Ending Afghan war or widening conflict ? | By Dr Zainab Ahmed


Ending Afghan war or widening conflict ?

PRESIDENT Biden announced the decision to completely withdraw the US forces from Afghanistan by 11 September 2021, the twentieth anniversary of 9/11, thus ending the longest war in US history.

Two consecutive administrations’ policies on Afghanistan delineated the inability of the US government to maintain its forces there further, after spending USD 2 trillion with a loss of 2,300 troops.

The NATO forces are also not likely to maintain their presence in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of the US.

This decision reiterates the Trump administration’s position on Afghanistan, with a little extension delay in the withdrawal deadline.

The US Congress was divided on the Trump plan and it was required from the president to certify that the threat of Al Qaeda had been mitigated before leaving Afghanistan.

That condition of the certification is still binding on the US President but more support converged behind the Biden administration’s Afghanistan policy.

President Biden earlier insinuated keeping some forces in Afghanistan for consultancy and support of the Afghan government, but that option is currently not on the table.

The intra-Afghan dialogue is still far from achieving any agreement on matters of government structure as the foreign troops withdraw.

Taliban has succeeded in taking control of more territories. Amid this situation the withdrawal of the US and NATO forces without a power sharing agreement does not bid well with the security of Afghanistan or the region.

The history of intra-Afghan conflict is very likely to repeat itself without a guaranteed agreement on power sharing implicating the security of the region, in particular.

President Biden’s discourse on ending the longest war of the US history in Afghanistan implies on face as an era of wars is being brought to an end. But the broader policy patterns of the US hint at otherwise.

The question is; if the US ending the war or widening the conflict in the region? The US National Security Strategy in 2017 clearly states that the US faces geopolitical competition from China.

President Biden reiterated same position in his first foreign policy speech on February 4th, 2021 by describing the US-China relations as ‘rivalry’ but the policy on China remains devoid of plausible avenues of competition and cooperation. This statement is compounded by his stern statement to deal with Russia.

When it comes to the involvement of the US in the wars of Middle East, the President announced ending the support of Saudi led coalition in the Yemen war withdrawing another offensive military involvement but this statement only comes after the appointment of a special US envoy to Yemen.

In the same statement the President recognizes the threat Saudi Arabia faces from the attacks of Iran backed Houthi militia. This move implies that the US keeps its diplomatic option open in the case of Yemen too.

The policy on Syria is still awaited. President Trump had announced the pull out of forces from Syria in October 2019. Syria is where the US confronts the overt influence of Russia and support of Iran for Assad regime.

President Biden’s policy preference on Syria will be determined largely under the shadow of its position towards Russia and Iran.

As China and Iran sign the strategic partnership deal for 25 years, the US announced the renewal of nuclear talks with Iran.

However, Israel’s alleged cyber attack on Iranian nuclear facility in Natanz followed by Iranian announcement to enrich uranium at 60%,has further complications to arise in the already vexed matters with Iran.

Iran continues to hold leverages in the Middle East through support of factions in Iraq, Assad regime in Syria, and Hezbollah in Lebanon with ramifications on Israel’s security in the region. Furthermore, much emphasis is placed on the renewed US support for the alliances.

Soon after this speech, a major alliance meeting was witnessed in the Indo-Pacific region; the QUAD.

The first summit level virtual meeting of the four member states; Australia, India, Japan and the US did not directly indicate containing China, however that is presumed to be the accentuating objective of the alliance.

The arrangement’s decision to manage the supply chain of vaccination across Asia plausibly aims at challenging China’s rapidly surging status in the post Covid19 world.

Among the QUAD states the major military partnership the US has, and is extensively developing, is with India which places herself as a rival to China.

The US has increased its diplomatic and political involvement in the Taiwan issue and South China Sea too.

Although the Trump administration tried to contain China through trade wars which affected Chinese economy, but it could not deterministically deter China from challenging the US position.

The future of the US-China relations after Biden administration’s taking over the power seem to be on the rocky course as first ministerial level talks take place in Alaska.

It was the first time China has explicitly challenged the US position and competence to lead the world anymore.

It is perhaps the first time that US State of delegation’s position appears to be void of establishing its competence. Perhaps it was the Thucydides’ moment.

The evolving dynamics of relationship between the US and China explicates the probability of further competition between both the powers.

In wake of this evolving situation it is far from comprehension that the US is concluding its wars in the most strategic battlefields surrounding China.

Rather it may be withdrawing its force and capability from different fronts to concentrate in the Indo Pacific as this is now most deterministic theatre.

The unipolar world order, which evolved out of the demise of Soviet Union, has braved various challenges and is now set for another major transformation.

The global order seems to advance towards multi polarity and regionalism, but at the core of this transformation emerges a magnified reality of the rise of another great power; China.

Graham T Allison describes this as the Thucydides’ trap, foreseeing a conflict between emerging and waning powers.

The emergence of Athenian power had fuelled the insecurity of Sparta; the established power, triggering the war between the two.

The competition of the emerging and fading powers has been repeated a myriad time in history.

Allison applies the same analogy in case of the US and China foreseeing a major conflict if both sides do not show restraint.

—The writer, PhD in International Relations, is associated with various institutions as visiting faculty.