Afghanistan is said to be a reality that is neither apparent to senses nor obvious to the intelligence. This landlocked country is known for successfully frustrating the Mongolian, British and Russian invasions. In the last two decades, it has twice been instrumental in dramatically changing the world order - on 9/11 of 2001 and 15 August 2021. The Taliban’s Kabul takeover that they accomplished in less than 24 hours took the world powers, big and small, by utter surprise and disbelief with the global print and electronic media covering 24/7 the events unfolding in Kabul since August 15.

The attack on Twin Towers on the sunny morning of 9/11 dramatically changed the world order. The mastermind of the attack was identified as Osama bin Laden who had been staying in Afghanistan as Taliban’s guest. Taliban’s refusal to hand over Osama led to the 20-year US occupation and war in Afghanistan- America’s longest war.

The post-9/11 world order gave birth to Islamophobia, unprecedented homeland security around the globe and engineered turmoil in nations perceived as states hostile to the US interests. Travel thereafter was no longer the same. The world order was divided into two parts — pre-9/11 and post-9/11.

US military efforts in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Libya and Yemen did not produce lasting favorable outcomes for its strategic interests. Moreover, the US adventurism miserably failed to help bring about political stability in any of these countries. According to a credible study, American taxpayers have spent $6.4 trillion on post-9/11 wars and military actions “in the Middle East and Asia”.

It was in December 2018 that the then US President, Donald Trump, declared an end to US ‘policeman’ role during his visit to Iraq where US policies have already given birth to ISIS. The space so created by US withdrawal from world affairs marked the entry of China and Russia to fill the void thus created. America’s position as the sole world power receded.

Trump’s stance was strengthened by his successor Joe Biden who went a few steps further. “America is back” is President Joe Biden’s catch- phrase. But this is unlikely to hold ground. The US exit from Afghanistan shows it won’t be back to business as usual.

Beyond the trauma of Kabul evacuation, Biden is pitching a much broader retreat: a halt to using vast military resources to impose order and US values around the globe.

“This decision on Afghanistan is not just about Afghanistan,” Biden recently said in what many describe as a historic speech. “It’s about ending an era of major military operations to remake other countries. Human rights will be at the center of our foreign policy but the way to do that is not through endless military deployments. Our strategy has to change,” according to Biden.

Benjamin Haddad, director of the Europe Center at the Atlantic Council and an expert on transatlantic relations, has described the speech as “one of the most eloquent repudiations of liberal internationalism by any US president in decades.” Polls show Biden’s pivot is likely to be popular. Regarding Afghanistan in particular, polls conducted by Washington Post and ABC show strong backing of 77 percent for exiting. Biden’s presidency is usually seen as a repudiation of the Donald Trump’s administration.

The US allies, however, feel a fair degree of frustration over the lack of coordination in the US departure from Afghanistan. “The challenges to security emerging from the upheaval in Afghanistan should be a wake-up call for the European Union,” French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said last week, urging the EU to be more ambitious on defence and on global leadership. “Europe has to become No 3 super-power besides China and the United States. Let’s open our eyes, we are facing threats and we cannot rely anymore on the protection of the United States. Afghanistan is a wake-up call,” he said, adding Europe also faced security threats in the Middle East and in Africa. The French minister said Paris had decided to invest 1.7 billion euros ($2.02 billion) more in defence this year and would like to see other European countries to do the same. The Foreign Secretary of UK has expressed similar concerns.

Some Middle Eastern regimes, which are accustomed to a close relationship with the United States, have reasons to be worried about the Afghanistan end-game. Biden’s policy of drawing the curtain on American military interventionism is likely to extend to the Middle East as well.

(The writer is a former President, Overseas Investors Chambers of Commerce and Industry)

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

Farhat Ali

The writer is a former President, Overseas Investors Chamber of Commerce and Industry


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