Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan should come as no surprise, as he campaigned on the very same premise. However, its impacts are manifold and go beyond just creating instability in the region. While the decision is likely to have lasting and adverse consequences on Afghanistan, it will also have an impact on China, Pakistan and India.
When 1,400 US troops were fighting alongside Afghans, Taliban still managed to inflict losses on Afghanistan and retain control over major parts of the country. Given that US troops would leave Afghanistan, Taliban stands a greater chance of gaining control over large parts of Afghanistan. Secondly, contrary to the USA’s declaration that Al Qaeda’s influence and power is contained, Washington Post journalist Asfandyar Mir writes that his research indicates that Al Qaeda is still a prominent insurgent group in Afghanistan.
Furthermore, Al Qaeda stands to gain from US’s withdrawal in many ways. It can not only resume local and external military operations but also engage in international terrorism owing to decreased pressure on its forces. Another insurgent group that has emerged other than Al Qaeda and Taliban is the ISIS. ISIS emerged in 2015 in Afghanistan and renamed itself the ‘Khorasan Province’. Given the various factions existing in Afghanistan with competing interests, the aftermath of the US withdrawal can result in a multi-party civil war, a growing threat to Ashraf Ghani’s government and increased defections from the Afghan National Army.
The infrastructural and economic losses are also to be taken into account. Afghanistan and Pakistan are energy deficit countries. Less than 41% Afghans receive electricity and Afghanistan produces less than 2,000 MW of electricity despite its capability to produce a lot more. Both Afghanistan and Pakistan rely on the Turkmenistan- Afghanistan-Pakistan (TAPI 500v) transmission line for electricity. A full fledged civil war, if it happens, can lead to infrastructural losses and decreased standards of living. Added to this, China’s BRI project is likely to suffer as well as its plan with Pakistan to build a hydroelectric dam on Kunar River at Kabul River Basin.
Despite ensuing peace talks between Taliban and the US, peace seems to be a far cry for Afghanistan due to multiple reasons. The first and foremost is Taliban’s unwillingness to hold negotiations with the Afghan government. The second is Afghan government’s inability to provide basic services and security to its citizens and the last is even if Taliban and the Afghan government agree to come to the negotiating table, it would be a task to resolve issues such as women’s rights and democracy given Taliban’s conservative stand on the same and the fact that it forms a major part of the political fabric of the country.