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Afghanistan, a throwaway country

Flag of Afghanistan

Al-Qaeda's planned attack on the Twin Towers in Afghanistan, which led to the invasion of that country, coincided in time with the theoretical frameworks of US neo-conservatism coming to the fore in the corridors of power. The characteristic feature of this new generation of conservatives was the formulation of a positive political agenda, which sought to fill the place once held by the catalyst of anti-communism. This political positivism was primarily a vindication of US hegemony, articulated through interventionist military primacy, a reflection of the new unipolar world order. The intellectual architects of this new vision were Robert Kagan, Charles Krauthammer and Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekley Standard, the Washington organ of neo-conservatism.  These ideas were brought into the Bush White House by Vice President Dick Cheney, who was the architect of the appointment of a hard core of neoconservatives such as Abrams, Armitage, Bolton, Wolfowitz and Perle, who were fully in tune with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.  Consequently, 11 September 2001 was the opportunity the neoconservatives were waiting for to implement their idealistic vision for a new American century, the cornerstone of which was the implementation of the American socio-political model by degree or by force in countries such as Afghanistan, believing that it was possible to employ in a country with thousands of years of history and enormous demographic complexity simple voluntarist solutions.

From this perspective, Washington's fiasco is the other side of the coin of Moscow's previous failure in Afghanistan: the realisation of the impotence of the Western superpowers to impose the national construction of one or another socio-political structure, despite the fact that neither has suffered any strategically decisive military defeat. In the end, in both cases, a cost-benefit calculation prevailed: once Washington found in China a new threat on which to focus its energies, the neoconservative paradigm became a burdensome hindrance that had to be got rid of as soon as possible, regardless of whether it was Trump or Biden in the White House, and so legitimising the Taliban by making them a central player in the sham peace process - pretending they were a credible interlocutor to form a reasonable government in Kabul - was a fig leaf.

In this sense, now, the truly relevant factor in the situation that Afghanistan has precipitated is the set of geostrategic dynamics that the emerging Taliban rule will bring about in neighbouring countries. The first to realise the risks at stake have been the Russians, who, far from being distracted by gloating over American humiliation, have moved into action, mobilising Russian, Tajik and Uzbek troops 20 kilometres from Tajikistan's border with Afghanistan, greasing their military machinery for a potential expansion of the Taliban push into Moscow's backyard, the diasporas that are already beginning to leave Afghanistan, and the opium trade.

Nor do they have any reason for complacency in Islamabad and New Delhi.  Pakistan has little doubt that it is destined to come to terms with the Pashtun majority that nurtures the Taliban as it seeks to seize control of an Islamic emirate. Imran Khan is well aware that the alternative is anarchy, as well as the risk of meeting the fate of his predecessor, Benazir Bhutto. The last thing Pakistan needs is a repeat of the 1990s, when the Taliban were in power and Pakistan-linked terrorist groups carried out attacks on Indian interests from Afghan soil. With Narendra Modi in power, and the hot situation in Jammu and Kashmir, it is highly unlikely that India would opt for a policy of mere containment in the face of a new wave of terrorist attacks. In the end, the 'neocon' intervention in Afghanistan was never more than a military adventure in search of a plausible justification, something that is now impossible to prove in the face of the emergence of the Chinese colossus and the rise of a multipolar world.  The United States leaves Kabul parodying the fall of Saigon in 1975, ignoring, as it did then, the problems it leaves behind.