The third presidential election in Afghanistan, which was held in 2014, was taken to runoff. During the runoff polls, in which the main contenders were Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, doubts were cast on wholesomeness of the election by the candidate of the United Islamic Front and the election faced a deadlock. It was then that former U.S. secretary of state, john Kerry, mediated and convinced both sides to agree on the establishment of a national unity government in which government posts were divided evenly between the two camps. Now, the new Afghan government is about three years old, but during this period, the national unity government has at some junctures gotten close to full collapse. Many analysts believed that survival of this government was owed to efforts made by the United States government and as long as Washington wanted this, the Afghan government would survive. In a number of cases when differences between the Afghan president and chief executive officer intensified, phone calls by John Kerry alleviated those differences and the two sides settled down. Now, the power in the United States has been transferred from Democrats to Republicans and John Kerry is no more there for mediation. So, the question now is what approach will be taken to Afghanistan by the new Republican administration in the United States over the next four years?
In reality, America’s strategy toward Afghanistan became more aggressive following the 9/11 terror attacks and under the administration of former president, George W. Bush. Later military invasion of the country by the United States and other international forces led to the fall of the Taliban regime and in the absence of national forces in Afghanistan, more than 100,000 soldiers from the United States and its allies took charge of security in Afghanistan. However, following election of Barack Obama in 2008, Democrats decided to reduce the United States’ military presence in Afghanistan to less than 10,000 troops. Obama hoped that by bolstering Afghan security forces, the country would need fewer international soldiers on its soil. Therefore, tens of thousands of American troops left Afghanistan under President Obama. Now, Republicans are back in power in the United States and it seems that the country’s policy toward Afghanistan and its national unity government is set to change. Ashraf Ghani was among the first leaders to congratulate new US President Donald Trump on his election win. Now Trump has been in power for about two months and during his second phone call to Ghani, he criticized American troops drawdown, while promising to rectify the strategy adopted by Democrats toward Afghanistan.
It seems that US Republicans are set to change their policy toward Afghanistan in the future. However, it is not clear what viewpoint is held by the new American administration toward Afghanistan’s national unity government and whether new US secretary of state, Rex W. Tillerson, is as committed to survival of this government as his predecessor, John Kerry? Does Trump’s criticism of US military drawdown in Afghanistan mean that Republicans aim to increase American troops in the country and take charge of the fight against opposition groups, especially the Taliban militants? These are the most important questions which need some thinking before a question is given to them.
As for the first question, one can say that although the national unity government is an outcome of the US government’s support, the new US administration has no choice but to continue supporting the incumbent Afghan government. In reality, US foreign policy follows relatively fixed principles, as a result of which, a change in administration usually does not change the country’s foreign policy orientations. In addition, Republicans feel more committed toward the fate of Afghanistan and its political system than Democrats. Therefore, there is no doubt that the tough approach adopted by Trump’s administration toward such terrorist groups as Taliban and Daesh in Afghanistan can be only meaningful through US support for the country’s national unity government. Latest phone calls between Ashraf Ghani and Trump attest to this fact. The two countries’ presidents have so far talked on phone twice. Although such contacts must be seen within framework of the two countries’ diplomatic relations, they may be also aimed by Afghan president at sending a strong message to his partner, Abdullah.
Some observers believe that during about three years that have passed since the establishment of the national unity government, Ashraf Ghani has been able to boost its power and further marginalize Abdullah within the national unity government. Therefore, phone calls between Ghani and Trump, which have been highlighted by the Afghan president’s office, can be aimed at sending the message to Abdullah that the national unity government is no more dependent on a division of power between two election teams. At present, Ashraf wants to tell Abdullah that the power is concentrated in the presidential palace and he is no more concerned about fall of the national unity government if Abdullah withdraws from the unity government.
As for the second question, history has shown that American Republicans usually take more aggressive policies than Democrats. Therefore, it would not be exaggeration to say that during the next four years, American government’s policy toward the situation of war in Afghanistan is sure to change. At the present time, the number of American troops deployed to Afghanistan is less than 10,000 and in fact, Afghan army and police forces shoulder the main responsibility for fighting against terrorist groups. However, faced with a spate of terrorist attacks in recent years and despite incurring high casualties and relative control of the situation, Afghan forces have largely failed to put an end to military operations by opposition forces. Large parts of Afghanistan are now under control of the opposition and the Afghan forces are not doing well in war fronts. This is not a satisfactory situation from the viewpoint of American statesmen. They have lost about 3,000 troops in Afghanistan in past years and have spent tens of billions of dollars in the country, but they do not see the current situation in Afghanistan as optimal. In fact, when it comes to war in Afghanistan, the Republican Trump considers himself as heir to his predecessor, George W. Bush. It seems that he is planning to revive Bush’s policies by increasing the number of American forces in Afghanistan so as to get control of the Afghan war and suppression of the armed opposition in Afghanistan back in the hands of American generals.