U.S. government must continue supporting Afghanistan even after planned troop withdrawal, scholars say

April 14, 2021, 12:19 a.m.

President Joe Biden’s recent announcement revealing his intent to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, 2021 “read as irresponsible in a way that felt unnecessary,” said University of Minnesota global policy professor Dipali Mukhopadhyay at a Tuesday event.

Both Mukhopadhyay and Stanford Center for International Security and Cooperation postdoctoral fellow Asfandyar Mir ’12 M.A. ’13, made it clear that they supported the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.

Mukhopadhyay said she found “the deprioritization of counterterrorism” to be a welcome measure “in the face of climate change and great power politics”: present-day struggles she believes to be of greater importance. Mir added that, in contrast to conventional foreign policy wisdom, the presence of American troops in Afghanistan did not serve as effective leverage against the Taliban.

While withdrawing troops, the U.S. must continue to provide economic support and military aid to the Afghan government to prevent terrible bloodshed, according to Mir and Mukhopadhyay.

There “are many things that the U.S. government can do to give the best chance for peace and improved governance,” Mukhopadhyay said.

However, Mukhopadhyay and Mir both expressed concern that the Taliban would be emboldened with the knowledge of a concrete American withdrawal date. Mukhopadhyay said that the Taliban no longer has any incentive to participate in power-sharing negotiations, especially if it operates on the “false, but not irrational” presumption that the Republic of Afghanistan will now collapse in September.

Before Biden’s Tuesday announcement, the planned troop withdrawal date was May 1. However, Stanford Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center research scholar Arzan Tarapore said that “there was always an expectation that date was going to be violated.” This provided a measure of incentive for the Taliban to participate in power-sharing negotiations with the Republic of Afghanistan at the conference the U.S. plans to host.

Although the Taliban has made clear that they do not intend to attend any peace talks until all foreign powers leave Afghanistan, Mukhopadhyay said that the U.S. may yet retain two sources of leverage against the Taliban: “the Taliban’s long-standing wish for international recognition,” and the “punishing sanctions” the U.N. Security Council levied against the Taliban.

Neither Mukhopadhyay nor Mir believe these leveraging points could convince the Taliban to sever ties with Al-Qaeda. In fact, Mir thinks that the U.S. foreign policy establishment under both Biden and former President Donald Trump believes forcing such a break to be “a lost cause.”

As for the power dynamics between the Taliban and the Republic of Afghanistan, Mir said he considered “the balance of power to be in the favor of the Taliban.” He said that the Taliban possesses much more “cohesion as a political organization” than the Republic of Afghanistan.

Mir even believes that the Taliban as a political machine is “more formidable than it has ever been.” Mukhopadhyay fears that the conflict between the Republic and the Taliban after U.S. withdrawal could devolve into “an even more horrific civil war” than what has already transpired.

“I hope that the administration, and President Biden in particular, feel some moral burden of the U.S.,” Mir said.

Jed Ngalande '23 is the politics and government beat reporter for The Daily's news section. Contact him at news 'at' stanforddaily.com.

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