Nine former US ambassadors on Tuesday warned that Afghanistan could collapse in a “total civil war” if President Donald Trump withdraws all American forces before President Ghani’s administration and the Taliban conclude a peace settlement.
“A major troop withdrawal must be contingent on a final peace,” the nine former diplomats wrote on the website of the Atlantic Council, a think tank. “The initial US drawdown should not go so far or so fast that the Taliban believe they can achieve military victory.”
The nine envoys, including five former ambassadors to Kabul, a former special envoy to Afghanistan and a former deputy secretary of State, issued their warning a day after US chief negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad said the US and the Taliban have agreed in principle on withdrawal of nearly 5,000 American troops from Afghanistan.
Mr. Khalilzad in an interview with TOLOnews declined to say how long the rest of the roughly 14,000 US troops would stay. However, US officials repeatedly have said the pullout would be “conditions-based.”
The withdrawal of the 5,000 troops from five bases in 135 days will be followed by Taliban’s commitment to preventing their decades-long ally, al Qaeda, or other extremists from using the country as a haven for new attacks.
Mr. Khalilzad said Trump must approve the draft before it can be signed.
The former envoys wrote that maintaining a major US troop presence would have “a critical influence on the chances for successful peace negotiations”.
“It is not clear whether peace is possible. The Taliban have made no clear statements about the conditions they would accept for a peaceful settlement with their fellow Afghans, nor do they have a track record of working with other political forces,” they said.
“There is an outcome far worse than the status quo, namely a return to the total civil war that consumed Afghanistan as badly as the war with the Russians and something that could follow a breakdown in negotiations if we remove too much support from the Afghan state, they wrote.
A new civil war “could prove catastrophic for US national security” as it likely would see the Taliban maintain their alliance with al Qaeda and allow Daesh’s growing local affiliate” to further expand, they said.
This comes as critics on Tuesday criticized President Ashraf Ghani’s approach on the formation of the negotiating team, saying that delay in this respect shows there is a lack of will on moving forward the peace process.
Back in July, the State Minister for Peace Affairs, Abdul Salam Rahimi said discussions have started on the formation of a 15-member negotiating team.
Mr. Khalilzad, who recently wrapped up the ninth round of talks with the Taliban in Doha, criticized the Afghan government for not finalizing the negotiating team which is expected to engage in direct negotiations with the Taliban.