• Monday, May 17, 2021
  • Last Update : 11:28 pm

Afghanistan's fate in the balance as Biden announces final pullout

  • Published at 06:00 pm April 14th, 2021
US troops Afghanistan
File photo: A US Marine talks with Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers during a training in Helmand province, Afghanistan, July 5, 2017 Reuters

There are only about 2,500 US troops in Afghanistan currently, down from a peak of more than 100,000 in 2011

US President Joe Biden's announcement that all American forces will withdraw from Afghanistan by this year's 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks will bring relief to those who want the war to end, but fear to many who live on the frontlines.

It misses by several months the May 1 deadline agreed last year by Biden's predecessor Donald Trump and the Taliban, but is likely also to be matched by a withdrawal of remaining Nato forces.

The latest twist in the nearly two-decade conflict -- coupled with the Taliban's refusal to attend an international conference to map out the country's future -- has raised concerns over what lies ahead for the violence-wracked country.

Will the war actually end?

That is unlikely.

In the absence of a definitive ceasefire between the Taliban and Afghan government, most analysts, politicians and ordinary citizens believe the country will plunge into civil war.

"The war will intensify, turn uglier, and drag on until the Taliban capture power in whatever ruined state is left of Kabul and other provincial capitals and districts," said Nishank Motwani, an independent specialist on Afghanistan.

"The US exit will torpedo any hope for Afghans that believe in a power-sharing government, reconciliation or meaningful peace," he told AFP.

The United Nations Assistance Mission for Afghanistan said on Wednesday that 573 civilians were killed and 1,210 wounded in the first three months of this year -- and few expect the violence to ease.

"The bitter experiences of the past will be repeated," said parliament speaker Mir Rahman Rahmani.

Kabul resident Basir Ayoubi was equally despondent.

Can Afghan forces offer security without the US? 

That remains to be seen.

Afghan officials claim the 300,000 soldiers and policemen that make up national security forces carry out 98% of all operations against the insurgents.

But the US air force is a key factor in the ongoing fight, offering regular and vital air support to ground operations -- particularly when regular troops risk being overwhelmed.

Currently under the command of President Ashraf Ghani, their will to fight could be tested without US support, say analysts.

The Taliban control huge swathes of the rugged countryside -- and strategic arteries linking major urban centres -- but have not taken any major cities or towns, or at least not for long.

But they still have urbanites in the grip of fear, with almost daily car bombings or targetted assassinations against prominent citizens.

Is there a road to democracy?

If so, it has many forks.

President Ghani has prepared a three-stage plan which includes reaching a political settlement and ceasefire with the Taliban ahead of a presidential election to form a "government of peace."

The US favours an interim government involving the Taliban to be formed, and for the country to chart its future with consensus between all parties.

While loose on specifics, the Taliban insist Afghanistan should return to being an Emirate, run along strict Islamic lines by a council of religious elders. 

Afghanistan has seen four presidential elections since the Taliban were overthrown in 2001 and millions of Afghans have embraced a plural, democratic system.

Now the stage is set for the insurgents to return, analysts fears the democratic gains of the past two decades could be lost.

"The consequences of Biden's decision to exit from Afghanistan guarantees a Taliban return, but not before sparking state collapse, a multi-dimensional civil war, and burning down of democracy," said independent analyst Motwani.

What are the economic prospects?

Afghanistan is one of the world's most impoverished countries, deeply indebted and utterly reliant on foreign aid.

While the nation boasts lucrative mineral reserves that neighbours including China and India are keen to exploit, the security situation has never been stable enough for revenues to boost state coffers.

In November, global donors pledged to offer aid to Afghanistan up to 2024, but concerns are that with the imminent exit of foreign forces the donors might not follow up on their commitments.

And what about Afghanistan's women?

There is genuine fear that all their gains may be lost.

The Taliban banned girls from work and stoned to death women accused of crimes such as adultery until being deposed in 2001, but Afghan women have become prominent politicians, activists, journalists and judges in the interim.

The Taliban insist they will respect women's rights in accordance with Islamic law, but activists note the multiple interpretations of that across the Muslim world.

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