Back in July 2018, Anatol Lieven, a globally acclaimed professor of International Relations wrote a well-articulated and excellent piece on Afghanistan, titled “Peace in Afghanistan: The duty of Afghanistan’s region”. In that article, he put forward a few predictions about the future of Afghanistan and the exit of the US. Exactly after three years on August 15, 2021, the US withdrew from Afghanistan and handed over power to the Taliban. It is time now to recall and analyze whether his predictions hold true or not. But I’m sure they do!
The first prediction was that the Afghanistan war is a test of American political stamina and of the Afghan elites
Lieven wrote in his paper about the Afghan war that this will not be a military struggle but a test of American “political stamina”. This will also be a test for Afghan elites to maintain a minimally consensual state in Afghanistan. This prediction was self-explanatory because of two main reasons.
One, after spending trillions of dollars and losing precious lives, the US withdrew from Afghanistan after twenty painful years. The US invaded Afghanistan to eliminate terrorism from Afghanistan. The main objective was to bring democracy and to preserve respect for human rights in Afghanistan. However, Afghanistan is still on the brink of destruction. In fact, the US war on terrorism in Afghanistan has worsened the situation further that it has turned into a threat for the region. The threat of terrorism and humanitarian crisis is still looming large and deepening. Poverty is rampant, thousands of people are unemployed, and infrastructure is destroyed by the war.
Two, the US strategy at that time according to an analyst was driven by four chief factors. First, as part of the US military’s exit strategy, to maintain reasonable influence in Afghanistan. Second, try to use Afghan Taliban leverage in the region to strategically choke Iran and bring about regime change through non-kinetic means, as John Bolton stated in a New Year’s message to Fox News in January 2018. Third, ensure that Russia and China do not take advantage of the power vacuum in Afghanistan, and fourth, re-engage Pakistan to achieve all of the above.
However, none of these four factors really did stop the US on the ground as can be seen by its hasty withdrawal resulting in the Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. The US has completely abandoned Afghanistan, and with this, they may have abandoned the idea of engaging with the Afghan Taliban. Most importantly, Russia and China along with Pakistan are taking full advantage of the power vacuum left by the US by their proactive engagement with the Taliban leaders. As far as the factor of re-engaging Pakistan is concerned, Joe Biden has not even spoken to Prime Minister Imran khan since he became the President of the US.
The US failed to implement its own Afghanistan strategy, yet the new administration is still in denial to have won the war. President Joe Biden tweeted right after the last soldier moved out of Afghanistan about the end of the US operation. He wrote that the US went to Afghanistan twenty years ago with clear goals. These were to find those who have attacked the US on September 11, 2001, and not let Al-Qaeda use Afghan soil against the US and its allies. We did that- a decade ago. Our mission was never supposed to be nation-building”. The US is oblivious of the Pottery Barn rule, “you break it, you remake it”. So Anatol Lieven was right when he said that “sooner or later they (the US) will leave Afghanistan”. They left, eventually!
It was the test of political stamina for the US, and it has been miserably failed in that test. The Afghan elites are not able to maintain a consensual state in Afghanistan. In the absence of US support, former President Ashraf Ghani fled the country. And the Afghan Security Forces despite being trained by the US succumbed easily to the Taliban’s might.
The second prediction was that sooner or later the US will leave, and Afghanistan will then revert to being a problem for Iran, Pakistan, China, India, and Russia
This is again true and is now a historic fact. Afghanistan is a problem for the regional neighbors. All these countries have stakes in the peace and stability in Afghanistan. The neighbors have realized the cost of abandoning Afghanistan after the Soviet retreat at the end of the Cold War. The Soviet war that was fought for ten years resulted in a civil war and the Taliban took overpower. While the US and its allies were pouring billions against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, they didn’t put heed to giving any importance to Afghanistan’s rebuilding after the Soviet War left Afghanistan completely destroyed.
There was a huge refugee influx. As a result, Pakistan is still hosting 3 million Afghan refugees for over four decades now. Pakistan was left alone to tackle the post-Soviet War situation in Afghanistan. Terrorism held its roots in Afghanistan. Eventually, the terrorist attacks of 9/11 in the US and turned the world is topsy-turvy.
The other regional powers- Russia, China, and Iran cannot afford to abandon Afghanistan now. Like Pakistan, all these countries are cognizant enough of the consequences of abandoning Afghanistan now. In this regard, the third meeting of Moscow Format Consultations on Afghanistan took place on 20th October. The meeting was hosted by Russia. China, Pakistan, Iran, India, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and a high-level Afghan Taliban delegation attended the meeting.
Representing Pakistan in the meeting, Ambassador Sadiq emphasized the international community’s constructive engagement in Afghanistan. To avoid a humanitarian crisis and mass exodus, he urged the international community to provide humanitarian aid to Kabul. Ambassador Sadiq also requested that Afghan assets be unfrozen. He stated that this measure is necessary to prevent the country’s economic collapse. Ambassador Sadiq also discussed the ramifications of a peaceful and stable Afghanistan. A stable Afghanistan will eventually provide regional peace and stability, as well as regional connection. It will also lead to secure borders and the mitigation of terrorism.
It is pertinent to highlight here that the abandonment policy has bad repercussions. History is evident of the fact that countries that are worn-torn cannot stand by themselves. And the situation gets worst if they are abandoned or punished. Germany which was not only abandoned but was also extremely punished after WWI by the Allied Powers, came out more rebellious and dangerous for the world’s peace. On the other hand, after WWII, same Germany with the help of the US stood firmly so much so that now it is one of the great European powers.
Similarly, sixteen other European countries were helped by the US with the Marshall Plan worth 13 billion dollars. This plan is regarded as one of the most successful foreign policy initiatives in US history. And this is absolutely true. Because it served US purposes of containing communism, promoting capitalism, and strengthening Europe-US friendship forever.
But as Anatol Lieven underscored that the US claim to be the world’s “indispensable nation” is based on the premise that no other nation or group of nations is capable of establishing or maintaining peace in any part of the world without the United States. In the Middle East and elsewhere, US action has made this a “self-fulfilling prophecy”, prohibiting any other country from playing a substantial diplomatic role as well as in the instance of the Iran nuclear deal, ripping up an accord that the US and other major powers had all agreed to. Today, the “US appears to be both too weak to adequately preserve international order and unwilling to allow anybody else to do so.”
In this scenario, it is the need of the hour that Russia, China, Iran, and Pakistan continue their policy of engagement in Afghanistan, as it opens new vistas of development, connectivity, peace, and prosperity.
*The writer is a Research Intern at the Institute of Peace and Diplomatic Studies and The Diplomatic Insight.
*Views expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not necessarily represent the position of IPDS