By Hashim Abid*
After nearly 20 years of war, the U.S decided to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan within a period of 14 months. The 14-month time span is enough for the election dust to settle and for Trump to attain victory. The election is the fundamental reason to pursue this deal in the first place since Trump intends to illustrate his achievements which no other president was able to accomplish. According to the agreement, the United States will reduce its forces in Afghanistan to 8,600 and implement other commitments to the US-Taliban agreement on/with/to 135 days. If both sides maintain their obligations, then all U.S. military forces could leave Afghanistan by spring 2021.
There is already a loophole in the agreement which the US can exploit once the elections finish, which is the long-time span to achieve the withdrawal of troops and the implementation of other “commitments”. The agreements illustrate that America has one foot in and one foot out of Afghanistan until it achieves its self-interests. Moreover, the Afghan people have not exemplified their excitement towards this deal where many still possess several doubts regarding the US-Taliban deal. America did not enter Afghanistan for democracy-building; this rhetoric is usually exaggerated and does not correlate with the real reasons for America’s entrance.
The first reason to enter Afghanistan was to repair American blunders of the past-during the Cold War- where the US- trained the mujahedin fighters to defeat the Soviet Union. The funds were carried out by the Pro-American Saudi regime, and as for the training camps, they were established and operated in Northern Pakistan. And the chief proponent of the anti-Soviet operation in Afghanistan was America’s grand strategist Zbigniew Brzezinski. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, these fighters were abandoned by the United States and left for dead since America did not require their services any longer to achieve its objectives in Afghanistan. This triggered resentment and anger amongst the fighters, as America all of a sudden abandoned Afghanistan after attaining victory. The Taliban came to be what is known as a rogue state in Afghanistan, consisting of local fighters from different tribes that were betrayed by the West. After the 9/11 incident, America decided to enter Afghanistan to neutralize the terror, which it helped spawn in the first place. As for Pakistan-another Pro American country- on the other hand, decided to maintain its ties with the Taliban.
Since Pakistan possesses security interests for its wellbeing, it insists upon supporting the Taliban to delay the American departure, as it needs an American presence due to Pakistan being suspicious of the Kabul government’s intentions-once US leaves Afghanistan. Since Imran Khan became Prime Minister, Pakistan has never been so cooperative towards the United States that the country has finally played its part of being the required lynch pinch of the US-Taliban deal. Ali. Chishti, a Pakistani security analyst, has also mentioned that the agreement mostly concerns US-Taliban-Pakistan. But the problem remains is that once the US entirely departs from Afghanistan, then there is a possibility of India collaborating with the Kabul government for the apparent reason of creating a security nightmare for Pakistan form both sides the West and the East. For this reason, the US withdrawal is unlikely to remain permanent since it is necessary to maintain the balance of power between India and Pakistan in South Asia, which is essential since both Pro-American allies’ wellbeing is critical for America to contain China’s regional ambitions.
The second reason is the obtainment of the Eurasian Heartland. American foreign policy has always been based upon Eurasia-by preventing any power from emerging within the mega continent. But also, to dominate the Heartland since the rule of the Rimland is not adequate for full-scale American domination to become a reality due to the stoppage power of water. When US and NATO troops entered Afghanistan in 2001, obtaining Russia’s permission was essential for installing a few strategic military airbases in the Central Asian region. Moreover, America promised Russia that it would retreat once the war ends in Afghanistan; however, this was not the case because the war dragged on for many years onwards. And as the war dragged on America’s influence also started to cultivate in the region, which posed a threat to Russian security. Russia was not pleased about the situation and thus began to consider other alternatives. Therefore, Russia decided to embrace a new economic policy regarding energy in Central Asia, which helped Russia achieve successful political manoeuvres in the region. Russian strategies in Central Asia have revolved around three things, economic cooperation, security and military cooperation and investment in energy projects to counter the American influence in the region. As for President Obama’s C5+1 format of cooperation was not a successful attempt to regain or maintain any considerable weight in the Central Asian region. Thus, Russia’s soft power was and remains significantly strong within the region.
A new Central Asian Strategy for America has recently emerged, which includes improving connectivity with Afghanistan and the Central Asian countries. Also, securing and stabilizing Afghanistan since the United States recognizes that a secure and stable Afghanistan is a top priority for the Central Asian governments. During the 14 months of the agreement, the US is most likely to attempt in achieving its Central Asian objectives while still maintaining a few strategic airbases and troops in Afghanistan. Once US objectives become successful, then more soldiers will end up returning to Afghanistan with more bases being reopened in the future. One way or another American presence will continuously remain in Afghanistan besides the current deal. For now, in Central Asia, America does not maintain a dominion, but neither it will accept its exclusion from the region.
To conclude, the US entered Afghanistan in aiming to amend its self-created obstacles of the past and to dominate the Eurasian Heartland by establishing strategic bases in the region under the pretext of fighting terror. Terror, which has always been portrayed as a massive threat to their freedom. Unfortunately, none of those aims has been successful in attaining, whereas the simple task of neutralizing the Taliban has turned into a never-ending war. Where in reality, the asymmetric warfare from the opposition has provided the United States with significant bleeding, which has prevented the superpower from achieving her real objectives. The temporary withdrawal is a symptom of the ongoing US domestic politics, which has become a norm in Trump’s foreign policy. China’s rise is also another reason for the temporary withdrawal, where the US in the future can return even more revitalized than before to contain China’s regional ambitions. Thus, a permanent US presence is necessary, whereas the troop withdrawal is temporary. The US is inherently expansionist where its method of foreign policy does not deviate from imperialism; thus, to think that America is going to leave Afghanistan for good is wishful thinking. As long as the US is a global power, it will never cease on its hunger for its Eurasian prevalence.
*Hashim Abid is an independent political analyst and researcher. BSc International Relations, University of London LSE