Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is set to meet with American President Joe Biden on Friday the 25th of June following a surge of violence in Afghanistan. The meeting between Biden and Ghani, joined by Abdullah Abdullah, the chairman of Aghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation, will be the first face-to-face meeting for the leaders. As US forces prepare to withdraw from the region, fighting between Afghan forces and the Taliban has increased throughout the country. In the months since Biden announced America’s withdrawal by September 11 this year, the Taliban has fought daily with government forces. The group claims to have captured 40 districts as it seeks to expand its influence throughout the country.
Reports note that in this meeting, Biden will aim to reassure Ghani and Abdullah of American support for Afghanistan, including diplomatic, economic, and humanitarian assistance. Biden will also repeat his promise to ensure the nation does not become a safe haven for armed groups. “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. While Ghani’s office has not issued an official statement, their opposition has – representatives of the Taliban have claimed that 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.” The Taliban have made it clear that they don’t believe peace talks can progress effectively without a “genuine Islamic system” in place in Afghanistan.
The historically minded may see echoes of America’s withdrawal from Vietnam in the 1970s. When the United States withdrew from Vietnam in 1973, following 8 years of ground combat and two decades of support for the Southern Vietnamese government, violence quickly increased in nature and scale. By the end of April, 1975, Northern Vietnamese forces had captured Saigon, the South Vietnamese capital, soon establishing the unified Socialist Republic of Vietnam that endures to today. Parallels to American withdrawal from Afghanistan are apparent – increasing local violence, attempts by the opposition to gain a stronger position, and fears that the United States will effectively abandon its support of the Afghan government.
Where the most prominent difference exists is, of course, in ideology. The Taliban and associated fighters seek to impose a “genuine Islamic system”, rather than a socialist government. However, fears abound that such a system will see the work done on women’s rights in Afghanistan thoroughly removed. There is also already major concern that Afghans who have worked for the United States over the past two decades will be targeted by armed groups as the United States withdraws. The Biden Administration seems to agree with these fears, as it has already added staff to expedite the visa process for Afghans. As US national security advisor Jake Sullivan told ABC News on Sunday, “…we are doing the kind of extensive planning for potential evacuation should that become necessary. We will take all of these steps to ensure that we do right by the people who did right by us”.
Such planning raises an ethical conundrum. Should the United States be withdrawing at this time? Or should these plans be scuppered until there is a firmer peace plan between the Afghan government and the Taliban? If the United States withdraws now, amidst increasing violence, does this risk the lives of more civilians and officials? It is easy to say that American withdrawal is the correct move – after all, two decades of deployment has seen soldiers serving now who were not alive when the war commenced, as well as extensive damage to the nation of Afghanistan – but if it comes at the cost of greater violence or the loss of all that has been achieved, then perhaps the policy should be reconsidered.
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