Post-US Exit Scenarios for Afghanistan and Regional Turmoil

Author Name: Maheen Shafeeq      14 Jun 2021     Regional security/Region

Regional peace is not the responsibility of a single state rather it demands collective efforts and strategies. Neighbouring states must play a prominent and proactive role in this regard. If Afghanistan descends into absolute turmoil after US withdrawal, it can be costly not only in terms of finances but also in terms of proliferating terrorism and its aftermath, such as refugees and smuggling to name a few. Moreover, to move the country from the Stone Age to the present era, there is going to be an urgent requirement of international financial support that is sustainable and progressive. This financial support must go into developing Afghanistan’s infrastructure, education system, health facilities, housing, and business sector in addition to the support towards strengthening government institution

The US has completed 25% withdrawal from Afghanistan and by September 2021, on the 20th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, no residual forces would remain in the country. This leaves the fate of Afghanistan to the Afghan government, Taliban, and local tribal lords.

The tug-of-war for power in Afghanistan has chances to spiral out as the influence of the government sitting in Kabul has failed to overshadow Taliban influence. Taliban forces have started to regroup under a renewed game plan and strategy to seize control of Kabul. This plan also includes a new strategy for women. They have, however, not renewed their terms and conditions on power-sharing or compromise their values and beliefs. It appears that the Taliban are more focused on their goal of forwarding their values and beliefs as compared to capturing territory. The chances of them making a compromise on the former have also decreased as the US withdrawal has increased the Taliban’s confidence in their values and beliefs. This implies that clashes between the Afghan government, which is often regarded as more secular and liberal than the Taliban, are likely to continue and may even take a turn towards civil war. This civil war could also take a blunt direction given the number of foreign actors involved in Afghanistan such as al-Qaeda and Islamic State – both could catalyze the pace of violence like falling dominoes. Violence could also get out of control due to the limited capacity of the Afghan forces to prevent internal clashes. Even if the Afghan forces are geared with the latest military equipment, funding, and training, it will only be a matter of time until their “might” expires under Taliban assault. Nonetheless, some strategists are optimistic that the Afghan forces can defeat the Taliban, however, due to their limited capacity as compared to the latter, having the upper hand would be a challenge for them.

Now that the US is withdrawing, leaving the fate of Afghanistan to the Afghans themselves, three scenarios are likely.

First, an ideal scenario, although the least likely, would be that the Taliban are defeated by the Afghan forces militarily followed by-elections that bring in a new democratically elected government in Kabul. Another option could be the formation of a coalition government that collectively rebuilds Afghanistan and regains public trust.

Second, given regrouping and reorientation of the Taliban, they could gather enough strength to fight back and overrun the Afghan government. This can ultimately provide them an easy route to sit in Kabul without the burden of elections. This option is more likely than the first one.

Third, the scenario that is most likely to happen is that the country could fall into a chaotic civil war with several internal and external state and non-state actors involved. This scenario is the most likely one as the political elite within Afghanistan have failed to reconcile, negotiate, and mend their differences. Compromise by the Afghan political elite is a change that is likely to happen at the slowest pace.

If the Taliban has learned anything from their experience with the US forces, it is to remain fully committed to their inflexible stance. This rigidity may have cost them millions of lives, but it is an acceptable one than the cost of giving up their values and beliefs.

Given these potential scenarios, any step forward in Afghanistan’s case would require great caution. These also leave peacemakers with limited options to stabilize the country.

Addressing Taliban demands would, therefore, need to take priority, as without fulfilling their demands, reduction in violence is unlikely, hence a highly volatile Afghanistan and a destabilized region could be accepted. While their demands are somewhat being catered to through peace talks, there is still a need for an intra-Afghan dialogue where the parties make compromises for the sake of national and regional peace and stability.

Additionally, at a recent webinar hosted by the Centre for Aerospace & Security Studies, American and Afghan speakers called for an agreement between regional states that addresses how to economically, politically, and socially support Afghanistan to make a transition. Regional states must agree on an agenda that also impacts their national security, for instance, to eliminate terrorism, promote economic connectivity, and resolve conflicts. Unless they agree on this agenda, it is unlikely that these states can pull themselves out of regional instability on their own.

Regional peace is not the responsibility of a single state rather it demands collective efforts and strategies. Neighbouring states must play a prominent and proactive role in this regard. If Afghanistan descends into absolute turmoil after US withdrawal, it can be costly not only in terms of finances but also in terms of proliferating terrorism and its aftermath, such as refugees and smuggling to name a few. Moreover, to move the country from the Stone Age to the present era, there is going to be an urgent requirement of international financial support that is sustainable and progressive. This financial support must go into developing Afghanistan’s infrastructure, education system, health facilities, housing, and business sector in addition to the support towards strengthening government institutions.

Moreover, the focus of international financial support must be the future generations of Afghanistan. For such an ideal yet doable situation to bear fruit, constructive support of internal and external factions involved would be a precondition.

 

Maheen Shafeeq is a researcher at the Centre for Aerospace & Security Studies (CASS). She holds Masters in International Relations from the University of Sheffield, UK. The article was first published in The Asian Telegraph. She can be reached at cass.thinkers@gmail.com.

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