Two decades, one peace deal.
I am hopefully going to have a much larger and depth write up on Afghanistan’s likely futures out soon. I will post that once its done. In the meantime just a brief commentary on the now diverging fates of Kabul and Washington.
1. The second the US decided to go on its quixotic Iraq crusade rather than focus on Afghanistan and reigning in Pakistan vis a vis the Taliban was the second this war was lost for Washington. Everything since has just been an incredibly expensive buying off of the inevitable. Afghanistan’s mere location in the world ensured it could never be a long term development project like some US cold war allies were (Thailand, South Korea). I still blame Bush and Pakistan first for this and everyone should really. Before that point this war was indeed (briefly) winnable. And it should have been won then. Everyone save the Taliban would have been better off.
2. Though Afghanistan’s immediate future will enter a dark readjustment, the long term prospects are what they have always been due to geography. China and Russia matter more in the fate of Afghanistan than America ever really could. Even if the Taliban take power totally (not a certainty, state failure or a splitting of country factions seem at least as likely) the situation has changed enough that other powers will act to contain any designs they have outside of the country. Russia and China’s capabilities are much greater than they were in 2000 and the 90s. Also, the Taliban does not get along with ISIS and even fights them quite effectively now, a trend that will only increase as the common American foe leaves. The Taliban have to be somewhat tired of war. It would be unwise for them to take part in any more international schemes, and if they do it will most likely target Ashgabat, Dushanbe, and Urumqi than NYC or Paris (still unwise). Local powers will find containing a resurgent Taliban from outside Afghanistan’s borders a more sustainable long term project than America could from this incredibly vulnerable position within the country. They are also more likely to be able to successfully negotiate with them since they cannot be waited out like distant America could. And the only country truly capable of reigning in Pakistan is their patron China.
3. From the US perspective its very important that once we leave Afghanistan we no longer have to rely on Pakistan for anything. The U.S. re balance towards India (and the admitting that Pakistan was always a Chinese goon before it ever could be an American goon) has infinitely more geopolitical significance to Washington than anything that ever happened in Afghanistan-including the Soviet invasion itself. Having to rely on Pakistan for logistics has really deformed this process.
So the U.S. lost the war in a sense. It negotiated itself out of a failure for only promises that might not be kept. But rather than being weakened, its likely strengthened on the world stage. No longer does this small outpost surrounded by rivals tie a maritime power to remote mountains deep in Eurasia. Security efforts move towards Moscow and Beijing’s pocketbook. And the Taliban ‘won’ but only in a way where they now face a local system even more likely to check their ambitions than before.
So who actually won here, if anyone? In a clear cost/benefit type of way? Pakistan I suppose, but a stronger more assertive China being their guarantor against India means perhaps not.
I think if anyone gets out of this with a strengthened hand its Iran. U.S. forces out of a country they share a large border with coupled with the rise of a threat that makes makes other local countries view Iran (and its proven sunni-fanatic killing abilities) a more desirable country to partner with. Tehran is coming out of the cold.