Christmas deadline

Updated 10 Oct 2020

Email

WITH an eye on the Nov 3 US presidential election, Donald Trump has announced that the remainder of American troops in Afghanistan should be “home by Christmas”. With approval ratings sagging compared to his Democratic challenger Joe Biden, the US president has in all likelihood made this announcement to rally his support base, and assure them he will deliver on his campaign promise made before he won the White House race in the last election.

Read: Trump unchained? Afghan troop surprise shows pre-election impulse to upend policy

However, while the exit of foreign troops from Afghanistan is a desirable aim, the process must be orderly and not leave the country in further chaos. If foreign soldiers cut and run without a proper Afghan peace pact in place, the government in Kabul will be vulnerable to attacks and the country may once more plunge into an anarchic state.

The Afghan Taliban reaction to Mr Trump’s announcement has been positive, with a spokesman for the armed group tweeting that the ‘Islamic Emirate’ welcomes the move.

The fact is that the Afghan peace process is too sensitive an issue to be used as a tool to boost approval ratings for US presidential candidates. The Afghan government and the Taliban are currently trying to hammer out a peace deal, while senior American officials are making frequent trips to this region to ensure a workable agreement emerges that would allow an orderly exit of foreign troops. Zalmay Khalilzad, America’s point man for Afghanistan, was in Pakistan on Thursday to meet the army chief and discuss the Afghan peace process.

This is the second time the American envoy has visited this country in less than a month. These negotiations and shuttle diplomacy show that the Americans want to get out of Afghanistan soon, which is understandable. Over 2,400 American troops have been killed since the US invaded Afghanistan in 2001, while more than 20,000 have been injured. Washington has pumped $975bn into the war effort, with little to show by way of success.

In fact, the signing of the peace agreement with the Afghan Taliban by the US earlier this year is proof that the war is unwinnable. Considering these points, the Afghan war, even if it is a hot-button issue in American politics, should not be used to burnish struggling electoral campaigns.

Instead of giving unrealistic deadlines, the US administration must work with the Kabul government and regional stakeholders to ensure that the final withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan is an orderly affair. In fact, the Ashraf Ghani-led administration must take the lead in mapping out the peace process.

Ultimately, foreign forces must leave Afghanistan; but this should ideally only happen when a peace agreement involving the Kabul government, Afghan Taliban and all other stakeholders in that country is a done deal. History tells us that leaving Afghanistan in a state of chaos — as the Soviets did — will only add to internal and regional instability.

Published in Dawn, October 10th, 2020