Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

[op-ed snap] No good options in Afghanistan


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Doha Talks

Mains level : Peace in afghanistan seems elusive.


In Afghanistan, ‘reconciliation’ means different things to different players and to different groups of Afghans.


During the last 50 years, Afghanistan has been through different governance systems — monarchy till 1973; communist type rule, initially home-grown and then imposed by the U.S.S.R. with its 1979 intervention; jihadi warlordism in the early 1990s; shariat-based Taliban rule; and a democratic republic based on a presidential system since 2004.

Negotiating a U.S. exit

  • The U.S. began its operations in Afghanistan, primarily against the al-Qaeda, 18 years ago.
  • The cumulative cost has been over $800 billion on U.S. deployments and $105 billion on rebuilding Afghanistan, with nearly 2,400 American soldiers dead.

Trump’s Policy

  • U.S. President Donald Trump’s policy announced in August 2017 was aimed at breaking the military stalemate by authorising a small increase in U.S. presence, removing operational constraints, putting Pakistan on notice, improving governance and strengthening the capabilities of Afghan security forces.
  • Within a year, the policy failure was apparent.
  • Afghan government continued to lose territory and today controls less than half the country.
  • Since 2015, Afghan security forces have suffered 45,000 casualties with over 3,000 civilians killed every year.

Talks With Taliban

  • Last year, U.S. senior officials travelled to Doha to open talks with the Taliban, followed by the appointment of Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad as Special Representative for Afghan Reconciliation.
  • Five rounds of talks have been held and a sixth is likely soon.

Terms of talks

  • Mr. Khalilzad is seeking guarantees that the Taliban will not provide safe haven to terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and Afghan territory will not be used to launch strikes against the U.S., while the Taliban have demanded a date for U.S. withdrawal along with the release of all Taliban detainees in Guantánamo and Afghanistan.
  • Mr. Khalilzad has also sought a ceasefire in Afghanistan and engagement in an intra-Afghan dialogue in return.
  • Al-Fatah- The Taliban have responded with their new spring offensive, al-Fath, and refuse to engage with the Afghan government.
  • An intra-Afghan dialogue with political and civil society leaders planned for around the third week of this month in Doha was called off on account of the presence of Afghan officials.
  • Us exit is aim of talks -It is clear that Mr. Khalilzad is not negotiating peace in Afghanistan; he is negotiating a managed U.S. exit. Given the blood and treasure expended, the optics of the exit is important. As former U.S. Defence Secretary J. Mattis said, “The U.S. doesn’t lose wars, it loses interest”.

Increasing polarisation

  • There is growing polarisation in Afghanistan along ethnic and even sectarian divides.
  • With three presidential elections (in 2004, 2009 and 2014) and three parliamentary elections (in 2005, 2010 and 2018), faith in the electoral process and the election machinery has eroded.

Elusive peace

  • Mr. Khalilzad met with his Russian and Chinese counterparts in Moscow where the three reiterated support for “an inclusive Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace process”.
  • However, there is no common understanding of what it means or which Afghans should own and lead the process.

The Pakistan factor

  • Pakistan is once again centre-stage as the country with maximum leverage. To demonstrate its support, Pakistan released Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a leader and founder of the Taliban.
  •  Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s recent statement suggesting the formation of an interim government in Kabul to overcome the hurdles in the Doha talks provoking a furious backlash from Afghanistan from the government and the opposition figures.
  • Even Mr. Khalilzad dubbed the statement as ‘inappropriate’. Pakistan has since backtracked but it shows that old habits die hard.


  • Even without getting into details of why the post-Bonn order in Afghanistan is fraying, there is agreement that peace in Afghanistan cannot be restored by military action.
  • It is also clear that a prolonged U.S. military presence is not an answer.
  • The problem is that a U.S. withdrawal will end the U.S. war in Afghanistan but without a domestic and regional consensus, it will not bring peace to Afghanistan.
  • Sadly, today there are no good options in Afghanistan.
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