The Biden administration is reviewing the Afghan Peace process with circumspection and caution. We may, therefore, see a different US exit strategy in the months to come. Already, strong statements have been exchanged between the new US administration and the Taliban making it clear that another twist in the peace process is in the offing.
The complexity of the issue should be viewed at three different levels. First, all stakeholders have been fixated with the post peace phase leaving a concentration void in the Afghan peace process current key requirements. This has also been exploited by the spoilers of Afghan peace consistently.
Second, the two main international players involved in the process have conflicting end objectives. One wants to end the longest war overseas with a presence of strong government of its liking while the other aspires for a regional development plan with Afghanistan as its essential part.
The clash of these objectives has opened up new possibilities for those who have previously been sidelined on multiple pretexts. These elements are now exploiting the US thinking to confront the Chinese hegemonic ambitions at regional and international level through creating favorable groupings of countries to retard Chinese development plans.
Third, the internal political situation of the regional countries fails to mitigate the security concerns inside Afghanistan. There has been an uptick in violence in Afghanistan although a decrease in attacks on the US forces stationed in the country is recorded in 2020 resulting in a lowest fatality ratio of American servicemen since 2001.
A natural question which comes to mind is that what are the choices available to Taliban if the US commitment of complete troop withdrawal for Afghan peace is not met? How does Taliban leadership cease the opportunity and defy the adversarial oddity against them? What is the strategic thinking of Taliban in post May 2021 phase?
Using force to protect the agenda
There are three primary choices before the Taliban commanders. These choices are the function of maintaining monopoly of control over violence in Afghanistan.
The Taliban can unleash a series of deadly attacks across Afghanistan with continuous spikes in violence. This may, not only jeopardize Afghan peace but also block any possibility of its resumption in the near future.
The spoilers of peace shall be the main beneficiary of such a choice as they can then project their agenda to highlight the Afghan government as the key legitimate player in the peace process.
This can only be achieved if the spoilers manage to garner intelligence-based actions against strategic Taliban targets across the country with sustained effort. A protracted conflict seems to be on cards in such a scenario with low military and high intelligence US personnel presence in the country.
A security cartelization envisioned with local intelligence apparatus appears to be strengthening at district and province level. These intelligence hubs can then feed the Afghan government for action against Taliban hideouts. However, such a choice reinforces cohesion and dispels disunity among rank and file of the Taliban district, regional and provincial structures.
Assuring the US administration?
The Taliban may assure the US administration that they will decrease attacks against the Afghan government and take effective measures against the elements involved in terrorism in the areas under their control.
This future choice may jeopardize the position of strength through which the Taliban have been participating in the Afghan peace process.
Moreover, it may intensify factionalism among different groups with the Taliban dispensation. Hence, the choice may put the Taliban in an awkward position in the Afghan peace process and it may not be used by the Taliban leadership at all.
The Taliban can employ pressure tactics through other stakeholders involved in the peace process. They may also conduct targeted attacks on US assets inside Afghanistan. This can intensify regional and international rivalries with the possibility of enhancing intelligence and other US military support apparatus in the country.
The Taliban also gain through diversifying their networking among the regional countries for assistance and support. As a result, they get more physical and nonphysical space for refuge, retaliation and resilience. The choice keeps Taliban in a strong position with active sympathetic support of selective regional players.
Hence, the future holds a tight situation for Afghanistan with violence spilling over its borders in the neighboring countries.