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Business News/ Opinion / Columns/  There’s no polite way to say it: Pax Americana died in Kabul
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There’s no polite way to say it: Pax Americana died in Kabul

America’s dereliction of its role as peacekeeper will haunt the world

Biden’s exit from Afghanistan has signalled a dangerous decline in US power (Photo: Reuters)Premium
Biden’s exit from Afghanistan has signalled a dangerous decline in US power (Photo: Reuters)

The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, following US President Joe Biden’s bungled military exit, has brought an ignoble end to America’s longest war. This will be remembered for formalizing the end of the long-fraying Pax Americana and bringing the curtain down on the West’s long ascendancy. At a time when its global pre-eminence was being challenged by China, the US may never recover from the blow this strategic and humanitarian disaster delivers to its global credibility. The message it delivers to US allies is that they count on America’s support when they most need it at their own peril.

After all, the catastrophe unfolded after the US threw its ally, the Afghan government, under the bus and got into bed with the world’s deadliest terrorists, the Taliban. President Donald Trump first struck a Faustian bargain with them, and then the Biden administration rushed to execute the military exit dictated by the deal even though the Taliban had openly violated it.

The collapse of Afghan defences and their government was directly linked to the US betrayal. The US had trained and equipped Afghan forces not to play an independent role but to rely on American and NATO capabilities for a host of battlefield imperatives—from close air support, including drones for situational awareness, to keeping US-supplied weapon systems operational. Biden’s troop pullout without a transition plan to sustain Afghan combat capabilities unleashed a domino effect.

As former Central Intelligence Agency director David Petraeus has explained, ever since US combat operations in Afghanistan ended on 1 January 2015, Afghan soldiers had been bravely “fighting and dying for their country" until the US suddenly ditched them this summer. This assessment is reinforced by the number of military deaths: Since the US combat role ended, Afghan security forces lost tens of thousands of soldiers, while the US suffered just 99 fatalities, many in non-hostile incidents.

This is not the first time the US has dumped its allies—or even the first time in recent memory. In the fall of 2019, the US abruptly abandoned its Kurdish allies in northern Syria, leaving them at the mercy of a Turkish offensive. But in Afghanistan, the US sowed the wind and reaped the whirlwind. Its self-inflicted defeat and humiliation have resulted from a failure of political, not military, leadership. Biden, ignoring conditions on the ground, overruled his top military generals in April and ordered all US troops to return home. Now, two decades of American war in Afghanistan have culminated with the enemy riding triumphantly back to power. Whereas 58,220 Americans were killed in Vietnam, 2,448 US soldiers died in Afghanistan. Yet, the geopolitical implications of the US defeat in Afghanistan are much more significant globally than the American defeat in Vietnam.

The Pakistan-reared Taliban may not have a global mission, but their militaristic theology of violent Islamism makes them a critical link in an international jihadist movement that whips hostility toward non-Sunni Muslims into nihilistic rage against modernity. The Taliban’s recapture of power will energize and embolden other violent groups in this movement, helping to deliver the rebirth of global terror.

In the Taliban’s emirate, Al-Qaeda, remnants of the Islamic State (ISIS), and Pakistani terror groups are all likely to find sanctuary. According to a recent United Nations Security Council report, “The Taliban and al-Qaida remain closely aligned" and cooperate through the Pakistan-based Haqqani Network, a front for Pakistani intelligence.

The unravelling of the effort to build a democratic secular Afghanistan will pose a far greater threat to the free world than Syria’s meltdown. The Taliban’s absolute power in Afghanistan will sooner or later threaten US security interests at home and abroad. By contrast, China’s interests will be aided by the Taliban’s defeat of the world’s most powerful military. The exit of a vanquished US creates greater space for China’s coercion and expansionism, while underscoring the decline of US power. An opportunistic China is certain to exploit this new opening to make strategic inroads into Afghanistan and deepen its penetration of Pakistan, Iran and Central Asia. To co-opt the Taliban, with which it has maintained ties, China has already dangled the prospect of providing the two things the militia needs to govern Afghanistan: diplomatic recognition and much-needed infrastructure and economic assistance.

The reconstitution of a jihad-extolling emirate in Afghanistan will be a monument to US perfidy. And the images of helicopters transporting Americans from the US embassy compound in Kabul, recalling the frenzied evacuation from Saigon in 1975, will serve as a testament to America’s loss of credibility—and the world’s loss of Pax Americana. ©2021/Project Syndicate

Brahma Chellaney is professor of strategic studies at the New Delhi-based Centre for Policy Research and fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin

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Published: 18 Aug 2021, 10:07 PM IST
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