ISLAMABAD: President Barack Obama’s new policy turnabout to possibly allow US troops to stay inside Afghanistan till 2024, comes immediately in the aftermath of taking out Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, and will certainly hit Pakistan the hardest, with even Iran and Russia furious with the upcoming development. The new date for a complete withdrawal is ten years beyond the previously announced date of 2014. Europe already sees a “troop fatigue” and it is unlikely that their governments, many heading into elections, will allow their troops to stay for the next thirteen years or so. Imagining over a decade more of drone strikes, hot pursuits at the Pak-Afghan border, violation of Pakistan’s airspace and sermons of ‘do more’ is indescribable.
It is probably only India, which is greatly apprehensive about the return of the Taliban in any form that will breathe a sigh of relief if such a deal does go through. The US by prolonging its stay will be able to keep a number of bases in one of the most strategic areas of the region, something which will be seen as a threat by Iran and China. “It is for the Afghan government and people to take decisions on such matters,” the spokesperson at the Foreign Office told The News when asked about the upcoming US-Afghan deal.
The military, when asked, remained quiet and did not want to offer any comment at a time when their ties with the Pentagon have nose-dived and they continue to face new challenges related to Afghanistan every day. However, DG ISPR Maj Gen Athar Abbas told The News that such a situation needs to be discussed by all state institutions and “it has to be a well considered response from the government and the Foreign Office after they have taken input from all concerned”.
Complete withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan is a consistent demand by the Taliban, who are now talking to all stakeholders in their quest to come to an agreement on future governance of Afghanistan. It is unlikely that with their recent victories in the battlefield, which has ensured an increase of ISAF body bags, they will continue peace talks especially with Karzai and the peace jirga.
The PPP and the PML-N both have remained silent over this new development in the region and do not have public positions when it comes to Afghanistan. It was left to the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) and the Tehriq-e-Insaf (TI) to continuously demand the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan.
“The longer the US stays in Afghanistan, the greater will be the continuing instability in this region. Their need to extend their stay not only reflects their total failure in Afghanistan, it also reflects a wider agenda for this region, which threatens not just Afghanistan but also Pakistan and Iran. The extension of the US presence in Afghanistan should be unacceptable to Pakistan as there will never be peace as long as there is a puppet government and foreign troops in Afghanistan,” TI’s chairman Imran Khan told The News.
It was the Daily Telegraph (DT), which broke the news that the U.S. authorities are close to signing a deal to keep thousands of troops in Afghanistan until at least 2024. “The agreement goes far beyond maintaining a small military training force, allowing for units of special forces and air power to remain in the country”, the paper added.
Rangin Dadfar Spanta, Hamid Karzai’s top security adviser, admitted that such an agreement was in the pipeline telling DT that ‘remarkable progress’ had been made towards signing the pact.
According to the paper both sets of officials said they hoped to sign the pact before the Bonn Conference on Afghanistan in December.
Dr Spanta said: “If [the Americans] provide us weapons and equipment, they need facilities to bring that equipment. If they train our police and soldiers, then those trainers will not be 10 or 20; they will be in thousands. We know we will be confronted with international terrorists. 2014 is not the end of international terrorist networks and we have a common commitment to fight them. For this purpose also, the U.S. needs facilities.”
It is too early to say whether Kabul has shared this new development with GHQ in Rawalpindi. It was just a few months ago that the Pakistani civil and military leadership tried to wean Karzai away from the embrace of the Americans and suggested to look for a regional solution to bring peace and to end conflict in Afghanistan.
A Pak-Afghan joint commission was upgraded in April when in an unprecedented manner all the stakeholders - Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, Army Chief General Ishfaq Pervez Kayani and ISI chief General Shuja Pasha - flew into Kabul in what was billed as a historic meeting in a bid to end insurgency in Afghanistan and head towards lasting peace.