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The Uncertain Strategy of US and NATO in Afghanistan

On February 17 and 18, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) defense ministers held a virtual conference. One of the highlights of this roundtable was the assessment of the current situation in Afghanistan. NATO defense ministers must decide whether or not to leave Afghanistan within the framework of the February 29 agreement between the United States and the Taliban. The defense ministers had a full discussion on the situation in Afghanistan. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told a news conference after the two-day meeting, “We are facing a lot of problems and there are no easy options. At this stage, we have not made any final decision about the future of our presence.”
The reason why the United States and NATO forces are facing a dilemma is that they do not have a clear exit strategy. If they do not withdraw by May 1, as the United States has agreed with the Taliban, foreign forces risk being attacked by insurgents. If they withdraw by this summer without any political agreement between the various Afghan groups, the achievements of the last 19 years can be undone. The Biden administration is still considering a peace deal, which may be the main reason why NATO has not been able to call for a final presence in Afghanistan.
Since the new US administration took office, a number of officials have made it clear that the withdrawal of US forces will depend on the Taliban implementing the Doha Agreement. The United States believes that the Taliban have failed to take the agreed steps in the Doha agreement. The main factor was the reduction of violence and discontinuation of ties with terrorist groups. Both the United States and NATO believe that the Taliban have not yet fully fulfilled these two promises. They have since insisted that the withdrawal of forces is conditional.
The Taliban, meanwhile, have recently issued a series of statements delivering both peaceful and threatening messages. The insurgent group has denied violating the Doha agreement. It lists a number of steps required to implement the agreement. To support their claims, the Taliban insist that not a single US soldier has been killed since the deal was signed. Instead, they accused the Afghan government of violating the peace treaty. The most important message the Taliban conveyed in their statements was the resumption of attacks against US-led foreign forces in Afghanistan if they extended their stay beyond the May 1 deadline. The fate of former Soviet forces has been reminded in the past to the United States and other international forces.
The evolving situation indicates that the US-Taliban deal, which was signed as an historic achievement a year ago, is on the verge of collapse. This is not an encouraging sign for Afghanistan and also for Pakistan, one of the main stakeholders that has facilitated and mediated the peace agreement as well as the dialogue within Afghanistan. It is also disturbing for Pakistan because it fears return of war and terrorism in its immediate neighborhood.
A re-reading of the last phone call between President Ashraf Ghani and US Secretary of State shows that the United States wants a significant reduction in violence, if not a comprehensive ceasefire, before committing to a withdrawal plan. However, for that to happen, Ashraf Ghani must also make efforts to respect the US-Taliban deal and pave the way for its terms to be completed.
Islamabad, fortunately, is consulting with other players in the region as well. The recent visit of the Russian Special Representative to Afghanistan to Islamabad was a significant step. Russia, unlike the United States and NATO, believes that the Taliban are fully implementing the agreement. Moscow has mostly accused the other side of not adhering to the agreement. This shows that the situation is even worse because regional players are skeptical of US goals. While the current attitude of the United States, NATO and Ashraf Ghani, the chances of a return to peace in Afghanistan in the near future are unlikely.
The US, as a first step must sit with Taliban and discuss their stand on US-Taliban deal. Later, they must take the intra-Afghan peace talks seriously and involve the regional countries as well in the process; otherwise, with an undecided and ambiguous attitude, the US may lose the chance of withdrawing from Afghanistan with some dignity.
(Sahar News)

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