A premature withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan will have consequences, especially if the Taliban don’t deliver on commitments to prevent the use of Afghan soil by groups such as al-Qaeda, Afghan peace negotiator Abdullah Abdullah said on Thursday.
The chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation in Afghanistan made the remarks hours after US President Donald Trump tweeted that he intended to bring home all American troops from Afghanistan by Christmas, months ahead of the earlier deadline of May 2021.
Abdullah, in New Delhi to seek the Indian leadership’s support for intra-Afghan negotiations underway in Doha, met Prime Minister Narendra Modi who, he said, had assured him that India will back any settlement acceptable to the Afghan people.
Shortly after the meeting with PM Modi, Abdullah addressed a gathering at the think tank Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), where he was asked about Trump’s plan to withdraw all US troops by December. He noted there was only Trump’s tweet so far and details such as troop numbers and the timing were unclear, but acknowledged Afghanistan should be prepared for “any eventuality”.
“The US withdrawal will happen one day and Afghanistan should be able to stand on its own feet, but if it is premature, it will have its consequences,” he told the gathering that included retired and serving diplomats and military officials.
“If other conditions attached to their withdrawal are not met, for example, if the terrorist groups like al-Qaeda continue to pose a threat against the people of Afghanistan, or ISIS and the others, there will be consequences as a result of that,” he added.
According to a UN report issued in June, some 6,500 Pakistani nationals are among foreign terrorists operating in Afghanistan, and the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) play a key role in bringing foreign fighters into the country.
Trump tweeted he wanted “the small remaining number of our BRAVE Men and Women serving in Afghanistan home by Christmas”. The deal signed by the US and the Taliban in February envisages the withdrawal of all US troops by May 2021. There are currently less than 9,000 US troops in Afghanistan, and the number was expected to drop below 5,000 by November.
Abdullah said in his address at IDSA that the peace process is aimed at achieving a democratic and peaceful Afghanistan which is friendly with all countries in the neighbourhood and preserves the rights of all citizens, including women and minorities.
“There can be no military solution. There are no winners in a war and there is no loser in a peaceful inclusive settlement,” he said.
Abdullah said he had a “very good meeting” with Modi. “He [Modi] said whatever settlement is acceptable for the people of Afghan, we [will support it],” he added.
The external affairs ministry said the prime minister reiterated “India’s commitment towards sustainable peace and prosperity in Afghanistan and welcomed efforts towards a comprehensive and permanent ceasefire”.
Abdullah also told the gathering at IDSA he had been encouraged by his talks with Pakistan’s civil and military leadership during a visit to Islamabad last week. He said more flexibility on the part of the Taliban could lead to an “understanding to live in a sovereign country that isn’t a threat to others in the neighbourhood”
While hoping for a change in the Taliban’s attitude, he said: “There is a thinking amongst the Taliban that the US will withdraw from Afghanistan, which they will eventually, and then they will take advantage of the situation and take Afghanistan back three decades.
“They may be able to take advantage of the situation temporarily but they will not be able to impose their rule on the people of Afghanistan by force, that’s a reality.”
Abdullah met National Security Adviser Ajit Doval on Wednesday and is scheduled to hold talks with external affairs minister S Jaishankar on Friday.