Latest Indicators of US’ Afghanistan Policy – Analysis
Brigadier (Retd.) Dr. Ahsan ur Rahman Khan
(Published on 29 March 2021)
The Question to be Pondered Upon
After taking over as US’ President, Mr. Joe Biden is facing the dilemma – to act, or not to act – on the existing decision of President Donald Trump government to withdraw all US’ troops from Afghanistan by 1 May 2021 in accordance with US’ Doha Agreement with Afghanistan Taliban.
In that context the oft–quoted options available to President Joe Biden, and the implied dilemma, have been analysed by US’ New York–based prestigious think tank Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) in its publication of 9th of last month (February 2021). It mentioned that Joe Biden has three options, i.e. (a) “withdraw U.S. forces as scheduled by May 1”; (b) “cite Taliban violations as justification for pulling out of the accord and maintaining an indefinite U.S. military presence”; or, (c) “ask the Taliban for an extension of the withdrawal deadline, citing the Taliban’s violations and delays in peace talks between the militant group and the Afghan government”. And, about the risks involved in these options, CFR also quoted that “The Afghanistan Study Group, co-chaired by retired General Joseph F. Dunford, Jr., a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, summed up the risks well: “On the one hand, the Taliban have signaled publicly that if all international forces are not withdrawn by May 2021, as envisioned in the Doha agreement, they will resume their ‘jihad’ against the foreign presence and will withdraw from the peace process. On the other hand, a withdrawal in May under current conditions will likely lead to a collapse of the Afghan state and a possible renewed civil war.” The study group warns that “a precipitous withdrawal could lead to a reconstitution of the terrorist threat to the U.S. homeland within eighteen months to three years.” (1)
Currently US has commenced a flurry of activities (including high level US’ diplomatic and military leadership contacts with stakeholders, particularly with Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff), for devising a peace plan including US’ military withdrawal from Afghanistan.
However, the question still remains whether US would be able to act upon anyone of the aforementioned options to resolve the Afghanistan imbroglio created by US in 2001. And, for answering that question a very careful analysis is required keeping in view certain factors related to US’ foreign policy formulation, including US’ Afghanistan Policy.
Factors Ingrained in US’ Foreign Policy Formulation
Three of such factors are especially noteworthy; i.e. (a) US’ foreign policy formulation is dominated by US’ Establishment (Pentagon, CIA, and Military Industrial Complex), which prefers the policy of US’ ‘militarism’ for external domineering over target countries/region for geopolitical and geoeconomic advantages; (b) destabilisation of the target country/region, created due to US’ military or other interventions, further suits US because that creates ‘reason’ for furtherance of US’ military interventions, besides filling the coffers of US’ Military Industrial complex; and (c) the actual reason for US’ invasion and occupation of Afghanistan was/is to plant US’ military–political stranglehold in Afghanistan (which is geographically the ‘geostrategic fulcrum’ of the region) to dominate Pakistan, Iran, Central Asia (the ‘soft underbelly’ of Russia), and China.
(Printerest map showing Afghanistan and surrounding countries) (2)
In this context it is significant to note that, as well–known, this US’ policy of ‘external domineering militarism’ has caused widespread human and material devastation in most parts of Asia and Africa resulting in world–wide rise of anti–US public sentiments; and its consequential blowback in US.
