Conflict Alerts # 368, 21 April 2021
In the news
On 19 April, a cabinet meeting led by President Ashraf Ghani discussed the government's preparations for the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan. At the meeting, Ghani stated that the decision to pull the troops out of Afghanistan does not mean a cut in Afghanistan-US ties but opens a new chapter in relations. The implementation of bilateral and multilateral agreements after the withdrawal of US forces and empowering the security and defence forces were also discussed. Further, the cabinet called for a Loya Jirga to be held in which the status of permanent impartiality of Afghanistan could be considered after withdrawal.
Earlier, on 15 April, Ghani said the Afghan government "is not at risk of collapse" as the US announced to withdraw foreign forces. He said: "The narrative of the Afghan government falling apart is a false narrative," adding that the Afghan commandos, special forces and air force "have trained among the best, they are among the best in the region, as long as this force stays, there is no risk of state collapse."
Issues at large
First, the government's position on withdrawal. Following the announcement of withdrawal, Ghani said that Afghanistan respects the US decision. He said that the Biden administration's decision to withdraw forces from Afghanistan "is no surprise" for him, adding that the decision "clarifies a lot of things and it allows us to move forward so the right decision will have the consequences of making Taliban think seriously." Additionally, he clarified that he does not believe in his previous comments that the country will fall in six months after the withdrawal of foreign forces, adding that he has brought reforms in Afghan forces which will help them to defend the country against any type of threat.
Second, the government's apprehensions of the Taliban. Since the announcement, the Afghan government has called on the Taliban to become more proactive in the negotiations stating: "If they (Taliban) engage in war, they would have lost a golden opportunity and I hope that they don't do that." Ghani said: "The ball is in the Court of the Taliban. We are fully prepared for Istanbul. There is a consensus on this, national and within the government. We will see now whether the Taliban opt." He said: "The key is that the political committee does not represent, unfortunately, the military committee or the commanders. They (Taliban) have not socialized peace yet, but it's a jolt that they need to absorb because they could not think that the United States will withdraw."
Third, the surge in violence over the past year. Violence continues to go unabated, hinting that the call for withdrawal might be early. In the last six months between October 2020 and March 2021, United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) recorded a 38 per cent increase in civilian casualties compared with the same period in 2020. It attributed the surge in violence to both the Afghan army and the Taliban, with the Taliban responsible for 43.5 per cent of all civilian casualties and the Afghan national army responsible for 17 per cent.
First, the government's ability to counter the fallouts of the troop withdrawal. With the support of all foreign troops coming to an end, it is likely that the Afghan forces alone with not be able to counter the fallouts of withdrawal even though the government claims otherwise.
Second, the withdrawal both a boon and a bane for the government. The withdrawal becomes a leveraging point for the government to try and bring the Taliban to the negotiating table; however, it also leaves the government in a challenging position as it would have to counter the Taliban and any insurrections by themselves.