What does Biden’s win mean for Afghanistan?
Ajmal Shams
Former Vice President Joe Biden has been elected as the new president of the US, although his victory has not been acknowledged by President Donald Trump. However, the US has strong democratic institutions that will ensure his entry to the White House on Jan. 20, 2021. Several world leaders, including Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, have already congratulated Biden for winning the US presidency. With the US being a global power and influencer, the result of the presidential election has a worldwide impact and Afghanistan is no exception.
For the past four decades, the US has actively engaged with Afghanistan politically, economically and militarily. It is not only conventional wisdom, but an entrenched reality that the US has been able to shape and guide the direction of politics in the country. Afghanistan and the US have been strategic partners and the US-Afghan alliance is pivotal to Afghanistan’s long-term political and economic stability.
The US government’s agreement with the Taliban in February 2020 was more than an attempt by President Trump to deliver on his campaign promises during his first term in office. It was grounded in pragmatism and driven by US interests. The US has been engaged in its longest war in Afghanistan, which it believes is no longer worth the blood and treasure. Unlike Afghanistan, where virtually all major decision-making powers are concentrated in the hands of the president, the US has mechanisms in place that are based on inclusiveness and a whole-government approach.
Both President Trump and Biden’s campaign strategies remained largely US-centric. Although the two leaders may differ on several foreign policy issues, they do converge on the way forward for Afghanistan, which is to end a war that is no longer helping the US advance its strategic interests. This theory is now popular across much of the US political and security intelligentsia.
Within the Afghan government, there are concerns that the US may have given more concessions to the Taliban than they deserved. The Afghan government does not consider the US-Taliban agreement as the basis for intra-Afghan dialogue. Kabul has argued that Afghanistan was not party to the deal and had not been consulted while the terms of the agreements were being negotiated between the US and the Taliban.
US Special Envoy for Afghan Peace Zalmay Khalilzad has, however, visited the Afghan leadership on a regular basis during the negotiation process with the Taliban. Most importantly, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has also been in contact with the Afghan leadership during the talks.
In fact, it was the aforementioned deal that led to the release of more than 5,000 Taliban prisoners by the Afghan government. The intra-Afghan negotiations were initiated as part of the same agreement. Thus, the government’s denial of any association with the US-Taliban agreement does not seem to be valid.
The reduction of violence is an important component of the agreement. Yet violence has significantly increased, especially over the past few months, and has taken the lives of dozens of civilians in addition to a large number of Afghan security personnel.
The deterioration of security has angered the government and disappointed ordinary people. The initial euphoria regarding the peace agreement seems to be gradually diminishing as peace talks in Doha are not moving forward due to disagreements on the agenda of negotiations between the two sides. This situation does not augur well for the peace process.
The Afghan government may think Biden’s victory might mean some shift in US policy. However, Biden’s view on Afghanistan during his term as former US vice president is no different from President Trump's. Biden wrote in Foreign Affairs earlier this year, “It is past time to end the forever wars, which have cost the US untold blood and treasure,” adding: “As I have long argued, we should bring the vast majority of our troops home from the wars in Afghanistan and the Middle East and narrowly define our mission as defeating Al-Qaeda and Daesh.”
Although it may be too early to comment, one can safely assume that Biden will continue President Trump’s policy on Afghanistan. What that means for the conflict-ridden country is a cautious optimism. While President Trump deserves all credit for being courageous enough to pursue the path of peace by breaking the stalemate on Afghanistan, Biden is expected to bring his long-standing foreign policy intellect into the process.
It is hoped that Biden’s incoming administration will follow the path of peace in Afghanistan while continuing the US commitment to Afghanistan’s political stability, economic development and preservation of democratic values.