With the current situation in Afghanistan unfolding faster than one can blink an eye, many have speculated that the Taliban’s seeming victory will be a confidence booster to multiple separatist and terror groups around the world, most notably to Southeast Asia and South Asia. The withdrawal also begs the question of whether US allies can rely on Washington for support in the face of China's aggression.
The events that unfolded on 15 August in Afghanistan are an indicator of the fragile nature of the security environment in the landlocked country. The fall of Kabul and the subsequent transfer of power to the Taliban were a reminder of how unpredictability and uncertainty are the central characteristic of the Afghan quagmire. Amid the takeover of Kabul, it becomes necessary to investigate where the fault lines lie and what the future and outcome of the National Resistance Front (NRF) and Taliban negotiations might be.
With the declaration of the establishment of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, regional countries are debating their way forward to either recognizing the Taliban-led government or not. For the United States, the situation is rather challenging, as aside from the tough questions over the rationality of the “Forever War” and poorly managed withdrawal strategy by the Biden administration, Washington confronts a harder choice about the Taliban as well as how to manage the evacuation of American citizens and allies from Kabul.
With the Taliban’s return to power, nontraditional security threats—ranging from illicit drug trafficking to the revival of terrorist safe havens—will be major issues of concern.
Perhaps the toughest part of the post–Afghanistan War era will be an honest accounting of its implications. Two narratives are fast-emerging about the American pullout and the collapse of the Islamic Republic—yet after a cursory examination these narratives are closer to myth than reality.
China’s road ahead with Taliban-led Afghanistan will not be easy. Since the Taliban’s victory is already a fait accompli, recognition of its legitimacy by the international community will eventually follow. Until then, China will be among the only countries to recognize Taliban leadership. What does that mean for Beijing and other powers in the region?
However, there is another way to look at the Taliban victory. If one puts to one side the frame of liberal internationalism (which, after all, was an artifact of the post–Cold War unipolar moment) and adopts instead that of “great-power competition,” or GPC (which more accurately reflects the current geopolitical environment), concerns about the loss of Afghanistan to the forces of illiberalism quickly fade. And, as those concerns fade, a new picture comes into focus—one in which America’s great-power competitors, Russia and China, are forced to deal with a rapidly deteriorating situation in a region that both consider of vital importance to their security and broader geopolitical interests. However, what, specifically, does this new strategic picture look like? How should we think about the fall of Afghanistan in the context of post-unipolar moment world—a world in which great powers like the United States, China, and Russia vie with each other for power and influence?
That the West could build a state and military in its own image, from the outside-in and from the top-down, without an adequate—much less a deep—understanding of Afghan society and culture was a dangerous assumption. One might say this notion represents our most fundamental error, generative of many missteps. Perhaps the earliest strategic failure in Afghanistan was the distracting invasion of Iraq in 2003, a campaign that also suffered from a similar set of fundamental, faulty assumptions. Iraq was yet another intervention with no real planning it seems for the aftermath—for all the social and political variables that must be considered to mitigate chaos and prevent prolonged conflict. Just design the exquisite air and ground campaigns, shock and awe, and rebuild the infrastructure, re-engineer the society itself with our models as templates. There seems to be a pattern, a way of thinking, so deeply embedded one might call it cultural, upon which we need to reflect.
After two decades, the Taliban returned to power through brute force. Chaos and fear engulfed the city of Kabul and surrounding areas, with tens of thousands of people stuck and trying to escape harm’s way. The collapse of Afghanistan left the Afghan people in distress and servitude under the Taliban's rule. The Afghanistan crisis threatens to embroil the entire region with chaos and mayhem. The question then arises: how will the Taliban’s return to power impact the rest of South Asia?
Canada’s obligation to its allies and to the Afghan people evolved in several distinct phases. To bureaucrats and governmental apparatchiks, each phase came with its own goals, opportunities, and difficulties and were seen as natural responses to the commensurate threats facing the mission in Afghanistan. To the public, poor communication and divides in regional attitudes turned the populace’s perception of the conflict into an ungainly and unending military morass. From the wider strategic perspective, Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan must be viewed through the lens of the American unipolar moment at its imperious zenith, facilitating an international superstructure that permitted and encouraged such an outsized Canadian contribution.
This article analyzes how an international peacekeeping operation (PKO) can support an intra-Afghan peace settlement by mitigating information and commitment problems and fostering compliance during the settlement’s implementation phase. To frame the information and commitment problems currently hindering an intra-Afghan settlement, the author briefly reviews noncooperative bargaining theory, its application to civil conflicts, and how PKOs can lessen mutual uncertainty and foster stability. Anchoring this research on Afghanistan, the author analyzes the first peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan, the 1988–1990 United Nations Good Offices Mission in Afghanistan and Pakistan (UNGOMAP). UNGOMAP’s eventual failure to foster peace highlights Afghanistan’s complexities and the dangers of an insufficiently resourced PKO operating in a state without a viable, incentive-compatible settlement. The author applies these lessons to policy analysis, where he explores possible PKO options and their potential for incentivizing compliance with a future intra-Afghan deal. Though a viable PKO currently seems improbable given Afghanistan’s ongoing violence and the Taliban’s insistence on the complete withdrawal of foreign forces, future conditions may change, and the author highlights necessary prerequisites where a PKO may become possible. If designed properly, an Afghanistan PKO can fill a critical monitoring and verification capacity and bolster Afghanistan’s prospects for long-term stability.
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