The United States has entered its eighteenth year of war in Afghanistan with no end in sight. Talks begin and end, strategies and tactics are invented and tried, but all to no avail — nothing works. The American public is fed up with this war and it is sapping US resources. During the 2016 presidential race, Trump campaigned for a radical new approach to this conflict that offers America no victories or benefits. It’s time to keep his word.
Of the country’s 407 districts, the number under government control has decreased from 66% in May 2016 to 56% in May of this year. But the US has failed anyway. Afghan antipathy to the Western military intervention is also factor to be reckoned with. Army General John Nicholson, the US top military commander in Afghanistan, told the Senate Armed Services Committee last year that he would like several thousand more servicemen in order to stabilize the situation in that country. Some 8,400 US troops and 6,400 NATO soldiers remain in Afghanistan. The United States is involved in several conflicts at once, and a decisive win in all of them is not possible. Не who chases two hares catches neither. A withdrawal from Afghanistan will free up resources and reduce expenditures.
With Washington eyeing China as a global rival and not ruling out the use of force against Iran, the US does not need to maintain a military presence in Afghanistan. Its withdrawal does not mean that country will plunge into chaos. Quite the contrary, other nations located much closer to the conflict-ravaged country have a better chance of pulling it out of its unending quagmire.
No doubt, China could play a greater role. After all, a peaceful Afghanistan furthers the interests of the One Belt Initiative (OBI) project that is backed by the Asian Development Bank and Beijing’s Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Russia, India, Pakistan, Iran, and Tajikistan could join those efforts. China and Pakistan have offered to extend the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) into Afghanistan. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) could step in to lend a hand. The Taliban could be convinced to take a seat at the round table. Speaking at the June 2018 meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Group (SCO), Chinese President Xi Jinping said that in order to “facilitate peace and reconstruction in Afghanistan, we need to give full play to the role of the SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group.”
In August 2016, China, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan formed a military alliance — the Quadrilateral Cooperation and Coordination Mechanism (QCCM) — with the goal of pooling its members’ counterterrorism and intelligence efforts. China is not a Muslim state but it is battling an ethnic minority group of Islamist militants in its Muslim-dominant, oil-rich region of Xinjiang near its border with Pakistan. The chiefs of the general staffs of the four armed forces meet annually to promote the group’s agenda. Pakistan and China are involved in large-scale economic cooperation. Those two states are on their way to forming a strategic alliance.
There have been recent reports that China, Pakistan and Russia are inching closer toward forming an alliance to stabilize Afghanistan. An Uzbekistani-Pakistani Security Alliance is also reportedly emerging. Russian President Putin visited Uzbekistan October 18-20 for talks with his counterpart Shavkat Mirziyoyev to spur the development of this “strategic” relationship. The two countries have a common enemy. The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan pledged its allegiance to the Islamic State in 2014. Roughly 1,500 Uzbeks have joined the group’s ranks to fight in Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere. Now that that jihadist group has been defeated all over the map, those volunteers are expected to return home. Last year Uzbekistan held its first joint military exercise with Russia in 12 years.
Some military preparations have also been taking place. China is building a military base for the Afghan armed forces in the province of Badakhshan. This makes Tajikistan an integral part of the Chinese-Afghan military cooperation. The short border the province shares with China is impassable by vehicle. If China’s troops enter Afghanistan, it’ll be a landmark event, as Beijing will be conducting those operations without approval from the UN Security Council, but still legally, at the request of the Afghan government that is extending an invitation to its QCCM ally.
In July, Russia and Tajikistan conducted a joint exercise in Badakhshan. Russia has recently beefed up its military bases in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Some 7,000 Russian troops are now stationed at two military facilities collectively known as the 201st military base — in Dushanbe and Qurghon Teppa, some 100 kilometers from Dushanbe. Tajikistan is considering a role within the Russian-led Eurasian Union.
The conflict in Afghanistan has lasted too long. The US has tried and failed. It’s time for it to leave and let others solve this urgent international problem. The country must not be abandoned. Offering it a new hope for peace is the right thing to do.