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Experts Fear Afghanistan 'Zero Option' May Have Repercussions

Afghanistan 'Zero Option' May Have Repercussions for Region
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Earlier this week, the White House said a decision on pulling out all U.S. troops from Afghanistan after 2014 is not imminent but it is an option "on the table." Many experts say U.S. policymakers are increasingly frustrated in their negotiations with Afghanistan's government on a continued military presence in Afghanistan after that date. The senior U.S. diplomat for Afghanistan told Congress this week he believes an agreement will be reached, and a number of experts say it is in the interests of both governments to avoid the so called "zero-option" plan.

Afghanistan suffered from a bloody civil war in the 1990s. While different Afghan factions fought for the control of the country, analysts say nearby countries like Pakistan, India and Iran thought it was in their national interest to support one particular group or another.

Andrew Wilder, of the U.S. Institute of Peace, thinks the so-called "zero option" of pulling all U.S. troops out at the end of next year may take Afghanistan back to that situation.

"I think the idea that we are going to pull out the troops would exacerbate the concerns within the regional actors that Afghanistan could again fall apart and return to civil war, which if anything, further going to provide incentive to the regional actors to back their proxies in Afghanistan," said Wilder.

Wilder says another concern is that while the U.S. does not have a military presence in neighboring Pakistan, instability in one country impacts the other. In recent years, Pakistan has been badly hit by several terrorist groups. Wilder says leaving no troops in Afghanistan would further embolden militant groups in Pakistan.

"The biggest concern would be for the Pakistani Taliban, the TTP. They could then get inspirational and say look what happened in Afghanistan - they defeated this invading power. And that could be mobilizing for TTP and other militant groups in Pakistan," he said.

Experts like Lisa Curtis believe the regional countries are closely watching the situation, and that U.S. troops offer the possibility of stability.

"If the United States could come out and commit to robust troop presence say anywhere between 10 to 20 thousand U.S. troops, then I think you create more confidence that the situation in Afghanistan can be stabilized and you hold out hope that countries like Pakistan may get onboard with a political solution and may cooperate more effectively," said Curtis.

But if experts say taking all the troops out of Afghanistan is a bad option, then why did the White House say it was on the table?

"Some observers think that the White House is using that as a bargaining chip, that it is bluffing, that it has no intentions of leaving zero troops but it is trying to force Karzai to be more reasonable in the negotiations of the bilateral security agreement. But in my opinion, both the Karzai administration and Obama administration are using the wrong tactics," she said.

Curtis says the perception of a wedge between Kabul and Washington will play right in the hands of the Taliban and other regional extremists - and against the interests of the two countries. Experts stress that whatever plan the White House does go ahead with, it should not let the Afghan people feel that they are being abandoned by the international community - one more time.