US warned against hasty troops withdrawal from Afghanistan

Updated 08 Jul 2020

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Pakistan, China & Afghanistan agree on strengthening counterterrorism and security cooperation. — AFP/File
Pakistan, China & Afghanistan agree on strengthening counterterrorism and security cooperation. — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan, Afghanistan and China on Tuesday warned the United States against precipitous withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan, saying terrorist groups could take advantage of it.

A joint communique issued at the end of the meeting between representatives of the three countries held through video link said: “The three sides urged for an orderly, responsible and condition-based withdrawal of the foreign troops from Afghanistan to avoid potential terrorist resurgence”.

The third round of the China-Afghanistan-Pakistan Trilateral Vice Foreign Ministers’ Strategic Dialogue was co-chaired by Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Luo Zhaohui, Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Mirwais Nab and Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary Sohail Mahmood.

The US has withdrawn about 4,400 troops from Afghanistan since the signing of an agreement with the Taliban in Doha in February. The troops’ numbers have in the past four months gone down from around 13,000 to 8,600. Under the Doha accord, the US was to reduce the troops’ number to 8,600 by July and to pull out the remaining soldiers within 14 months, if the Taliban are to keep their commitments.

Pakistan, China & Afghanistan agree on strengthening counterterrorism and security cooperation

There are indications that President Trump wants a faster pullout because of coming presidential elections. Some believe that he could do so to bolster his re-election prospects.

A major worry for everyone, however, has been the delay in the commencement of the intra-Afghan dialogue. The dialogue was scheduled to originally start on March 10. However, the precondition for the talks was release of 5,000 insurgent fighters by Kabul, and 1,000 Afghan security forces men by Taliban.

The prisoners’ swap has progressed sluggishly so far. The problems are likely to grow because of Afghan government’s reluctance to release around 600 remaining Taliban fighters, who are being described as dangerous. Kabul has proposed to release an equal number of other Taliban fighters to meet the condition of setting free 5,000 inmates. Heightened violence in Afghanistan is another sticking point.

Meanwhile, a fresh row has erupted now over US intelligence reports that Russian military intelligence agency offered Taliban payments to kill American troops in Afghanistan.

The context in which the trilateral meeting took place itself highlights its significance.

China and Pakistan stressed the importance of expediting the exchange of the prisoners for the start of the intra-Afghan negotiations, violence reduction and humanitarian ceasefire.

“China and Pakistan will enhance cooperation with the Afghan government in support of the “Afghan-led, Afghan-owned” peace reconciliation process, the launch of Intra-Afghan Negotiations at an early date, the preservation of the gains since 2001, and looked forward to the early restoration of peace and stability in Afghanistan,” the communique said.

There was also an understanding on making the return of Afghan refugees a part of the peace and reconciliation process.

The three sides agreed on strengthening counterterrorism and security cooperation, combating the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) and other terrorist forces and networks posing threats to the region’s common security.

It is interesting that while China got the ETIM named in the communique, there was no mention of Pakistani terrorist groups based in Afghanistan, including the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, except for a broader reference to terrorist groups threatening regional security.

Published in Dawn, July 8th, 2020