Afghanistan. Both, Afghan Government and United States are endeavouring to engage the Taliban leadership through a parallel dialogue process. As the experience proves, the process is generally slow and inertia driven. There have been no serious efforts in this regard. Without having a political settlement and assurances from these groups, maintaining security in the post US Afghanistan would a challenging task. Moreover, the fact remains that, ANSF is not capable to handle the security situation in Afghanistan.