M. Nadeem Alizai
Kabul is thankful for the announcement of US President Barack Obama that he will delay the pullout of around 4,000 troops from Afghanistan. The US troops will help in training the Afghan National Security Forces and assist them with counter-insurgency efforts. According to the White House, the delay would play a crucial role in maintaining the stability of the war-hit country.
However, the situation on the ground and past experience suggest that this will not help Afghans to defeat terrorism or bring the insurgent groups to the negotiation table. Instead it will prolong the ongoing war as the Taliban foot soldiers will never agree to a cease-fire unless they see all foreign troops leave the country.
The feigned optimism projected by the Afghan and US leaders lost ground when the Taliban reacted to the US decision and denied talking to the Afghan government. The militant group, in a statement issued to the media in the aftermath of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's visit to the US, hinted at adding fuel to the war to prove the notion that the country is the "Graveyard of Empires" right. For the group, a longer stay of foreign troops means more targets for their bullets.
Looking at the political horizon, the million dollar question at this point is what Washington will do next year.
Will Obama stick to his plan of stationing less than 1,000 troops at the US Embassy in Kabul? Will the extension help the Afghan government to establish its writ in restive provinces? How will Kabul convince the Taliban to put down their weapons while foreign troops are still present?
When the bulk of allied forces could not free Afghanistan from the clutches of terrorism, how could a few thousand US troops do better?
Washington is reluctant to accept its defeat in Afghanistan. The Taliban have stood firmly against the sophisticated and well-trained foreign forces and are in a position of strength. They will never give the nod to a deal which would brush aside their strategic gains, thus making it very difficult both for Washington and Kabul to reach an agreement with the insurgents and bring peace back to the country.
For many others, Obama's decision is a result of the extensive pressure built by the US intelligentsia, ex-officials and international players who regularly questioned the success of the Afghan mission. The shrinking support for the Afghan war in the US is an indicator that the Pentagon has failed to defeat a few thousand ill-equipped insurgents or to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven of extremists once again.
However, the US officials are not yet ready to accept the universal truth that civil wars are never won or ended by military might but by diplomacy. To win the Afghan war, the White House should focus on the Afghan peace process and convince the Taliban to become part of the reconciliation process.
In order to achieve this, the US should spend large sums on capacity building for the Afghan National Security Forces rather than extending the combat mission. The first step toward peace will be to accept the bitter reality that presence of troops or delay of the withdrawal will not defeat the insurgents, but will encourage them to continue resisting the Afghan government.
The most viable way to end the Afghan war is engaging regional players including China, Pakistan, Iran and Russia to bring peace and stability to the war-hit country. Without winning the trust and support of Afghanistan's neighbors, neither Washington nor Kabul could end the ongoing conflict.
(The author is a Kabul-based journalist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @nadeemalizai.)