The Afghanistan Lesson: Everything Will Come to an End One Day
Translated by Staff, Al-Akhbar
Nothing is the same. The United States, the Taliban and the strategic environment have all changed. The US blew away the last two decades and left, igniting disputes in Washington that center on one major question: Has America really come back? This question does not stem from the iconic optics in Kabul that echoes those from Saigon. Rather it’s a series of rapid developments in the world, which will embolden the opponents of the “Empire”, and diminish the respect that its friends have for it.
On the other hand, the Taliban movement appears with a new version that is more flexible, pragmatic, and ready to engage in politics, even if the form remains the same. Perhaps this coup is what neighboring countries, led by Iran, are betting on, in order to reach understandings with the movement, which continues to send messages of reassurance both internally and abroad. But whatever form of government it settles on, Afghanistan is facing enormous challenges after the occupation wreaked havoc in the country – increased poverty and left great tragedies in its wake – before leaving on board military planes that faded with the dissipation of their delusional pink dream smoke, which it painted for this tormented country.
The Taliban and its supporters will celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the September 11 operations in Kabul. It actually succeeded, after two decades of fierce fighting and solid stubbornness, in inflicting a resounding defeat on the American superpower and its local agents. It struck the final nail in the coffin of its war on terror, which was nothing but a long series of successive defeats, despite the scourge and devastation it caused in the countries that were invaded under its pretext. A great number of US allies have not yet awakened from the horror of this new shock: the US can be defeated, even by poor and afflicted people like the Afghan people! What would it be like if it entered into a confrontation with more powerful parties, such as Iran or China, for example?
The first lessons learned by Kurt Volker, the former US ambassador to NATO in 2008-2009 and the special envoy for the negotiations on Ukraine in 2017-2019, about the implications of developments in Afghanistan on his country's international status may be the frankest.
In an article titled "Afghanistan’s End Portends A Darker US Future" published on the pro-Transatlantic website, the Center for European Policy Analysis, Volker opined that “adversaries will be reinforced in their confidence that the United States does not have the will to win. America may have the resources, but it lacks the determination and stamina to achieve an outcome. To beat America, they will conclude, you just have to wait. […] Allies will become even more reluctant to commit troops and treasure to an American-led coalition when they know Americans can turn on a dime without so much as consulting those who have put their own soldiers’ lives on the line.”
Although many American researchers and experts, who belong to mainstream American elite circles, acknowledged the severe negative effects of the events in Afghanistan, in light of the decline of American hegemony globally and the rise of competitors, the hypothesis that Washington has an alternative plan it will put into practice from a distance, has come to light exclusively in the Arab world. But this hypothesis ignores the major geopolitical shifts in the vicinity of Afghanistan and turns a blind eye to their catastrophic effects on America’s future presence in our region on the one hand, and the determination of its enemies and opponents, in this region and in other parts of the globe, to confront the US and its plans on the other hand.
A Resounding Defeat, Not A Deal
If one ignores for a moment the major geopolitical transformations in Asia, primarily all related to the gradual but continuous, and even accelerating, decline of the American empire, one can put forward hypotheses such as the one that the withdrawal from Afghanistan came in exchange for a deal with the Taliban movement that it can use against countries such as China, Iran, and Russia, for example.
The Taliban is a movement that has resisted the US occupation of its country with great force for 20 years. It is a long-term resistance that has earned it tangible national legitimacy and merit, despite the intimate links it maintained with Pakistan and the support it received, according to US accusations, from Iran, and even from Russia and China. Such a movement will not turn, overnight, into a local agent for the United States, for which it wages wars against neighboring countries. The movement's national nature may be reflected in its political discourse, which is far from the globalized al-Qaeda discourse, for example, and in its dealings with other Afghan components and neighboring countries.
This does not mean that this neighborhood does not have an impact on the movement, first of all, Pakistan. Pakistan had a central role in the long story of “Afghan jihad”, starting with the resistance against the Soviet invasion, which was supported and funded by the United States and Saudi Arabia, and even China in the eighties, to the creation of the Taliban in the Afghan refugee camps in the early nineties. During the rule of General Zia-ul-Haq, Pakistan formed a rear base for the "Afghan jihad", in light of its strategic alliance with the United States and its involvement in the Cold War against the Soviet Union. The latter sided with India during that period in history. Even after the Soviet withdrawal and the outbreak of the conflict between the “Afghan Mujahideen” factions, the Pakistani military intelligence oversaw the establishment of the Taliban and provided it with all means of support to reunite Afghanistan, with the clear support of the United States, whose Secretary of State at the time, Madeleine Albright, saw the entry of the movement to Kabul in late 1995 as a “positive event”. The goal of the United States during the mentioned period was to facilitate the extension of a gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to Pakistan, which was being built by the American company, Conoco, as part of its endeavor to disengage the economies of Central Asia, formerly part of the Soviet Union, from Russia.
Today, the strategic environment has changed radically: Pakistan has become a strategic, economic, security, and political partner of China, although it maintains strong relations with the United States, which has become a strategic ally of India, against China.
Undoubtedly, Pakistan will use its influence on Taliban to prevent any clash between them and China, which is completely unlikely, especially after the visit by a Taliban delegation to Beijing and its meeting with its foreign minister, after the Taliban took control of Badakhshan province bordering China. The same applies to the movement's relations with Iran, which have improved qualitatively in the past two decades, and good neighborliness between the two countries has become a more realistic possibility than before. The shift of the Taliban to realism and its distancing from ideology in determining its positions and policies towards the various countries and parties have been clearly demonstrated during the past years. It is possible, in light of these facts, to envisage regional cooperation between the neighboring countries and the Taliban to defuse tensions and help stabilize the internal situation in Afghanistan.
American weakness and strategic patience
The US withdrawal from Afghanistan is an additional sign of structural weakness, not more. Even if we suppose that it takes place in the context of a repositioning against China, wasn’t staying in Afghanistan, a country neighboring China, a logical part of this repositioning? The answer is definitely negative because Washington can no longer tolerate the continuous depletion of its forces, and if it wanted to position itself, it would do so in friendly countries.
The repercussions of this withdrawal for the countries and forces opposing American hegemony over our region and that are calling for the need to arm themselves with strategic patience in confronting it and moving forward in their resistance are extremely important. How will the US occupation in Iraq and Syria be dealt with after its humiliating escape from Afghanistan? This question is up to the national forces in the two countries, which confirmed on many occasions their determination to expel the occupiers. As for China and Russia, Kurt Volker's words are very eloquent: “If a band of brutal Islamist extremists can defeat the United States, China will have no doubt that with time, resources, and good organization, it will also prevail against the United States in its neighborhood. Russia will not take seriously any threat to push back on its military aggression and absorption of territory belonging to its neighbors.” This is an accurate assessment of the situation, without a doubt.