Hours after Prime Minister Imran Khan praised US President Joe Biden’s Afghan peace plan, the US administration said that it will be “tough” for the US to withdraw troops from Afghanistan by May 1, indicating that the much-touted peace deal might fell through.
Imran had praised the new US president during a security conference in Islamabad on Wednesday. The Pakistani premier had said that “such opportunities [for peace] are rare”, adding that the Biden administration has also acknowledged that the Afghan conflict has been going on for too long.
Pakistan is a key player in the peace process, especially for its role in bringing the Taliban to the talks table in December 2018. The talks were arranged after then US president Trump had personally requested PM Imran Khan to help end the war in Afghanistan. The US-Taliban talks had culminated in a peace deal signed in February 2020 in Doha, paving way for peace in Afghanistan.
As per the deal, the US troops were supposed to leave Afghanistan by May 1. But Biden has reservations. “That was not a very solidly negotiated deal that the president, the former president worked out,” Biden told a media outlet on Wednesday.
This announcement doesn’t come as a surprise for the former foreign secretary of Pakistan. In a comment to The Correspondent, Salman Bashir said the talks were not successful at all. “If the US and NATO forces withdraw at this juncture, it can trigger a civil war in the country,” he warned.
The Afghanistan administration and the Taliban have yet to agree on a new governance system, said ex-envoy Ali Sarwar Naqvi. Until a consensus is reached, the threat of a civil war is very real, he added.
On the other hand, the Taliban are not happy. They told Biden to abide by the Doha deal and leave Afghanistan. Its spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid told Russian news agency, Sputnik, that the withdrawal of the US forces was necessary for peace in Afghanistan.
“Taliban know that they need to do more to meet the terms of the Doha peace deal to allow for the US forces to leave the country,” said ex-envoy Ali Sarwar Naqvi, citing a statement of a NATO general.
Interestingly, a Taliban delegation is in Moscow to hold talks with the representatives of the Afghan government, with the Russian government acting as an intermediary, to discuss the future of the country after the withdrawal of the US forces. The decision will definitely echo in the moot and will probably give Russia more leverage.
The talks are attended by Pakistan and China as well. Russia aims to “establish conditions for the process of national reconciliation in Afghanistan” through these talks. According to an analyst, the Moscow Format has become a semi-parallel approach to establishing peace in Afghanistan since 2017.
But now, the Biden administration’s refusal to leave Afghanistan, at least for now, has thrown a spanner in the peace-building works. And what implication it will have for the troops in Afghanistan and the national government is remain to be seen.
However, it seems the Afghanistan government will be happy.
Good News For Ghani
The reluctance to pull out is good news for the Ghani government in Kabul. The Afghan president has been advocating the review of the deal, saying that it has failed to reduce violence in the country. In Jan, the US told Kabul that it was in the process of reviewing the deal, a step that was hailed by the Ghani administration.
But recently, Biden shared a plan with Kabul to accelerate a political settlement between the Afghan warring parties. The proposed peace plan, if accepted by all parties, would have replaced the Ghani administration with a “transitional government” that would have Taliban representation as well.
The interim setup would then oversee negotiations on a nationwide cease-fire and the future permanent system of governance in Afghanistan.
The presidential and parliamentary elections would be held after the adoption of a new Afghan constitution, as stipulated in the proposed US plan. However, it is yet to see what comes next after the new decision.