Some developments are pressurising the US to end the decades-long Afghan conflict. But, the Afghan peace process is less likely to see the light of the day and will go through bumpy patches under current circumstances.
The developments are given as follows:
Firstly, China is emerging as the economic power of the world; challenging the supremacy of the US. Since 2001, China’s economy has grown from $1 trillion to a whopping $ 13 trillion. In the same period, the US squandered its resources in different conflicts, including ones in Iraq and Afghanistan, without realising the threat posed by China. Now, the US wants to preserve its wealth to confront China economically by halting all its conflicts.
Secondly, the Afghan war has not yielded positive results for the US. Despite spending large sums of money, the Taliban still controls 40 per cent of the area and has put the US in a negotiation situation. Currently, the US is spending $45 billion annually in Afghanistan without achieving much success.
Thirdly, Washington is faced with public dissent at home regarding its foreign invasions. International conflicts of America are anathema to its people who face multifold challenges at home. Americans have lost 40 per cent of their jobs in the manufacturing sector due to surging imports from China. Moreover, Americans are not satisfied with the future of their children. As per the article in Foreign Affairs Magazine, titled “How to Save Globalization,” Americans born in the 1940s earned 90 per cent more than their parents. However, Americans born in the 1980s earned 50 per cent less than their parents. Therefore, they are against the squandering of their resources in international conflicts. They want their government to put its house in order first. They voted Trump for this purpose.
Fourthly, Trump seems convinced that the US global hegemony has died; turning the world into a multipolarity. At several occasions, he said that Washington does not want to play the role of “policeman” in the region. Many American authors have blamed Trump for fracturing the World Order established after the Cold war, based on free markets, collective security and democracy by engaging in a trade war and withdrawing from the trade agreement. According to him, global leadership is a source of trouble instead of benefit for the US. Thus, he is moving fast on the initiatives to end Afghan’s conflict by claiming that the US is not a global protector.
Finally, the US election is approaching in 2020. The only way for Trump to win the election is to give practical shape to his promises of last election campaign, including withdrawing from international conflicts and bringing reforms at home. This might be the only reason for putting the Afghan solution among the top of his priorities. However, the Afghan peace process is a nightmare as it faces multifarious challenges.
The US would not agree on complete withdrawal, which is the core demand of the Taliban, as it would diminish its influence in the region and capacity to contain the growing power of China. Besides, it would shape the narratives of people that small irregular forces of militants defeated a superpower. Therefore, Trump would insist on keeping a small counter-terrorism force or striving for the face-saving withdrawal formula. On the other hand, the Taliban are under the illusion that they have defeated the US and would not agree on anything less than the complete withdrawal of the US and the control of entire Afghanistan.
Even if, the US agreed to vacate Afghanistan, the country would be caught in the vortex of civil war, as the Taliban are not the sole power there. They would indulge in atrocities with regional warlords and other ethnic communities. Consequently, Afghanistan would present the sorry scene of blood and corpse scattered around. To further aggravate the situation, the clash would create a favourable ground for terrorist groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda to regain their power and wreak havoc in the region.
Some Taliban commanders hate Pakistan and could ditch it at a very crucial time the way they did a few years ago by perpetrating violence in Kabul amid peace negotiations with Ashraf Ghani, the then newly elected president.
Thus, no country would come forward to provide economic respite to Afghanistan after the US complete withdrawal. Will it be China that replaces the US in generosity to sustain the government of Afghanistan? No. The new government formed through political settlement would require aid for some time until it improves its governance. Otherwise, all the efforts to bring peace would reduce to ashes.
Thus, despite Afghan peace settlement to be the US top priority, the prospects of peace in Afghanistan seem difficult.