US Prez Polls Brings No Clear Choice For Afghanistan
When Donald Trump was elected in 2016, he was an unknown entity in Afghanistan, a reality TV show host who’d spent years belittling the American incursion in the country at a time when the government in Kabul was hoping for a continued U.S. troop presence to check the rise of the Taliban and other militant groups.
Four years later, as the United States faces one of the most momentous elections in its history, the situation couldn’t be more different. In February, Washington signed a peace deal with the Taliban as part of Trump’s plan to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan after almost 20 years. Now, Kabul is hoping that whoever wins the election will stay that course—withdrawing U.S. troops, not leaving them in Afghanistan forever.
“At this point, we really do want them gone. It took us a long time to see it, but now we know they are only holding us back,” said a senior security official 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 election on tenterhooks because the stakes are so high—for both countries.
“Right now, our biggest concern is what happens in seven days,” the official said of a Trump defeat, which polls suggest is likely. Kabul is used to contested elections—the last two presidential races here ended in monthslong disputes and accusations of widespread fraud. But Afghans worry that if Trump loses, the fallout will be a lot worse than anything that happened in Afghanistan in 2014 and 2019.
“Millions of Trump’s supporters are armed. They’re also highly racist—that’s a recipe for disaster. Right now, we’re really hoping things go well in the U.S.,” the official said.
But the stakes are huge for Afghanistan, as well. The peace process kicked off this year has so far delivered anything but. A recent United Nations report on civilian casualties found that despite the start of intra-Afghan talks with the Taliban, “[h]igh levels of violence continue with a devastating impact on civilians, with Afghanistan remaining among the deadliest places in the world to be a civilian.”
If Trump wins, few Afghans have confidence in his ability to carry out his own promises in a timely fashion.In Kabul, the concerns are twofold—and neither outcome is particularly appealing. If Trump wins, few Afghans have confidence in his ability to carry out his own promises in a timely fashion, when delay will just mean more civilian deaths.
Edris Lutfi, a former advisor to Afghanistan’s chief executive, said that even if Trump does win, it will be difficult to convince the president to pay due attention to Afghanistan. “Trump is unpredictable,” Lutfi said.
For instance, in an Oct. 7 tweet, Trump managed to blindside both the U.S. Defense Department and officials in Kabul. “We should have the small remaining number of our BRAVE Men and Women serving in Afghanistan home by Christmas,” he wrote.
The Afghan security official said that although the tweet caught Kabul by surprise, they couldn’t take it seriously. “We believe him. We believe that he believes what he says, but everyone knows it’s 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 breeds its own uncertainty for Afghanistan. Afghans who were against the peace process—which essentially gives the Taliban a dominant voice in Afghanistan’s future, in exchange for very little—had initially placed their hope in Biden, saying he would scrap the whole idea, but his subsequent statements have done little to instill confidence in Kabul.