That fact is well–acknowledged. Stephen M Walt, professor of international affairs at US’ Harvard University has also commented on this fact in his article published on 3rd of this month (March 2021) in US’ credible news publication Foreign Policy. He has mentioned, “there are several obvious ways in which America’s recent conduct abroad has led to greater insecurity, paranoia, loss of trust, and division within the United States”. About the reasons for it, he highlighted that, “During the ‘unipolar moment’, US officials were convinced that a crusading foreign policy would be good for the United States and good for the rest of the world”. And about the manner and purpose of that policy, he asserted, “running an ambitious and highly interventionist policy – and, in particular, one that tries to manipulate, manage, and ultimately shape the internal policies of foreign countries—-“. (3)
And particularly about US’ Afghanistan Policy, Dr. Binoy Kampmark of Australia’s RMIT University and former Commonwealth scholar has commented in his article published by US’ online magazine International Policy Digest dated 4th of this month (March 2021). In his article he termed US’ very acts of invading countries such as Afghanistan as “worthy of criminal prosecution”. And, about the suggested options available to President Joe Biden published by the think tanks etc he asserted that, “None are particularly useful, in that they ignore the central premise that a nation–state long mauled, molested, and savaged should finally be left alone”. (4)
Factor Relating to President Joe Biden’s Mindset
It is obvious that President Biden’s own mindset about US’ ‘interventionism’ also maters in assessing the possible course of action US’ government is more likely to take now in the case of Afghanistan imbroglio.
In that context, an article titled “Could Biden Presidency End America’s Forever Wars?” published on 21 January this year (2021) by Oxford UK–based publication New Internationalist brought to fore many relevant facts. Author of this article explains that though Joe Biden pledged to oppose US’ foreign interventions, and end US’ forever wars, yet he also talked about use of force when required to protect American people. Further facts highlighted in this article are: (a) Being a long time US senator and US’ vice president from 2009 to 2017, “Joe Biden’s voting record is a mixed one when it comes to interventionism, but overall he has a tendency to support the deployment of US forces”; (b) “In 1991 he opposed the first Iraq war, a decision he later said he regretted”. “However, he consistently supported the Clinton interventions in 1990s, to go further and brandishing its inaction in Bosnia as a policy of despair and cowardice”; (c) “A strong supporter of the ‘War on Terror’, in 2001 he supported Bush’s invasion of Afghanistan. Then in 2003, as the Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he strongly backed George Bush junior’s disastrous war in Iraq, branding it a march to peace and security”; and (d) Joe Biden’s choice of Lloyd Austin (retired four star General) as US’ Secretary of State for Defence is also indicative of the prevalence of Military–Corporate upper hand in decision–making. That is so because General Lloyd Austin had senor military roles in the US’ invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq; and after retirement he has been in the corporate business (on the board of United Technologies which merged with Raytheon, one of the biggest arms companies in the world. (5)
Factors Favouring US’ Military Withdrawal from Afghanistan
Since these factors are well–known, suffices it to mention that US’ military casualties in Afghanistan, very high cost of US’ war in that country, and the serious post–covid–19 pandemic economic hardships of US’ public, are the major factors due to which US’ public is anxiously desiring an end to US’ war in Afghanistan.
So far, about 2,300 US’ service member have died in Afghanistan war (6), many more thousands got wounded/maimed, and many more thousands are suffering from mental diseases. This factor is psychologically weighing heavy on US’ public. The financial cost of US’ Afghanistan war has gone over 2 trillion US Dollars (7), and billions of US Dollars are also being spent by US to sustain its planted Afghanistan government in Kabul (now presided by Ashraf Ghani). All this expenditure from US public’s money, coupled with the prevailing severe post–Covid–19 economic hardships, is obviously making continuation of US’ military intervention in Afghanistan unbearable for US’ public.
Factor Relating to Afghan’s Psyche
It is a well–known fact that Afghan’s – Taliban and non–Taliban alike – have centuries’ old deeply entrenched national psyche of not tolerating in their country any foreign intervention and any government installed by, or even with the support of, any foreign power/country. They continue to fight to expel such foreign intervention, generation after generation, but never give up their fight. Even in the recent history they defeated and ousted the then world super powers – Britain and Soviet Union – and now US, even after 20 years of war and with all the high–tech military might of its own and of NATO, have failed to defeat the Afghanistan Taliban. This shall be the most important factor in solving the current Afghanistan imbroglio; neglect of this factor is bound to foretell the failure of any Afghanistan Peace Plan.
