Islamabad worried about security vacuum in Afghanistan

Published June 2, 2021
This file photo shows Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi. — AP/File
This file photo shows Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi. — AP/File

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan is increasingly getting worried about a security vacuum in Afghanistan after the United States pullout as the already dim prospects of successful reconciliation between warring Afghan groups are growing dimmer with every passing day.

Although another round of intra-Afghan talks is scheduled to begin in next couple of days, Pakistani officials don’t seem very hopeful about a breakthrough.

Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, while talking to Speaker of Afghanistan’s Wolesi Jirga Mir Rahman Rahmani on Tuesday, urged the Afghan groups to “seize this historic opportunity and work out an inclusive, broad-based and comprehensive political settlement for durable peace and stability in Afghanistan and the region,” according to a statement issued by the Foreign Office.

The fears of a security vacuum have been growing because of the stalemate in the peace process.

FM urges Afghan groups to ‘seize chance for peace’

The peace dialogue has made little progress since it started in September last year except for an understanding on the principles and procedures, which too was achieved after haggling for months over minor issues.

The impasse got deeper this year after President Joe Biden, soon after taking office, ordered a review of the US-Taliban agreement of 2019 and subsequently set September 11 as the deadline for withdrawal of all US forces.

Several efforts were made by Pakistan and the international community to push both sides to return to negotiation table to settle the remaining outstanding issues for ending the conflict, but none of the efforts has succeeded so far.

Pakistan, among other things, quietly pushed for a transitional government in Afghanistan, according to an official, who asked not to be named. But, the idea could not catch on due to strong resistance by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

The ascendant Taliban, meanwhile, too were not keen about a peace deal out of hopes that they could win on the battlefield.

Over the past few weeks Taliban have captured several key districts after overrunning a number of military bases. Large number of Afghan troops have also surrendered to Taliban.

The Pakistani assessment is that Afghan security forces do not have the capacity to hold territory after the Americans withdraw.

Currently Afghan government troops are in control of 50 per cent of Afghanistan, while 30pc territory is under Taliban and the remaining 20pc is hotly contested. But, the officials fear that this could change soon and the signs from the ground are that the insurgents are already filling the vacuum being left behind by the withdrawing US troops.

Afghan soldiers, besides the upper hand enjoyed by the Taliban on the battle ground, are feeling demoralised because of ammunition shortages, poor quality weaponry, inadequate support from the government, and corruption.

Expedited withdrawal process

The US is believed to have completed up to 44pc of the withdrawal process. There were about 2,500 US and 7,000 Nato troops in Afghanistan when President Biden announced the withdrawal timeline.

The speed at which the withdrawal process is progressing has fueled Pakistan’s fears. The official said it is their estimate that the US may complete most of the withdrawal by July-August leaving behind a limited force in Kabul for the protection of its embassy.

About the reports suggesting US may pull out its troops by July 4, the official said it is a speculation because some people assume that the Americans may like to do so by their Independence Day.

Pakistani fears

Pakistani officials say they fear a further intensification of civil war in Afghanistan following the completion of the pullout in the absence of a political settlement. This, they apprehend, can have a spillover effect pushing refugees into Pakistan, whose economy is already struggling.

It could also lead to a security nightmare. Pakistani terrorist groups having sanctuaries in Afghanistan too could exploit the situation, the official said, adding that there is a possibility of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan and Baloch separatists joining hands to launch attacks in Pakistan.

Published in Dawn, June 2nd, 2021

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