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Country Report: The War in Afghanistan

Written by Olivia Oseroff


Introduction to Afghanistan


Throughout the 19th century, Afghanistan fought for independence from its imperial holders: Great Britain. Afghanistan's location allowed Britain to protect its Indian empire from Soviet aggression. In 1921, Afghanistan won its independence after the third British-Afghan War. Amir Amanullah Khan, Afghanistan's self-declared king, led a refined and diligent socioeconomic campaign to strengthen Afghanistan as a leading world actor. In 1926, Afghanistan was declared a monarchy. Aggressive modernization practices limited the National Council and other government officials' power resulting in Amanullah's abdication and exile.


In 1933, Zahir Shah, the new Afghani king, began ruling for forty years. In 1934, the United States recognized Afghanistan as an independent nation, but over the next few years as Soviet-communist influence began to infiltrate the Afghan political system that relationship deteriorated. In 1973, Mohammed Daoud Khan, the cousin of Shah and a pre-Soviet General, overthrew Shah’s regime in a military coup d' etat, abolished the monarchy, and formed the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan. He named himself the president and solidified Afghan's ties with the USSR for the near future.


During Khan's reign, he introduced a constitution that modernized the communist country with socially and economically liberal policies, including women's rights. He removed anyone who opposed his new policies and government structure. In 1978, Khan was killed in a coup and replaced by Nur Mohammad Taraki, a founding member Afghan Communist Party. Taraki disassociated from any remaining Soviet influence and established a government based on Islamic principles, Afghan nationalism, and socioeconomic justice. He signed an alliance treaty with the Soviet Union and began a new war at home in his efforts.


In 1988, Osama bin Laden began the first Jihadist movement pushing a "pure nation governed by Islam." After decades of imbalance and destroyed relations, the U.S., Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the Soviet Union met for the peace accords in Geneva, declaring Afghanistan's independence and the withdrawal of Soviet troops.


Through the next decade, the Taliban would form and rise to power, spreading their influence through assassinations and the return of orthodox Islamic law. During this time, al-Qaeda formed, attacking western influence worldwide, starting with two American embassies in Africa. These attacks were the pretext to the U.S.' war in Afghanistan beginning in 1999 after the United Nations imposed sanctions on the Taliban's and al-Qaeda's influence.


Afghanistan's instability, inconsistency in rule, and lack of law and order all contributed to the state becoming a foreground for the world's war on terror. In February 2020, the U.S. and the Taliban reached and signed an agreement set to bring peace to Afghanistan after an almost 20-year war. As of March 2021, that deal has yielded few results.


The United States and Afghanistan


In the almost twenty-one-year war, al-Qaeda, ISIS, and extremist cells throughout Afghanistan have continued to spread their influence throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Beginning in 2001, following the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, the United States and the Afghan government's partnership solidified. The United States began sending troops, in coordination with the Afghani military, to push back the Taliban and al-Qaeda. This partnership is crucial in the U.S.' war on terror and fight to defeat the Taliban's hold on the state. Since 2001 the U.S. has continued to send troops and aid to Afghanistan all dedicated to securing economic and governmental stability in the country and region. It also continues to partake in a coalition of allies and international organizations to raise financial resources for the Afghan government and the ANDSF (Afghan National Defense and Security Forces).


Foreign Interests in Afghanistan


Before the 1980's Soviet-Afghan War between insurgent groups, the Soviet Union and Afghanistan had an inconsistent relationship, highly dependent on the ruling party's ideological beliefs. The Soviet Union was against conservative Islamic rule. In recent months, Russia, China, and Pakistan have joined the talks to reach a ceasefire and pull all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan. Due to Russia's history in Afghanistan and Moscow's negotiations since 2017, President Biden leaned on Russian support to move the talks forward.


China and Afghanistan have had a relatively peaceful history. Since the war in Afghanistan began, the main interest has been that China remains its largest trading partner. In recent years, China's interest has increased. Part of the United States' mission in Afghanistan is to build the Ring Road around that would encircle Afghanistan's four largest cities to stimulate the economy, promote security, and spread the Afghani government's influence to more rural areas. After spending nearly $3 billion with no end in sight, the Taliban gained back approximately half the country's control. In September 2020, discussion began that China could extend the Belt and Road Initiative from Pakistan to Afghanistan to promote further increased security as well as economic and political prosperity; however, for this to occur, the Pakistani-Afghan relationship would have to be mended.


The U.S. included Russia, China, and Pakistan in these conversations to influence these conversations to "help create the necessary conditions for reaching a deal and...serve the interests of all key ethnic and political forces of the country and determine the vector of its development."


What's Happening Now?


In January 2021, President Joe Biden and the Pentagon were reviewing last year's Afghan peace deal. They later reported that the Taliban had not successfully executed and abided by the agreement's terms, casting doubt on the May 1st withdrawal date. At that time, President Biden had a few options: withdrawal as scheduled and pull out of the joint accord with the United Nations or ask for a delayed withdrawal and peace talks.


In early March 2021, Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani reported the Afghani government would begin peace talks with the Taliban. And shortly after, a leaked letter from the U.S. Secretary of State to Afghani President Ghani urges for a period of non-violence and the forming of a transitional government of both Afghani officials and the Taliban. Secretary of State Blinken warned of possible Taliban offensive moves and urged the increase in Afghani pressure. At the subtle request from the U.S., the international community began to pressure for peace in Afghanistan.


On March 17th, the Afghan government sent a delegation from Kabul to Moscow where the U.S. Special Envoy and Taliban spoke in a one-day peace conference. Following that meeting, on March 22nd, U.S. Secretary of Defense Gen. Lloyd Austin visited Afghanistan in hopes of continuing the conversation.. President Biden released a statement: it will be "tough" to pull U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by May 1st. NATO has also said the alliance will not leave Afghanistan "until the timing is right and certain all conditions have been met."


Joe Biden announced the withdrawal of the remaining 2,500 troops from Afghanistan on April 14. The troops will leave on September 11, 2021, ending the war on its 20th anniversary.


What's Next?

Many view that even if the agreement is followed through, it is only the first step towards peace in Afghanistan. The more difficult agreement to be made is between the Afghani government and the Taliban. For now, Biden will likely attempt to stabilize tensions diplomatically before the September 11th date. The United States’ NATO allies may follow our approach and take similar steps. If the plan fails or the Taliban takes over the Afghan government, the United States may be forced to implement a different strategy to avoid another “forever war.”


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