Afghanistan: current withdrawal plan risks ‘total civil war’?



The United States would withdraw almost 5,000 troops from Afghanistan and close five bases within 135 days under a draft peace accord agreed with the Taliban, said the chief U.S. negotiator, Zalmay Khalilzad, Reuters reports.

The majority of America’s ambassadors to Afghanistan since the removal of the Taliban government have condemned the US approach to negotiating a troop withdrawal, warning it risked a return to “total civil war.” Writing the day after a draft agreement was announced, the nine men, including a former deputy secretary of state, said they supported peace talks in Afghanistan, The Guardian adds.

“We believe that US security and values, including support for women, require that a full troop withdrawal come only after a real peace,” said the open letter, published by the Atlantic Council. “We must not yank so much support from our Afghan friends that they are unable to protect themselves or the chance to keep moving forward with a representative democracy.”

Afghan civil society activists win NED Democracy Awards

The steady watering-down of American demands is a worrying sign, in Afghan eyes, The Economist writes.  Whereas America once insisted that the Taliban would need to negotiate directly with the Afghan government on a political settlement for the country, it now seems more likely that the insurgents will hash out the issue with a more nebulous group of political elites and civil-society representatives.

“A U.S. exit before a comprehensive peace agreement among all Afghan power brokers is concluded may well lead to civil war as the various players, awash in weapons supplied by major powers, once again adjust their allegiances and turn their guns on another,” analyst Arif Rafiq writes for Foreign Policy.

When the Afghan government-Taliban talks get underway, Afghan civil society, youth and especially women all have an important role, says Melanne Verveer,* the executive director of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security and a former U.S. ambassador for Global Women’s Issues. Why women in particular?

“Peace must not be made on the backs of Afghan women. Both the work towards a peace agreement and democratic elections need to move forward—neither held back by the other,” NDI chair Madeleine Albright writes for the Financial Times (HT: CFR).

What is happening in Afghanistan is already beyond grief. The United States is negotiating with the Taliban, without the Taliban first agreeing to a cease-fire as a precondition for talks, and American soldiers are still being killed (in the last ten days, three American servicemen died) leaving their families in mourning. How did the Americans land in a situation where their troops are constantly hounded by the Taliban, instead of simply being allowed to peacefully return home? analyst Yigal Carmon observes. 

Whether the US can sustain its strategic and economic leadership in the context of an isolationist policy, is a legitimate debate. However, even if one opts for isolationism, there are ways to leave without losing people, respect, allies and more, he writes for MEMRI.

But the form of disingagement “is the worst possible way: instead of leaving unilaterally, while reinforcing the democratically elected government in Kabul without boots on the ground, it] is empowering his Taliban enemy by protracted negotiations, where America makes successive concessions and ultimately throws its Afghan allies under the bus,” adds Carmon. “Afghan officials are the first to sense that the sellout of the Kabul government is impending, and are scurrying to defect to the Taliban, (in July alone there were 800 defections).”

Amid “escalating violence,” Afghanistan’s human rights community is under “intensifying attacks” from both the authorities and armed groups, according to RFE/RL.

Human rights defenders and activists in Afghanistan have been largely ignored by the Afghan government and the international community as they face “intimidation, harassment, threats, and violence,” the London-based human rights watchdog Amnesty International said in a briefing released on August 28.

*A board member of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.

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