As disagreement over the nature, composition and strength of foreign stabilizing force as well as Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), which would look after Afghanistan security after withdrawal of US-NATO forces from Afghanistan at end of 2014, have struck the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies, and the consequences of this dilemma on Pakistan particularly amidst the ongoing insurgency of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) specifically in FATA would be disastrous.
The differences over the composition and number of NATO troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014 emerged among the allies during the last week NATO Defence Ministers conference in Brussels. Although the allies generally agree that the stabilizing forces in Afghanistan would range between 8000 to 12000 troops but it could not be decided that how many of them would be American and what contribution other NATO allies would be having. At the moot German Defence Minister Thomas de Maizeire told reporters that all troops in Afghanistan after post 2014 would be American but US Defence Minister, Leon Panetta quickly denied and said that the force would be international rather than American. This shows the level of distrust among the NATO allies regarding Afghanistan and the reluctance of US allies to have their presence in the war-ravaged country. US President Barack Obama has already announced that the last US combat troop from Afghanistan would withdraw on December 31, 2014, but said nothing regarding the strength of stabilizing force in Afghanistan beyond the specified date.
The US wants a stabilizing force to remain in Afghanistan for two main purposes; to target the remnants of Al Qaeda and its affiliates and the second is training and equipping of Afghan forces. Importantly, Panetta during the moot informed that the US would leave troops in all districts of Afghanistan including Kabul besides a small contingent of counterterrorism force. This is a significant development and it means that the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan would not be complete, US leadership statements in this regard notwithstanding. Keeping in view the ground situation in Afghanistan and the level of Taliban insurgency as well as the stage of institution-building, the need of presence of thousands of US troops would be felt there for many years.
Regarding the number of Afghan forces, Obama administration reportedly wants to maintain 3,52,000 Afghan troops for the next five years. The NATO allies seem agree with the US on the figure. Noticeably this number is far greater than 2,30,000 on which the NATO allies had agreed last May. If NATO finally adopts the proposal the additional cost of maintaining such a big force would increase by two billion dollars each year. Significantly, the current troop level of 3,52,000 needs $ 6.5 billion this year to keep it running. This is a whopping amount as US and NATO, each one is facing severe financial crisis and budget cuts, and would found it increasingly difficult to provide it to Afghanistan. Any cut downs would mean reducing the number of Afghan national forces which would have far-reaching consequences. For instance, in such an eventuality the Afghan forces personnel who would be sacked would most likely join the Taliban adding more trained manpower to their ranks which would in turn reinforce the insurgency. This is a real dilemma for the US and its NATO allies as well as the Afghan government which do not want complete withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan. This also shows the level of trust the Afghan government has in its own security forces. However, as the war is extremely unpopular in US, Europe and Afghanistan it becomes more difficult for all the stakeholders to keep it going.
The US-NATO troops’ withdrawal from Afghanistan is obviously going to have far-reaching impact on Pakistan particularly FATA in both ways. When President Obama announced to pull out all the US troops at the end of 2014, Islamabad on one hand had welcome the handing over of the command in Afghanistan to the country’s security forces, while on other hand expressed its reservations over the scenario upon the withdrawal of coalition troops. Since then Pakistan has been calling for caution. The stance of Pakistan is quite realistic in the sense as in either case there would be profound consequences for Pakistan.
In case coalition troops withdraw without mopping up Taliban and Al Qaeda insurgency in Afghanistan that would be depicted as the success of the insurgency. In fact, Afghan Taliban have already declared the announcement of US-NATO forces from Afghanistan as their win. In the post US-NATO withdrawal situation, Taliban would most likely try their utmost, with the support from their international brothers in arms, particularly the TTP in Pakistan, to throw away the present dispensation in Kabul and install one of their own liking and conception. This would not come in the shape of change of regime but also the overthrowing of Afghan constitution and the institutions established thereof. This would definitely entail another civil war in Afghanistan where such a conflict is now part of culture. Keeping in view the stand of Afghan Taliban regarding the present dispensation in Kabul and state institutions calling it a ‘system of infidels’ this could be the most likely scenario.
Instability of this kind next door would never augur well for Pakistan as this would foment further unrest in the terrorism-hit country particularly the country’s tribal areas. This time consequences for Islamabad would be more pernicious as indigenous militants of the same ilk i.e. the TTP, both Pakhtoons and Punjabis, in case of an outright or relative Taliban and affiliates victory in Afghanistan, would perceive it as their own success. This would largely be true as Pakistani militants have been playing a significant role in the Afghan Taliban military campaigns and successes since 1994, the year of birth of Taliban in Kandahar. This sense of real or perceived victory among Pakistani militants would make them gravitate towards Mullah Omar and his key commanders, considering them as the ones whose determination and steadfastness brought victory to the faithful. This would further erode the sanctity of the international border of Durand Line, which for Taliban at least does not exist. Thus Pakistani militants would like to repeat the feat in Pakistan by turning their long-cherished dream of making Pakistan a ‘Darul Islam’. This would begin with a declaration of Shariah in the entire FATA.
This would be most likely because on numerous occasions important commanders of Pakistani Taliban have made unequivocal declarations in this regard of making Pakistan a truly ‘Islamic’ state with no space for western or American stooges. Although it is quite unlikely that Pakistani militants would be able to overrun the country but they could stage a real countrywide insurgency which would be very hard to handle for the powers that be. On the other hand taking inspiration and possibly support from Afghan Taliban they would like to establish a real Taliban homeland in the FATA. This is particularly true when within the establishment and the Pakistani society at large particularly in the FATA, there is significant support base for Islamic insurgents agenda, if not their modus operandi, whether Taliban or any other group.
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