All major stakeholders in the Afghan peace face tough challenges ahead. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has rejected early pull-out from Afghanistan as agreed between the Trump Administration and the Afghan Taliban. The Afghan Taliban have warned of a possible restart of their attacks against the foreign forces in case they delay their departure. Pakistan has asked the Afghan warring sides to reduce violence in order have a ceasefire. Despite demands from various quarters the Afghan President is unwilling to accept the proposal for an inclusive interim government.
Former US President Donald Trump wanted an early resolution of the Afghan civil war allowing him to withdraw US troops and present this as a trophy during last year’s election campaign. The intra-Afghan talks that began in September last year had been painstakingly slow. The Afghan government’s negotiating team insisted on a ceasefire as a priority in the talks. The Taliban wanted an urgent agreement on the shape of a future government. Neither side was willing to compromise. In December the talks were postponed till January.
President Biden faces a dilemma. As vice president throughout President Obama’s term, he consistently supported a minimal US presence in Afghanistan. But a withdrawal followed by a collapse of the elected Afghan government would be as traumatic for the Americans as the defeat in Vietnam. The Taliban are stronger now in Afghanistan than at any point since 2001. With an estimated 60,000 full-time fighters, they control one-fifth of the country. But the USA, Russia and China, besides many neighbouring countries, would not feel comfortable with an Islamic Emirate in Kabul.
Despite being elected, President Ghani’s government faces internal challenges and is unable to enforce its writ all over the country. A sudden exit of US troops without a settlement in Afghanistan does not suit Islamabad. While persuading the Taliban to accept the delay, it should continue to develop friendly ties with all important sections in Afghanistan, both inside and outside the government, promoting its image as an honest broker. It should meanwhile press upon the USA, the Afghan Taliban and the Afghan government the need to weed out terrorist networks using Afghan territory to launch attacks in Pakistan, especially in its Balochistan province.