US’ Establishment’s Obstruction to President Trump’s Withdrawal Orders
Last year US President Donald Trump had given the hope of ending the misery of the US’ war in Afghanistan by issuing an executive order to withdraw all US forces from Afghanistan by 1st May this year (2021) in line with US’ peace deal with Afghanistan Taliban (Doha Agreement). However, no action to implement that order was taken by US’ military. The reason for that has been revealed last week (18th of this month) by Russia’s international news channel RT in its report.
The report has quoted Pentagon’s senior adviser Col. Douglas Macgregor, who mentioned that “The president had even signed a formal order to pull out all remaining troops – only to be waylaid at the last minute by predatory Pentagon brass unwilling to step off the wartime gravy train they reminded the president had “bipartisan’ approval. Unfortunately for the Afghan people – and those Americans sick and tired of their tax dollars being used to crush the beleaguered Central Asian Nation – Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and other senior Defense Department figures were able to marshal enough opposition to Trump’s withdrawal efforts to scuttle them.” (8)
This revelation from a very credible source is of high significance to note, because even now US’ Establishments is more likely to continue with its endeavour to retain its ‘military–political’ stranglehold in Afghanistan.
Current US’ Move
It is already known that President Joe Biden’s US government is not prepared to implement the commitment US’ government made in Doha agreement, to withdraw US’ military from Afghanistan by 1st May this year. In fact US’ government is now trying to make Afghans agree to a new US’ plan to end Afghanistan war. There are many media reports about this current US’ move; however, details of that plan have not yet been disclosed officially either by the US or Afghanistan governments.
One of those media reports is the report by Susannah George, the prize–winning journalist and The Washington Post’s Afghanistan and Pakistan bureau chief. Her report was published in The Washington Post on 10th of this month (March 2021). In this report she has published the “leaked” eight page document (9) of that plan which US’ government has sent to Afghanistan Taliban and the Afghanistan government (some reports mention that the plan has also been sent to Abdullah Abdullah who leads Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation, and is the arch rival of Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani). In that report she has mentioned that the authenticity of this leaked document has also been confirmed by two senior Afghanistan officials on the condition of anonymity.
Her report also contains a brief analysis of that US’ move of presenting this new proposed plan. According her report, in essence this proposed US plan to end Afghanistan war (also known as Afghanistan Peace Plan) requires, “Afghanistan’s current government to be replaced by temporary leaders, a new constitution to be drafted and a cease–fire to be brokered”. However, she has also highlighted that, “Within those proposals are elements both sides have described as nonnegotiable, so the plan is unlikely to be implemented in its current form”. (10)
To facilitate its current move, US government has also involved Pakistan, China, Russia, and Qatar (where Doha Agreement was finalised). A conference in Russia has been held where representatives of US, these countries, and the delegation of Afghans participated; however, no concrete results have been reported. Another conference under the aegis of UNO is scheduled in next month (April 2021) in Turkey.
Media reports also mention many serious snags in this US’ plan. Some of these are: (a) the composition of the proposed interim government by the “temporary leaders” – Afghanistan Taliban do not recognise US–planted Ashraf Ghani as a legitimate president and refuse to negotiate with his government, and Ashraf Ghani has repeatedly refused to step down from his presidency; (b) the Plan does not mention as to when, and in what manner, elections will subsequently be held by the interim government; (c) Ashraf Ghani government is open to amendments in constitution but opposes its re-writing fearing that re-writing of constitution will give more political powers to Afghanistan Taliban; (d) the manner of implementation of ceasefire is not clear; etc.
Indicators to the Secrecy-Shrouded US’ Afghanistan Strategy
Susannah George, the Afghanistan and Pakistan bureau chief of The Washington Post, has highlighted in her above–mentioned report of 10th of this month (March 2021) that, “The years–long US strategy behind the push to end the conflict in Afghanistan has largely been shrouded in secrecy”. (11) There is, therefore, the need to carefully discern the ‘indicators’ from the information available in news items (even if unofficial), and in articles of credible authors, oft–appearing in the media. Analysis based upon such indicators can help a great deal in discerning US’ ongoing secrecy–shrouded Afghanistan strategy.
Some of those pieces of information available in reports/articles, along with the discerned indications (mentioned in italics in brackets), are as following.
