By Faraz Chandio
Several factors are compelling the United States to conclude the long-standing conflict in Afghanistan. However, the likelihood of the Afghan peace process being successful is slim, and it is anticipated to encounter challenges in the current circumstances.
To begin with, China’s rapid rise as a global economic powerhouse is exerting pressure on the United States and challenging its supremacy. Over the years since 2001, China’s economy has surged from $1 trillion to an impressive $13 trillion. In contrast, the US has expended its resources in various conflicts, including those in Iraq and Afghanistan, without fully recognizing the emerging threat from China. Consequently, the US aims to preserve its economic strength to address the Chinese challenge, prompting a cessation of its ongoing conflicts.
Furthermore, the US’s engagement in the Afghan war has failed to yield positive outcomes. Despite substantial financial investment, the Taliban still controls a significant 40% of the territory, putting the US in a negotiating position. The annual expenditure of $45 billion in Afghanistan by the US has not led to substantial success.
Domestically, there is growing dissent in the US regarding its foreign interventions. Americans are grappling with multiple challenges at home, including significant job losses in the manufacturing sector due to increased imports from China. Dissatisfaction also stems from concerns about their children’s future, with statistics showing a decline in earnings for generations born in the 1980s compared to those born in the 1940s. As a result, there is a strong sentiment against diverting resources to international conflicts, with a preference for addressing domestic issues. This sentiment was evident in the election of President Trump.
Trump himself is convinced that the era of US global hegemony has ended, leading to a multipolar world. He has expressed reluctance to continue the US role as a global “policeman” and has taken steps that some critics argue have fractured the post-Cold War world order. Trump believes that global leadership has become a burden rather than a benefit for the US. Consequently, he is actively pursuing efforts to conclude the Afghan conflict, asserting that the US no longer seeks to be a global protector.
The impending 2020 US election is another driver for Trump to prioritize fulfilling his previous campaign promises, which include withdrawing from international conflicts and implementing domestic reforms. This urgency may explain why the Afghan issue has become central to his agenda. However, the complexities of the Afghan peace process present significant challenges.
The US is unlikely to agree to a complete withdrawal, a key demand of the Taliban, as this would diminish its regional influence and ability to counter China’s growing power. Additionally, it could create a narrative that a small group of militants defeated a superpower. Trump may instead advocate for a small counter-terrorism force or pursue a withdrawal strategy that saves face. Conversely, the Taliban believe they have triumphed over the US and insist on full US withdrawal and control over Afghanistan.
Even if the US were to leave Afghanistan, the country could descend into civil war given the presence of various power centers beyond the Taliban. This could lead to atrocities, conflicts among regional warlords and ethnic groups, and provide fertile ground for terrorist groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda to regain strength and wreak havoc.
The prospect of economic aid for Afghanistan post-US withdrawal is uncertain. It’s unlikely that China, despite its economic might, would replace the US in terms of generosity. The newly formed Afghan government, established through a political settlement, would require assistance as it strives to improve governance. Without this aid, the efforts for peace are likely to falter.
In conclusion, while achieving an Afghan peace settlement is a top priority for the US, the challenges involved make the prospects for peace in Afghanistan appear grim.
The writer is an author and Journalist