US President Joe Biden’s announcement that US and other NATO troops would withdraw from Afghanistan by September 11 comes even though the talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban have hit a deadlock. The announcement comes on the eve of the multipartite conference on Afghanistan in Ankara, and unless it creates some momentum in the intra-Afghan talks, it is difficult to avoid a sense of seeing yet another abandonment of Afghanistan by a superpower, as when the USSR withdrew in 1988 without making a political agreement. That would have prevented the subsequent fighting, and the stringing-up of Najibullah, the President the USSR left behind, on a lamp-post.
Though President Biden feels that nothing will be achieved by keeping troops behind, it must be conceded that the Afghan government has not shown symptoms of resilience. It does seem to be the robot-like sticking to the Trump Administration’s agreement, which the USA feels has not been observed by the Taliban. The USA is not doing Pakistan any favours, and its withdrawal from Iraq led to an unstable polity. Neighbouring Syria was partially swallowed up by ISIS also, and only fought off ISIS with Iranian help. Pakistan would not like to end up in Syria’s position.
The withdrawal does not bring the country nearer to peace, and it also means that the region is no nearer to the peaceful cooperation that can only happen if Afghanistan finds peace. Whether or not President Biden could bring peace, it is now clear that he cannot. The regional stakeholders, who will also be present at the Ankara conference, are probably the best hope for salvaging the situation. It is a pity that US action has made that salvaging necessary. It has merely provided the Taliban incentive not to reach an agreement, secure in the knowledge that the withdrawal is going to go ahead anyway. It thus now remains to the regional powers, at the Ankara conference, to take measures that will lead to the settling of the country, which will require the intra-Afghan dialogue to succeed, lest it slip into intra-Afghan conflict after the withdrawal of foreign forces.