US is trying to make Afghanistan Taliban accept a ceasefire/reduction of violence for 90 days – another report mentions, for the period up to November this year (2021) (this report clearly implies US’ intention to circumvent the most likely ‘Spring Offensive’ of Afghanistan Taliban after the 1st May deadline, as also prolonging US’ stay in the country beyond 1st May).
US wants to retain two military bases in Afghanistan for counter–terrorism tasks (this clearly reflects US’ intention to somehow retain its military–political stranglehold in Afghanistan, even if at a smaller scale).
The aforementioned Oxford UK–based magazine New Internationalist in its publication of 21st January this year (2021) raised the question in its title ‘Could A Biden Presidency End America’s Forever Wars?’ and presented the asserted answer, “Joe Biden is unlikely to scupper Corporate–Military Interests of his own accord. It will take pressure from grassroots”. (12) (It clearly indicates inability of President Joe Biden to overcome dominance of US’ Establishment (Corporate–Military) in Afghanistan Policy formulation and to take the decision of US’ withdrawal from Afghanistan at his own accord. And, as for the “pressure from grassroots”, no worthwhile pressure from US’ public to end the Afghanistan War is in sight.)
The fact that US’ public is not putting up any worthwhile pressure on their government to end Afghanistan War has also been confirmed by many public opinion polls. In fact, presenting the analysis of those polls, the Washington US–based Think Tank BROOKINGS in its article dated 19th of this month (March 2021) has conveyed its assessment in the title of the article, “Americans Are Not Unanimously War–Weary on Afghanistan”. The article also presents the clarification “Ordinary Americans display a significant degree of ambivalence on the question of withdrawing troops from Afghanistan. Veterans are also divided on this question but are expected to show strong opinion on both sides of the spectrum”. (13) (It is obvious that, in the absence of strong clamour from US’ public for ending Afghanistan War, US’ Establishment is more likely to dominate in the formulation of Afghanistan strategy by President Joe Biden).
One more important indicator has been provided by President Joe Biden in his remarks in the official press briefing, published by THE WHITE HOUSE in its document dated on 25th of this month (March 2021). In reply to a question about US’ decision relating to withdrawal from Afghanistan by 1st May deadline, he replied, “The answer is that it’s going to be hard to meet the May 1 deadline”. And, while explaining as to what is being considered at this stage, he referred to the meeting of General Austin (US’ Secretary of Defence) with Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani, and mentioned, “And General Austin is – just met with Ghani an I’m waiting for the briefing on that. He is the – the “leader”, quote, in Afghanistan and Kabul”. (14) (It is significant to note that: (a) President Biden government considers Ashraf Ghani as “The Leader in Afghanistan and Kabul”; which is in stark contrast of the reality. Ashraf Ghani is merely the US–planted man in Kabul government, with no political roots in Afghanistan and is also being disliked by the masses being the “foreign man”; and, (b) these remarks by President Biden also indicate the current US’ desire to retain its planted government under Ashraf Ghani in some form in the next power–sharing formula in Afghanistan, so as to retain US’ politico–military stranglehold in that country.)
In view of all such facts Dr. Binoy Kampmark of Australia’s RMIT University in his aforementioned article had concluded about the question of US’ withdrawal from Afghanistan, “the withdrawal of the remaining 2,500 US troops from the country is bound to become a matter of delay, prevarication, and consternation. Quiet American imperialism, at least a dusted–down version of it, will stubbornly continue in its sheer, embarrassing futility. The imperial footprint will be merely recast, in a smaller form”. (15)
From the foregoing enumeration of facts, related factors, and significant indicators of available information following inferences are drawn.
In the absence of any worthwhile opposition by US’ public to continuation of US’ Afghanistan war, President Joe Biden’s US’ government is still continuing with its efforts to somehow retain US’ politico–military stranglehold in Afghanistan – thereby in effect refusing to end US’ war in Afghanistan.
