President Biden has chosen an explosive juncture for his initiative, preferring diplomacy as a curtain-raiser to the US troop withdrawal from embattled Afghanistan.
Transcending the recent jaw-jaw in Quetta, he is scheduled to meet Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and the chairman of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation, Abdullah Abdullah, at the White House on Friday to discuss the pullout ~ a momentous development by any standards ~ amidst a surge in fighting between Afghan forces and the Taliban across the country. Ergo, the core issue is ever so festering.
In their first face-to-face meeting, Biden will seek to reassure Ghani and Abdullah of US support for the Afghan people including diplomatic, economic and humanitarian assistance, the White House said in a statement.
Biden will also iterate his pledge to ensure that the country never becomes a safe haven for armed groups.
That pledge, on the face of it, could seem to be a tall order given the tormented narrative of a fractious country. Ever since Biden’s decision in April to pull out all US troops before September 11, to end America’s longest war after nearly two decades of conflict, the Taliban have fought daily battles with government forces and claims to have captured 40 districts.
The militant group is trying to expand its influence across the country ever since the US began withdrawing troops on May 1, closed some bases and handed them over to the Afghan government.
The Afghan President has replaced his security ministers amid the Taliban advance.
The Biden administration remains decidedly optimistic about the upshot of the talks.
“The visit by President Ghani and Dr Abdullah will highlight the enduring partnership between the United States and Afghanistan as the military drawdown continues,” the White House said. At another remove, the Taliban said the visit would be “useless”. “They (Ghani and Abdullah) will talk with the US officials for preservation of their power and personal interest,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said. “It won’t benefit Afghanistan.”
There was no immediate reaction from President Ghani’s office but a senior Afghan official said the President would be seeking assurances from the US over its continued support for Afghan security forces in the aftermath of the withdrawal.
The visit of Ghani and Abdullah to Washington comes in the face of slow progress in talks between the Taliban and Afghan government representatives in Qatar, indeed negotiations in which the Afghan government was not represented. US intelligence analysts have released an assessment that the Taliban “would roll back “much” of the progress made in Afghan women’s rights if the group regained national power.
The Taliban has said it will remain committed to peace talks but has simultaneously insisted that a “genuine Islamic system” in Afghanistan was the only way to end the war and ensure rights, including for women. Ahead of the pullout, the outlook is bleak, indeed as fragile as an Afghanistan without US troops.