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13th March 2021 – Editorials/Opinions Analyses

Content

  1. Two bad options

Editorial: Two bad options

Context:

  • President Joe Biden’s push for an interim unity government in Afghanistan is a testament to his administration’s grim assessment of the situation in the war-torn country.

Relevance:

  • GS Paper 2: India and Its Neighbourhood

Mains Questions:

  1. Afghanistan’s leaders have to choose between war and sharing power with Taliban. Discuss. 15 Marks

Dimensions of the Article:

  • Origin of Conflict in Afghanistan
  • Causes that aggravated the Afghan problem
  • Why US is pulling out?
  • About Afghan peace process
  • The US Taliban Agreement
  • Way Forward

Origin of Conflict in Afghanistan

  • The Afghan war dates back to 1978 when communist government was established in Afghanistan.
  • Insurgency started against communist government led by Mujahedeen’s and Soviet Union entered Afghanistan in 1979 with troops to protect the communist government.
  • Since then Afghanistan has been in a state of turmoil for the last 40 years including a Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and withdrawal in 1989.
  • The Taliban, ultraconservative political and religious faction that emerged in Afghanistan, came to power in 1996 and were later ousted from power by International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in an effort to counter Al-Qaeda in 2001.
  • The Taliban has steadily expanded its reach since U.S. and NATO forces formally concluded their combat mission at the end of 2014 and now it controls more than 14 districts (4% of the country).

Causes that aggravated the Afghan problem

  • Great Game:
    • Intervention by global and regional powers for e.g. U.S.-Russia tensions are creating space for proxies for both on Afghan soil, and the attacks by al-Qaeda and IS-related terror groups have their roots in the larger war between Iran and the Arab world.
    • Tensions between India and Pakistan also cast a shadow over Afghanistan, with India’s development assistance under attack.
  • Failure of USA’s strategy: USA has failed to evolve a cohesive strategy regarding military aid to Pakistan, troop presence in Afghanistan, indiscriminate use of airpower or infrastructure building in the country.
  • Military factors: U.S. and Western governments has tried to win the war for Afghans by deploying large numbers of Western military forces and flooding Afghanistan with large amounts of assistance, which has irked the indigenous tribes. Given the terrain and the tactics of avoiding set-piece battles adopted by the Taliban, the continuous use of air power has failed to change the trajectory of the war.
  • Role of Pakistan: The Taliban’s sanctuary in Pakistan and support from Pakistan’s spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) allowed senior Taliban leaders to run the war in relative security.
  • Legitimacy of the National Unity Government (NUG) seems eroded due to
    • conflict between Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah and President Ashraf Ghani,
    • corruption and lack of implementation of Electoral reforms o refusal of Taliban to talk to Afghan government which it thinks as artificial, foreign imposed and not representative of Afghan people.
  • Socio-cultural factors: The nomadic and tribal polity in Afghanistan comprises of multiple tribes like Pashtuns, Turks and Persians and each dominant in different regions, asserting their own traditions and culture. The tribal factionalism didn’t allow the democratically elected government to settle in Afghanistan.
  • Rise of IS: Despite the Afghan government’s claims of cracking down on militants, threats from the IS and Taliban have only grown both of which have a goal to destabilize the state that and throw the country into further chaos.
  • Number of war and civilian casualties due to suicide bombings are on the rise after the international coalition forces embarked on Operation Resolute Support to “advise, train and assist” the Afghan forces and not to participate in war since 2014.

Why US is pulling out?

  • America First Policy: The withdrawal is in line with President Trump’s America First policy. o According to Trump, US has been wasting its “blood and treasure” on distant conflicts, instead of rebuilding itself.
    • In 17th year since its inception in 2001, the Afghanistan conflict is US’s longest running war & has had huge economic as well as human costs.
    • Despite prolonged investment of financial and human resources, the political solution is nowhere in sight and this has resulted in growing skepticism within the US administration over the futility of military involvement.
  • There is an uneven distribution of security costs. Despite enjoying massive trade surpluses, many US allies like Germany, Japan, India etc. are not spending enough for their own security.
  • Under the new Afghanistan-Pakistan policy formulated in 2017, US marginally increased troops in Afghanistan, declared their engagement to be open-ended with no fixed timeline for withdrawal & took unprecedented hard stance against Pakistan. It also sought enhanced Indian role in peace and reconstruction process. But this didn’t seem to achieve the desired objective, in light of Pakistan-China nexus.
  • The withdrawal is acknowledgement of the fact that US was not winning the war in Afghanistan and submission to the fact staying the course in Afghanistan wouldn’t change the situation in their favour.

About Afghan peace process

  • The Afghan peace process comprises the proposals and negotiations in a bid to end the ongoing war and conflict involving the Taliban in Afghanistan.
  • In February, 2020, US president has struck a peace deal with the Taliban (see box) on the issues of counterterrorism and the withdrawal of U.S. and international troops. The intra-Afghan talks were part of the deal.
  • Though the deal was to be held in march-April 2020, it got delayed due to disagreement on mutual release of prisoners by both Taliban and Afghan Government.

The US Taliban Agreement

  • Withdrawal of foreign forces: The United States agreed to reduce its number of troops in the country from roughly 12,000 to 8,600 within 135 days.
  • Release of prisoners- The deal also provides for a prisoner swap.
  • Recognition to Taliban- The US will move to the United Nations Security Council to remove Taliban members from the sanctions list.
  • Counter terror measures- The Taliban would prevent any terror group from using Afghanistan to threaten the security of US and its allies.
  • Intra-Afghan Negotiations- will be started among all the stakeholders of the Afghan society and the Taliban would commit towards it.

Way Forward

Conclusion An inclusive peace process, involving the meaningful participation of women, youth and victims, upholding the human rights of every Afghan is the only path to peace. While each country seeks to align its engagement policy to its respective strategic objectives, the overarching goal for all is peace in Afghanistan. A consensus among major international stakeholders about how to deal with the Taliban is of utmost importance.

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