Conflict and instability continue to plague Afghanistan as the country struggles to achieve an enduring peace after decades of turmoil. Image: iStock

The withdrawal of most American troops from Afghanistan after years of involvement has had a chaotic impact.

One of the main reasons for the decision to withdraw troops was the exorbitant deployment costs incurred by Washington. The bill for the war so far exceeds $1 trillion.

Tensions arising from the US-Russia rivalry, Russian hegemony, the US-China trade war, China’s rise as a global power, and globalization are undermining Washington’s economic and geopolitical influence in a rapidly changing world.

US foreign policy, particularly in Asia, is far too complex, and President Donald Trump’s unpredictability mirrors the behavior of the State Department. During the Cold War, the US, optimistic about natural resource exploitation opportunities, stepped up its diplomatic engagement in the Middle East. As a successful external player in the region, the US has further strengthened its position, forging strong ties with Iran’s strategic rival Saudi-Arabia.

After 9/11, the US invaded Afghanistan, driving the Taliban government (1996-2001) from power and remained to suppress the subsequent insurgency and combat terrorist threats. During the 18-year conflict, successive US-backed governments have witnessed a massive loss of life as well as environmental devastation.

With the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, the US became the sole superpower. At this point, the US became deeply involved in Asian conflicts. During the same era, China began to emerge as a global power and now it has the world’s second-largest economy.

The US perceives China’s rise as an impediment to American hegemony. In addition, the Russian intervention in Syria was a blatant attempt to draw the US into a conflict. The US has since stepped back.

Washington’s initiation of a peace process for Afghanistan is what is really needed in the region at this point. Luckily, the US, the Taliban, and the Afghan government, as well as key regional players such as Pakistan, China, Saudi Arabia and the UAE appear to be on the same page. What they want is reconciliation. However, Washington is in a quandary: the Taliban demand the complete withdrawal of foreign forces within a year, while Washington wants to keep troops on the ground for another four or five years. What really matters right now is a mutual willingness to cooperate and make compromises. Stakeholders must formulate a constructive strategy for the region’s future political development.

One of the main reconciliation challenges is the Taliban’s refusal to allow the Afghan government to take part in the peace process because they see it as an American puppet.

One of main reconciliation challenges is the Taliban’s refusal to allow the Afghan government to take part in the peace process because they see it as an American puppet

India also wishes to foster a relationship with Kabul, which is only possible if the Taliban do not play a role in government. The rivalry between India and Pakistan may prevent either of them from playing a meaningful role in Afghan affairs.

However, India could work with China to improve its diplomatic, social and economic relations with Kabul, but that will only be possible if Afghanistan is politically stable.

If the Taliban emerge as a mainstream political party in Afghanistan, then it will be in a favorable position. If this happens, the political climate will be somewhat like Pakistan’s.

The Taliban want the country to be subject to sharia law, but the US wants a more liberal justice system. If the Taliban become an Islamist political party competing with other parties, the US and Pakistan will interfere in Afgan national politics. However, a good working relationship may still be possible with the US and regional players.

It is hard to say whether the Taliban or America is winning. It may be a decade before it becomes clear whether the US has won or lost in Afghanistan.

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Irfan Khan

Irfan Khan has written for various media outlets including CGTN, Daily Times, The Nation, Modern Diplomacy, Geopoliitca.ru, Eurasia Review, and Times of Israel. He mainly focuses on the Middle East, South Asia, the new emerging world order and human rights.

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