The Jerusalem Post

How the US can secure peace in Afghanista­n by August 31

- • By HIZBULLAH KHAN The writer is a political analyst focusing on US foreign policy.

In April, US President Biden announced that US troops would withdraw from Afghanista­n by September 11. He has since moved the date up to August 31. A reckless withdrawal could turn Afghanista­n into a playground for terrorist groups, and the Taliban could again invite al-Qaeda to repeat attacks such as those on September 11, 2001. However, a responsibl­e withdrawal is possible that could protect the accomplish­ments of the US in the last two decades and prevent the Afghan government from collapsing.

Neither Americans nor Afghans want the US to stay in Afghanista­n forever, but no one wants the repetition of the 2011 exit mistake from Iraq that caused the rise of ISIS, causing US forces to return to fight the terrorists. To facilitate a responsibl­e withdrawal, the US must first achieve a few goals.

First of all, Biden should explicitly tell the Taliban that the US will come back to Afghanista­n with enormous force if the group breaks the terms of the agreement, refuses to resolve the issues by intra-Afghan talks and invites al-Qaeda to again use Afghan soil against the US and its allies after the departure. Warning the Taliban of possible strict sanctions on their leadership, and future targeting of their sanctuarie­s in case of violation is pivotal for the US to compel them to abide by their commitment­s.

Moreover, the US will shortly lose bases in Afghanista­n from which it has launched combat missions and monitored terrorist groups such as the Taliban, al-Qaeda and the

Islamic State. However, a hasty US military withdrawal could reverse the gains for which US troops and their NATO allies fought and spent trillions of dollars over the course of two decades.

The US needs to set conditions for security guarantees if the peace process collapses, and the Taliban returns to war. For that scenario, the US should get bases in the neighborin­g central and south Asian countries to show the Taliban that its forces are in the region, and can return quickly with counterter­rorism operations if the group rejects the negotiated solution and tries to forcefully recapture Afghanista­n after the withdrawal.

Furthermor­e, the US withdrawal should be conditione­d on a permanent ceasefire from the Taliban, which will show if they were sincere in the negotiatio­ns or only remain interested in victory.

Leaving before a lasting ceasefire is establishe­d is an invitation to civil war, leading to a Taliban victory. In fact, the Taliban began celebratin­g victory after the announceme­nt of the withdrawal, claiming that the US was on the verge of defeat. The Taliban have already prepared militarily for an irresponsi­ble withdrawal scenario. Securing a lasting ceasefire before the departure could stimulate the Taliban to resolve any issues through intra-Afghan talks.

SIMILARLY, RESTARTING the intra-Afghan talks and reaching consensus on major issues – particular­ly on the power-sharing structure, controvers­ial clauses of the constituti­on, and upcoming Afghan elections – are paramount before forces withdraw. Certainly, the Taliban will reject a negotiated solution after the US exit, and the intra-Afghan talks would collapse directly.

In that situation, the Taliban would choose war to capture Kabul because they achieved immense support from the regional powers during their incessant visits. Also, the Taliban’s morale has risen enormously after thousands of their veteran fighters were released, a majority of whom have again started fighting with Afghan military.

Initiating a process of “normalizin­g” the minds of the hard-line Taliban is crucial for the peace-making process. Most battlefiel­d Taliban are still dreaming of victory, knowing the Muslims of Afghanista­n have defeated three superpower­s in the past century. The first was Great Britain in the 1920s, then the Soviet Union in the 1980s, and now the US. A Taliban spokesman even called the agreement “the defeat of the arrogance of the White House in the face of the white turban.”

These ideologue warriors have also announced they plan to sustain the war against the Afghan government after dealing with the US, which could collapse the entire peace process once the withdrawal is completed.

The war in Afghanista­n will continue until the Taliban establish outside sanctuarie­s where their main leadership, policy-makers and decision-making bodies are in safe havens, recruiting and training fresh madrasa students for boosting the war. Ending the US war in Afghanista­n will be tough without first shutting down Taliban sanctuarie­s near the border. These sanctuarie­s provide tremendous human

resources for escalating the conflict and are a major source of internatio­nal terrorism.

On the other hand, a great amount of the Taliban’s funds for insurgency comes from wealthy Muslims in Gulf states, especially Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi, where the group’s representa­tives frequently go to raise money. Eliminatin­g those sources of funding would immensely ruin the Taliban’s war economy and compel them to end the war.

The Biden administra­tion should

talk to Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh and Mohammed bin Zayed in Abu Dhabi to convince them to stop allowing the funding of the Taliban and to act against those who are backing terrorists and prolonging America’s longest war.

Finally, the US should engage diplomatic­ally with the region’s countries before exiting in order to support a negotiated settlement, as these actors’ interests are contradict­ed by Taliban militancy in Afghanista­n. For instance, Pakistan backs the Taliban in order to control

Afghanista­n’s foreign policy and counter India’s soft-power influence, while Iran is seeking interests in an unstable Afghanista­n, and India is striving for peace in order to capture central Asian markets.

Pakistan and Iran’s roles are important to the success or failure of the peace process. Both countries could play the role of spoilers and destroy the entire negotiatin­g process if they see war as being in their national interests.

 ?? (Omar Sobhani/Reuters) ?? AN AFGHAN girl carries a child at a refugee camp on the outskirts of Kabul in 2019.
(Omar Sobhani/Reuters) AN AFGHAN girl carries a child at a refugee camp on the outskirts of Kabul in 2019.

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