US Exit from Afghanistan: The Regional Implications

The current situation shows that peace in Afghanistan is up to the Afghans and there exists a trust deficit between intra-state key holders. The Moscow, Doha, and the potential Istanbul talks being unsuccessful will result in the Taliban gaining political supremacy as well as territorial control of the country, if the peace process fails, and the country is plunged into civil war. Afghanistan’s neighbors would be prompted to intervene, covertly, to safeguard their geo-political interests. This would raise the risk of a regional proxy war and produce deleterious consequences. This accompanying geo-political dynamics requires an in-depth analysis of ongoing scenario, to explore viable paths forward for regional and extra-regional stakeholders.

In the post-exit scenario, the power vacuum can be exploited by terrorist organizations such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), The Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) resulting with spillover effects throughout the region, specifically Pakistan. The road to peace in Afghanistan is a challenging and demanding task which requires the strong will of all the stakeholders. The leaders of Afghanistan, whether they are in the government or part of the opposition and regional states need to aggressively work together for the attainment of a durable peace in Afghanistan. The spoilers of peace cannot be overlooked and therefore, all domestic and regional stakeholders should be cautious. Pakistan is playing an important and key role in the Afghan peace process, and therefore peace in Afghanistan is crucially linked with Pakistan’s desire for a stable and prosperous Afghanistan.

According to American policy makers like Michael O’Hanlon, the United States got wrong in South Asia in the last 30 years and at least one big thing that Pakistan got wrong in the last 20 years. Despite having common interests, good connections on a personal level, cooperation at all levels with a promising history in the early days, both countries have neglected each other’s core interests. The big thing the United States got wrong in South Asia was that they had asked Pakistan for a huge strategic service in the 1980s in an effort to defeat the Soviet Union after its invasion of Afghanistan.

It was not only important for defeating the Soviets but it was also crucial to stop the Cold War, and therefore it had global implications. The ending of the Cold War had to be seen as one of the most important accomplishments of the 20th Century and probably the more important of the 2nd half of the 20th century in strategic terms. Americans owe Pakistanis an enormous debt for what they did to be on the front line of that effort but then the U.S. left Pakistan holding the bag because they decided that after the Soviets left, it was no longer their problem to stay engaged in South Asia in trying to bring together opposition groups so they can be in a position to negotiate with the Najibullah government, trying to create some kind of transition strategy, some kind of stability where Afghans could recognize that they had liberated their country from Soviet oppression and therefore they needed to try and work together to build a positive future for their people and children. Markedly, the United States did not do that; deciding that it wasn’t their problem anymore.

“Pakistan did not have any luxury since the nation was right next to Afghanistan, and the spillover from all that happened in Afghanistan in the 1990s became therefore primarily Pakistan’s problem and the United States left the country to manage that on its own.”  Later, the two countries got into all issues and disagreements over nuclear weapons program and the culmination of that program with the nuclear tests. In his assessment, while the 1990s became a bad period, the blame didn’t lie on the US. Still, he thought that the U.S. had made a huge strategic mistake and that they had violated a certain bond of trust by leaving Pakistan with the problem of post-Soviet Afghanistan.

Therefore, the fact that Pakistan never trusted the United States for the last 20 years has understandable historical roots and the fact that the nation assumed that the Americans were short timers and uncommitted.

Trump always promised to leave, but Biden actually did leave. He felt that the U.S. strategies had not been steady, much less having a good strategy at all, but it signified an effort. The military campaign led to the loss of almost 2500 American lives and expenses of a trillion dollars. He lamented that the United States made Afghan strategy a centerpiece of its foreign policy even when experts thought it should drive resources against China and Russia or some other set of problems.  Nonetheless, the U.S. couldn’t convince its Pakistani friends about the commitment to the cause of stability Afghanistan.

The Biden administration made a mistake in deciding to pull out so abruptly and comprehensively. He felt that there was some chance of a peace process getting going over the next few years had they stayed, and perhaps there were small promising elements of Pak-US cooperation to nurture that peace process that they were starting to see develop in the last couple of years.  He mentioned that he would have strongly preferred and strongly advised publicly that they should try and nurture that cooperation and realize that even Chinese, Russian, and maybe even Iranian neighbors were not against this process, because they didn’t want instability after all.

Pakistani defence analysts like Lt. General Tariq Khan are of the view that Pakistan’s economic developments and policies are dependent on the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB). Therefore, it depends on what United States does to make a foreign policy. It cannot be independent of that the external factors.  Given Pakistan’s dependence on the US, Pakistan played significant role in facilitating the US in Afghanistan quite soon after 9/11. when the United States launched the War on Terror after 9/11 it was in Pakistan’s interest that America succeeds and stabilizes Afghanistan.  For this reason, Pakistan provided logistics roots and bases to the US, and played a key role in facilitating the US forces as one of the most allied countries.

As time passed, the emerging dynamics highlighted that stability in Afghanistan is not going to happen. Simultaneously, Pakistan remained focused to achieve its national interests. Then along its engagement with Pakistan, the United States encouragement for India’s larger role in Afghanistan have negatively impacted Pakistan-US relations. India was not the reason for Pakistan’s support to the Afghani-Taliban because at that stage Pakistan did not need to support Afghan Taliban. For, the Taliban have never had control of less than 40 percent areas of Afghanistan and it has used the drug trade to finance their militant campaign.

The US government has space, resources, and Pakistan’s support to maintain stability in Afghanistan. In response, Pakistan has face criticism from the Afghan government. Afghan government is the only government in the history supported by the occupying power. Still, the government can’t survive without the US support and also. India’s survival in Afghanistan is not possible without the Americans.  However, the US forces faced host of challenges including lack of understanding about terrain, population, and struggle over the information. The US military were very heavily dependent upon the intelligence that was provided by the Afghan northern lines-oriented intelligence. The northern lines see Pakistan through Taliban eyes. Therefore, there was a certain influence which came in later.

Pakistan is fencing along the border with Afghanistan also aimed to control the refugee’s intake. However, Pakistan wants to organize refugees instead of leaving them disorganized like the Soviet-Afghan war and US attack in 2001. As far as international diplomacy is concerned vis-à-vis the west where Pakistan could really portray some influence with the Taliban is diminishing. And Pakistan do not have this leverage.

The concerns of the Central Asian and said as far as the rest of the region is concerned Central Asian republics are towards the north and China towards northeast. China has already signed a 3 billion dollars contract with the Taliban. So, there is going to big Chinese influence in Afghanistan, and he believes that China will be in the position to fill the Vacuum left by the US forces through the soft power.  In the end, for a lasting cooperation between the US and Pakistan, it is recommended that Washington should provide economic investments to Pakistan to increase the country’s regional connectivity with Afghanistan and Central Asia.

From the Chinese perspective, China needs to prioritize its agenda in Afghanistan. China, like the USA and other countries, cannot eradicate any terrorist organization in Afghanistan. Instead, China needs to put forward economic and development cooperation agenda. China should encourage the US to continues its financial support of the Kabul government.   China should substantialize the local cooperation through bilateral connectivity. China should encourage the private sectors in Afghanistan. China can help the local population by generating the production.

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