Monday, October 25, 2021

What Will Happen To Pakistan Once US Troops Completely Withdraw From Afghanistan?

The US has started the withdrawal process from Afghanistan and many have wondered about the position of Pakistan after the complete pull-out of US soldiers from the war-ravaged nation. 

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Michael Rubin, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), said the US would no longer need Pakistan’s assistance after the pull-out from Afghanistan.

A former Pentagon official, Rubin is of the view that “Pakistani triumphalism” after America’s exit from the war-torn country and “any subsequent Taliban atrocities will ignite public opinion and lead American politicians to take symbolic action”.

US Exit From Afghanistan

US President Joe Biden has set the September 11 deadline to end what is seen as America’s longest war. September 11 would mark the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks that had ignited the war.

According to a report by The Indian Express, the war in Afghanistan has led to the deaths of nearly 2,400 American troops, and cost the country around $2 trillion.

Given the huge amount America has spent on the war, it is not just an impromptu decision rather a well-calculated move by Washington.

However, this could have serious implications for South Asia. There is a possibility that Pakistan, which is largely responsible for the creation of the Taliban, may feel emboldened after the American exit from Afghanistan.

Chairman of Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Jack Reed, last month pinned the blame of success of Taliban on Pakistan, saying that “a crucial factor contributing immensely to the Taliban’s success” has been the inability of the US to “eliminate the sanctuary the Taliban was granted in Pakistan”.

“As the (congressionally mandated) Afghan Study Group noted, these sanctuaries are essential to the viability of the insurgency. Additionally, Pakistan’s ISI aided and abetted the Taliban while opportunistically cooperating with the United States,” Reed said, as quoted by India Today.

With there being concerns of the Taliban rising to power again and causing distress among the South Asian countries, the US was swift to obliterate such concerns.

US Concerned

Marine Corps Gen. Frank McKenzie, the head of US Central Command, told House Armed Services Committee that options are being drawn to keep counterterrorism forces in the region, Air Force Times reported.

Gen. Frank McKenzie told US legislators he is preparing plans to keep some troops “on-call” in the region, as quick-reaction forces and that alternatives will be forwarded to the Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin by the end of this month.

At a recent Pentagon briefing in Washington, General McKenzie also warned that after the US exit from Afghanistan, the most significant threat would be the regrouping of Al Qaeda and ISIS militants, which would be a big concern for Pakistan.

He also said militants regrouping was not just a threat to the US or Pakistan.  “It’s a concern of all the Central Asian states to the north. It is even of concern to Iran in the West…Everyone has a vested interest in a stable Afghanistan,” he said.

The use of airpower and UAV/UCAVs has helped check militant activities in Afghanistan. According to McKenzie, manned or unmanned aircraft could play a key role in any remaining presence that could respond to threats inside the country.

While India and other neighboring countries would take a sigh of relief after McKenzie’s remarks, Pakistan’s moves will be carefully watched. 

Welcoming Biden’s move, Islamabad had said, We support the principle of responsible troop withdrawal in coordination with Afghan stakeholders.”

“We also hope that the US will continue to urge the Afghan leaders to seize this historic opportunity for achieving a political settlement in Afghanistan,” Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

According to Rubin, Pakistan has long been America’s second choice, citing several incidents from the past where the US preferred New Delhi over Islamabad.

At the time of the partition in 1947, US policymakers wanted to keep both India and Pakistan on their side to counter the communist Soviet Union. However, the Kashmir dispute had thrown a spanner in the works, Rubin wrote in National Interest.

Stressing that America acts as a “fair-weather friend” of Pakistan, Ruben said that the US demands solidarity when Washington needs Islamabad but is not hesitant to punish Pakistan when it no longer needs it.

Significantly, Washington has offered India a larger role in its roadmap for Afghanistan, as earlier reported by The EurAsian Times.

The Biden administration’s intention of working actively to bring back peace and stability in the region is driven by the idea of unified participation by neighboring countries such as India, Pakistan, Turkey, China, and Russia. 

While India was not present at the 2019-20 Afghan peace talks, Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special envoy, traveled to New Delhi frequently to ensure New Delhi’s passive participation.

“We’ll ask other countries in the region – to do more to support Afghanistan, especially Pakistan, as well as Russia, China, India, and Turkey,” Biden had said. “They all have a significant stake in the stable future for Afghanistan.”

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