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The Afghan endgame and geopolitics


Mar 21, 2007
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The Afghan endgame and geopolitics

Jai Kumar Dhirani
June 20, 2021

The strategically important country of central Asia, namely Afghanistan, is called the “Graveyard of empires.” The United States has spent almost two decades fighting the “longest war” in its history. Currently, its troops are withdrawing. President Biden on Wednesday announced that the United States will fully withdraw all of its troops from Afghanistan by September 11, the 20th anniversary of the attacks that started the war. “I’m now the fourth United States president to preside over American troop presence in Afghanistan. Two Republicans, two Democrats,” Biden said. “I will not pass this responsibility on to a fifth.”

The announcement puts America on the list of Afghanistan’s failed occupiers. US leaders thought they could succeed where others had not. They were wrong. As Afghanistan had already proven, it might be an easy country to invade, but a terrible place for outsiders to win a war.

Since 2001, at least 47,245 civilians have been killed in the war. The Afghan government keeps the toll among its soldiers’ secret to avoid undermining morale, but Costs of War estimates the war has killed 66,000 to 69,000 Afghan troops. It has forced 2.7 million Afghans to flee abroad, mostly to Iran, Pakistan and Europe, the UN said. Another 4 million are displaced within the country, which has a total population of 36 million. Meanwhile, 2,442 US troops have been killed and 20,666 wounded in the war since 2001, according to the Defence Department.

According to the Costs of War project, the US has spent a stunning total of $2.26 trillion on a dizzying array of expenses. The Defence Department’s latest 2020 report said war-fighting costs totalled $815.7 billion over the years.

That covers the operating costs of the US military in Afghanistan, everything from fuel and food to Humvees, weapons and ammunition, from tanks and armoured vehicles to aircraft carriers and airstrikes. Out of the $143 billion of the nation building goal since 2002, $88 billion went to training, equipping and funding the Afghan military and police forces. Another $36 billion was spent on reconstruction projects, education and infrastructure like dams and highways—$4.1 billion has gone to humanitarian aid for refugees and disasters.

The campaign to deter Afghans from selling heroin around the world cost over $9 billion. The US borrowed heavily to fund the war in Afghanistan and has paid some $530 billion in interest. It has also paid $296 billion in medical and other care for veterans.

Much of the billions lavished on huge infrastructure projects went to waste, according to the US inspector general. Canals, dams and highways fell into disrepair, as Afghanistan failed to absorb the flood of aid. Newly built hospitals and schools stood empty. Without proper oversight, the US money bred corruption that undermined government legitimacy.

Despite the costly counter-narcotics campaign, opium exports reached record heights. Despite the billions in weapons and training to Afghan security forces, the Taliban increased the amount of territory they controlled. Despite vast spending on job creation and welfare, unemployment hovers around 25 percent. The poverty rate has fluctuated over the years, reaching 47 percent through 2020, according to the World Bank, compared to 36 percent when the fund first began calculating in 2007.

The failure of America’s ambitions to build a stable, democratic Afghanistan has left the country mired in uncertainty as US forces leave. It will not only pave the way for civil war in the country but will further fuel into the fire to destabilise the entire region. Pakistan’s arch-rival India would further endeavour to exploit Pakistan from Afghanistan by using Indian-sponsored terrorist elements in Afghanistan.

Geopolitically, the much wider picture in the coming months and years will be intense as the international power plays as neighbouring states jockey for position in this latest stage of ‘The New Great Game’. The major players this time are Pakistan, Russia, China, along with Turkey and Iran.

Pakistan, a significant country of the region, shares a 2430-km border with Afghanistan and has played a key role in not only combating global war on terrorism, but in the peace process of Afghanistan and stability of the region. It will cooperate with abovementioned countries in Afghanistan to prevent not only the impact of US withdrawal, but Indian-sponsored terrorism from Afghanistan as well.


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