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Biden's Afghan conundrum

Joe Biden
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Joe Biden

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The Biden administration is not exactly spoilt for choices on the war in Afghanistan

The Biden administration is not exactly spoilt for choices on the war in Afghanistan. In fact, Biden has little choice and whatever he or his administration might do in Afghanistan, there is little chance of violence abating in the country. Whatever Biden does will be carefully watched back home and his critics won't keep quiet on the wrong moves. The previous Trump administration had signed an agreement with the Taliban in Doha.

The agreement was enforced by Donald Trump just ahead of the elections in a bid to convince his constituency of his Afghan success. Trump had promised that he would withdraw the American forces from abroad and also would withdraw from engagement with foreign countries "entered in haste by his predecessors'. The US administration is expected to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan by May 1, 2021. Of course, the US insisted on peace as a precondition for the same.

The accord also obliged the insurgents to launch peace talks with the Afghan government and end Taliban attacks on US forces. While the Taliban began talks with the Afghan government last September, six months later than stipulated in the Doha deal, they've made little progress. Taliban violence against non-US targets has increased over the last year.

Meanwhile, reports from the U.S. government and the United Nations contend that the group still cooperates with al Qaeda—which may not violate the deal but certainly raises questions about its willingness to curb al Qaeda attacks. The Biden administration knows that the Taliban could exploit the situation on the ground if its troops withdraw from the Afghan soil.

If the US does not stick to the deadline, it would be accused of dishonouring its commitment. Alternatively, Biden could negotiate with the Taliban to seek an extension of the withdrawal date. He could definitely buy some time here. Going by the indications thus far, there is little to suggest that the withdrawal is on cards by May 1 as agreed upon. Experts dealing with Afghanistan, however, are not sure that the Taliban would agree to this. The very motto of the Afghan Taliban is to remove the foreign forces from its soil. So any effort to bargain time might further complicate the issue with the Taliban demanding several major concessions including lifting of sanctions against it.

The US should recognise the fact that Afghanistan is not its problem alone and hence no solution could be unilateral. China, Iran and Russia play a key role here. Then there is Pakistan which used the Taliban in the game. The Taliban may not need Pakistan and may not like its interference at all, but the latter does need the Taliban to checkmate an inimical Afghan dispensation and India.

The role of India is limited here and it cannot advance the peace process in Afghanistan on its own. India does not want any increase in the bargain power of Pakistan or Taliban that would be to the advantage of Pakistan. Biden should be wary of all the possibilities and also of the futility of an overstay in Afghanistan as he has been opposing the same since long.

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