The NATO-Trump stand-off
NATO gets stupefied over Trump’s disengagement from Afghanistan as peace talks progress with the Taliban in Gulf Capital
Keeping NATO-allies blindsided, US President Donald John Trump announced the withdrawal of 7,000 out of 14,000 troops from Afghanistan – one of the decisions that Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis, disagreeing with, put in his papers. However, the chief executive officer at Kabul heaved a sigh of relief and appreciated the US initiative in successfully persuading Taliban militants to hold face-to-face talks with the government, having taken place in Qatar-capital Doha. A spokesperson Feraidoon Khozon said, "We are still optimistic and hopeful that Taliban will meet Afghanistan's negotiating team. Our regional and US friends are trying to pave the ground and encourage Taliban to hold face to face talks with government's team," although Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid stated bluntly that the Taliban negotiators would not meet the government's delegation while the latter seems prepared to extend negotiations with the US Special Envoy for Peace and Reconciliation Amb Zalmay Khalilzad for a second round of the on-going peace process.
Last year Mattis and other top military advisors prevailed over Trump to commit thousands of new troops to Afghanistan, where the Taliban were slaughtering local forces in the thousands and making major gains, despite the US President's expressed instinct to get out of Afghanistan. The decision to pull out dazed and stupefied NATO allies who launched the Operation Resolute Support in 2015 to train and advise the Afghan security forces – an operation involving nearly 16,000 troops and 41 nations. Trump's plans had no advance notice or preparation. Conceitedly, he tweeted, "We have defeated ISIS in Syria… Getting out of Syria was no surprise. I've been campaigning on it for years, and six months ago, when I very publicly wanted to do it, I agreed to stay longer. Russia, Iran, Syria & others are the local enemies of ISIS. We were doing their work. Time to come home & rebuild."
Expressing strong resent for NATO allies, hardly left being kept in the dark — neither the US Congress nor the Afghan government was briefed on the withdrawal plans in advance — Oana Lungescu, Romania-born NATO spokeswoman, in a statement asserted that the alliance remained committed to Operation Resolute Support. "In general, let me remind you that the Afghan army and police have been fully in charge of the security of Afghanistan for over four years. Our aim is to train, advise and assist the Afghan forces, as they create the conditions for peace. At the NATO summit in July, allied leaders also agreed to extend funding for the Afghan security forces until 2024. Earlier this month, NATO foreign ministers expressed steadfast commitment in ensuring long-term security and stability in Afghanistan. "Our engagement is important to ensure that Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for international terrorists, who could threaten us at home. They are a brave, committed and increasingly capable force, who have ensured the security of the Parliamentary elections earlier this year."
US ambassador to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchison participated in the two-day EU conference on non-proliferation a short while back in Brussels before her holiday break.
NATO allies keep battling with Trump's unpredictability. He issued a thinly veiled threat to pull out of the alliance unless the former ramped up their annual national military spending without delay, implementing the NATO commitment of incurring 2 per cent of GDP.
The basis for pull-out was for quite some time being woven in Doha. It was detailed by Sayeeda Mamoona Rubab, in the current issue of Lahore-based The Friday Times, on another round of bilateral dialogue between the US and Taliban 'on jumpstarting the elusive peace process' held in Abu Dhabi this week amidst intensifying international efforts to end the conflict in Afghanistan and President Trump's growing impatience with the war. Earlier a few rounds of talks were held in Doha before the latest interaction in the United Arab Emirates. But this time the meeting was broad-based with representatives of Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and UAE participating. Afghanistan sent two sets of delegations to Abu Dhabi, one led by its National Security Adviser Hamdullah Mohib and the other by senior presidential aide Salam Rahimi, whose team followed Mohib after the latter completed his set of meetings with US, Saudi Arabia and UAE in both bilateral and quadrilateral formats.
There is no denying that Pakistan has consistently been a staunch proponent of a peaceful settlement with the Taliban, who was removed from power after the US invasion in the wake of 9/11 terror attacks on the World Trade Centre and Pentagon. Islamabad responded to President Trump's request to Prime Minister Imran Khan for help in ending the conflict. Trump too never hid his impatience with the war in Afghanistan and he laid down a six-month deadline to his point man for peace and reconciliation, a compulsion slapped by the financial and bloody reality: loss of over 2,300 US soldiers and one trillion US dollars. Moreover, Trump wants to disengage from Afghanistan as he primes for a war with Iran.
While the stand-off between the Trump administration and NATO casts a cloudy shadow, Kabul takes a cautious stand, as reflected in the views of Afghan political analyst Ahmad Saeedi. Taliban is yet to endorse the US and UAE demands to meet with the Afghan government delegation. Taliban's insistence on the timetable of the US forces' pullout shows they would probably meet with the government of Afghanistan in the future, he added.
(The views expressed are strictly personal)