For that purpose US’ government is using different ruses and pressure tactics to make Afghanistan Taliban agree: (a) on not to militarily react (expected Spring Offensive) to US’ act of renegation from the agreed 1st May deadline for complete US’ military withdrawal from Afghanistan; and, (b) to accept inclusion of Ashraf Ghani government as a stakeholder in the next political power-sharing formula for Afghanistan.
Needless to emphasise that both these US’ demands cannot be accepted by Afghanistan Taliban at any cost; because both of these demands (i.e. not to fight the foreign aggressor, as also to accept a foreign–planted element in Afghanistan government) completely militate against Afghans’ psyche, as also the binding ideology of Afghanistan Taliban, with which they have continued to fight and have remained undefeated by the joint high–tech military might of US and NATO since the last 20 years.
Now Afghanistan Taliban are in much more stronger position, having about half of the country either under their rule, control, or domination. Ashraf Ghani government is factually limited to Kabul. Afghanistan armed forces equipped and organised by US/NATO are plagued by massive corruption and do not have the fighting ability to stop the onslaught of Afghanistan Taliban, whenever it comes. All these facts are recognised even by US’ senior officials connected to the Afghanistan situation. Obviously, therefore, Afghanistan Taliban are more likely to strongly react to US’ renegation from the agreed 1st May deadline for complete US’ military withdrawal from Afghanistan. Their launching of the ‘Spring Offensive’ at the time and in the manner of their own choosing cannot therefore be ruled out.
The conference scheduled next month (April 2021) in Turkey for finding a solution to current Afghanistan imbroglio, to be participated by Afghanistan, US, Pakistan, and the regional stakeholders including China, Russia, Turkey, etc., is going to be important. After all these countries/powers – Pakistan, China, Russia, and Turkey – surrounding Afghanistan have considerable geopolitical/geostrategic/geoeconomic weightage in matters related to Afghanistan. The solution to the Afghanistan imbroglio may be found in case these countries/powers succeed in making US realise the folly of its desire to somehow retain its politico–military stranglehold in Afghanistan; allowing the Afghans themselves to decide how to form their interim government to take over from US/NATO, and when to hold the next elections. In case immediate concrete actions to that effect commence as a result of this conference, Afghanistan Taliban may cooperate and further bloodshed may be avoided. However, keeping in view US’ elite’s psychologically ingrained urge of ‘imperial militarism’, further bloodshed in Afghanistan by US is less likely to end soon.
(1). Council o Foreign Relation. “US Troop Withdrawal From Afghanistan What Are Biden’s Options?”
(2). Pinterest map of Afghanistan and surrounding countries.
(3). Foreign Policy. “America’s For Ever Wars Have Come Back Home”.
(4). International Policy Digest. “Biden, Afghanistan and Forever Wars”.
https://intpolicydigest.org/biden-afghanistan-and-forever-wars/ (Hereinafter cited as Biden, Afghanistan and Forever Wars.)
(5). New Internationalist. “Could Biden Presidency End America’s Forever Wars?”
https://newint.org/features/2021/01/21/could-biden-presidency-end-america-forever-wars (Hereinafter cited as Could Biden End America’s Forever Wars?)
(6). US’ Military daily newspaper Stars & Stripes report.
(7). Report of The New York Times.
(8). RT news of 18 March 2021.
(9).The Leaked Document of US’ Proposed Plan to End Afghanistan War. https://www.washingtonpost.com/context/the-u-s-proposal-for-peace-in-afghanistan/d6af0cbf-7df7-408f-879a-e748d513c919/?itid=lk_readmore_manual_4
(10). The Washington Report of 10 March 2021 by Susannah George.
(12). Could Biden End America’s Forever Wars? op.cit.
(13). BROOKINGS article of 19 March 2021. “Americans Are Not Unanimously War–Weary on Afghanistan”. https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2021/03/19/americans-are-not-unanimously-war-weary-on-afghanistan/
(14). THE WHITE HOUSE document of 25 March 2021. “Remarks by President Biden in Press Conference”.
(15). Biden, Afghanistan and Forever Wars. op.cit.