KABUL – When Donald Trump was elected in 2016, he was an unknown unit in Afghanistan, a reality TV show host who for years had belittled American incursion into the country when the Kabul government hoped for another US force to be present to control the rise of the Taliban and other militant groups.
Four years later, as the United States faces one of the most significant elections in its history, the situation couldn't be more different. In February Washington signed a peace agreement with the Taliban as part of Trump's plan to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan after nearly 20 years. Now Kabul is hoping that whoever wins the election will stay on course – withdraw US troops and not leave them in Afghanistan forever.
“At this point we really want them to be gone. It took us a long time to see it, but now we know they are just holding us back, ”said one senior Security officer who did not want to be named.
In Kabul, as in so many other capitals around the world, government officials are watching this year's elections with excitement because the stakes are so high – for both countries.
"Right now, our biggest concern is what will happen in seven days," the official said of a Trump defeat that polls suggest is likely. Kabul is used to voting in elections – the last two presidential elections ended here with months of disputes and allegations of widespread fraud. However, Afghans fear that if Trump is lost, the fallout will be far worse than anything that happened in Afghanistan in 2014 and 2019.
"Millions of Trump's supporters are armed. They are also very racist – that is a recipe for disaster. At the moment we really hope it goes well in the US," the official said.
But there is also a lot at stake for Afghanistan. The peace process initiated this year has so far not delivered anything. A new United Nations report Regarding civilian casualties, it was found that despite the start of intra-Afghan talks with the Taliban, “[h] high levels of violence continue to have devastating effects on civilians and Afghanistan remains one of the deadliest places in the world to host civilians Life."
There are two concerns in Kabul – and neither outcome is particularly attractive. If Trump wins, few Afghans have confidence in his ability to deliver on his own promises in a timely manner when delay only means more civilian deaths. Edris Lutfi, former advisor to the Afghan director general, said even if Trump wins it will be difficult to convince the president to give Afghanistan due attention. "Trump is unpredictable," said Lutfi.
For example on October 7th TweetTrump managed to blind both the US Department of Defense and officials in Kabul. "We should have the small remaining number of our BRAVE men and women at home in Afghanistan by Christmas," he wrote.
The Afghan security official said even though the tweet surprised Kabul, they couldn't take it seriously. “We believe him. We believe he believes what he says but everyone knows that it is impossible to recall thousands of troops over a two month period in a pandemic, "the official said.
As impetuous as Trump is, a Joe Biden presidency brings its own insecurity to Afghanistan. Afghans who opposed the peace process – which essentially gives the Taliban a dominant voice in Afghanistan's future – had in return for very little put their hopes in Biden and said he would reject the whole idea, but his subsequent statements have little about it helped create trust in Kabul.
During the summer a senior government adviser had told other senior officials that "there is no peace process – Biden will undo it once he wins," but now even he admits he was wrong. "He didn't say anything other than Trump, so let's finally make our own decisions for ourselves," said the government adviser.
And while Biden has repeatedly stated that he will consent to a withdrawal of US troops, he has made many other comments that cast many doubts.
Lutfi said he was most concerned about a statement Biden made during the New Hampshire Democratic primary debate where he did said: “I was totally against the whole idea of nation building in Afghanistan. We should only look at terrorism in this region. “Biden continued," There is no way to unite this country, no way to make it a whole country at all. "
Lutfi fears the full implications of what Biden said. "Does he think Afghanistan is too divided and that it is a lost cause?"
The comments of Biden, who once defended a continued, albeit reduced, presence of U.S. forces in the country explain why even one-time Afghan supporters of an expanded U.S. force wash their hands.
“What did you leave here? What did you actually build here? Your presence here affects our economic and foreign policies, but we haven't seen enough actual changes to warrant it, "the security source said.
Another concern is that a Biden victory would slow the final implementation of the peace process as it would not be a priority at a time marked by much more pressing domestic emergencies. That alliance will ultimately only lead to more bloodshed, said Orzala Nemat, director of the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit, a leading think tank in Kabul.
"That was all Trump's political move. His intention has always been to win support before the elections by saying he ended this war and brought their troops home," she said. "It was never about the Afghan people. "
And the Taliban, who had already hit the jackpot with the Trump administration, would likely try to run the table with a new and unproven administration, which would only further slow the peace process and increase the number of civilians.
For many Afghans, however, there is one potential bright spot for a Biden victory: everyone Foreign policy Kabul's greatest hope for a Biden government is a replacement for Zalmay Khalilzad, the current US special envoy for Afghan reconciliation. Khalilzad, an Afghan-born academic who served as US ambassador to Afghanistan under George W. Bush, has become an extremely problematic figure in dealing with the current peace process.
"The Republicans gave a lot to the Taliban," said Nemat.
Since the peace process was announced in February, violence has increased across the country. According to the United States, the number of civilian deaths attributed to the Taliban rose 6 percent in the first nine months of this year. T.The Taliban's recent efforts to overrun the south Helmand Province has questioned their commitment to peace.
For many observers, this is further evidence that Khalilzad did not hold the group accountable. According to Lutfi, Khalilzad has previously been viewed as a "failed diplomat". Others were less charitable. Last year, Hamdullah Mohib, the current Afghan national security adviser, said Khalilzad had ambitions to "Viceroy"In a possible" caretaker government ", Kabul has decided against it.
Regardless of who wins the U.S. elections next week, the road ahead will be littered with the same obstacles, and none of the candidates have established a coherent framework for a smooth withdrawal or continued counter-terrorism presence. Afghanistan is ready to move on – whether Washington has fixed itself or not.
The security source said he spoke on behalf of millions of Afghans. "If you want to get involved in Afghanistan, you can invest freely, but we no longer need your soldiers," he said.