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US troops’ withdrawal from Afghanistan: What are the risks for Pakistan?

The security issue will rise up for all neighboring countries particularly for Pakistan

In a major development, all US and NATO troops have left the biggest airbase in Afghanistan, signalling the complete withdrawal of foreign forces from the country was imminent after two decades of war.

Bagram Air Base served as the linchpin for US operations in the rugged country, where the long war against the Taliban and their Al Qaeda allies was fought with airstrikes and resupply missions from the airfield.

Meanwhile, violence in Afghanistan has exacerbated again and the bloodshed is a direct challenge to international efforts being made to initiate an intra-Afghan peace dialogue. Amid the US troops’ withdrawal from Afghanistan, what are the consequences Pakistan could face?

Recently, the federal government of Pakistan has strongly refused to give its air bases to United States. But it is very clear that the US wants to ‘stay in the game’ in Afghanistan and sees a role for Pakistan in this game. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a recent interview declared that it was in Pakistan’s own interest to do so.

This makes Pakistan’s predicament more serious. The Afghan endgame remains tricky with the postponement of the peace conference in Istanbul after the Afghan Taliban’s refusal to attend it. This has jeopardised the possibility of the Afghan government and the insurgent group reaching an agreement on the future political set-up in Afghanistan before the American withdrawal.

A major concern has been that the American military withdrawal could lead Afghanistan to further descend into chaos fuelling a full-scale civil war with India, Russia and Iran backing different factions and dragging Pakistan into a protracted conflict.

The emerging developments in Afghanistan will not only add to insecurity and violence in Pakistan’s border regions but also fuel cross-border incursions. It is because of this particular security threat that Pakistan has been busy fencing its border with Afghanistan.

Another worrisome development is that the TTP is focusing once again on Balochistan, especially Quetta, where IS and nationalist insurgents are already active. The group claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing in the parking lot of the city’s Serena Hotel on April 21.

The Baloch insurgents will also draw inspiration from the changing environment and could increase and intensify their attacks against security forces and other targets including in and around Gwadar.

Surely we must cooperate with the US in achieving peace in Afghanistan but it’s not in our interest to become part of any new US ‘game’ in the region. Changing security trends demand a constant review of the country’s counterterrorism strategy, and security institutions will have to focus on conciliatory approaches towards non-violent political movements in the regions.