Afghanistan: shockwaves to come
Afghanistan has shown once again that there are no permanent friends in politics, just permanent interests. Biden is the fourth president in office while the USA has been in Afghanistan and he did not want to leave this burden to the fifth president.
The USA has pulled out of a country where it spent almost 300 million US dollars a day for over 20 years. The world’s greatest power spent more than the combined wealth of Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Bill Gates and another 20 of the richest Americans. The net result: more than two trillion dollars were spent, thousands of people died and tens of thousands were disabled.
New source of instability
The forces defeated almost two decades ago turned out not to be defeated at all. Organizations such as Al Qaeda, Jayshi-i Muhammad and the Haqqani network are battle-worthy again, capable of seizing the presidential palace in Kabul within a month. The 300,000-strong Afghan army melted away, giving the Taliban the opportunity to free dozens of fighters from prison who, if neighbouring countries ease their border regimes, will be able gradually to move West and create new centres of instability.
Afghanistan is an egregious example of a country where attempts are made to sort it out for 20 years, then all of a sudden it is left to the whims of fate. Afghanistan is a shining example of how geopolitical escape creates new possibilities for new resistance, increased poverty and new centres of instability in the region. At the same time, it is symbolic that Russia, China and Turkey are remaining in Afghanistan. This poses the question: are they, unlike the USA, able to defend their interests consistently in different corners of the world?
The problem is not only that the West, and in particular the USA, has left Afghanistan. History shows that many have not been able to stay there for long. The problem is that in the early 1990s America had the whole world under its control, and began to lay claim to it enthusiastically. But it has turned out no single country is able to control the whole planet on its own. The USA is no exception. It is reasonable to ask: has America overreached itself? Trump tried both to restore its might and to prune its imperial ambitions, but neither worked. Biden is withdrawing from Afghanistan and perhaps not only Afghanistan.
A change in foreign policy markers
It is clear that the USA has often changed its reference points in foreign policy over the last few years – from attempts to smooth relations with North Korea and make peace with the Taliban to pre-emptive moves against Russia and Iran, which have not produced any noticeable result. In the past 15 years the international community has seen the USA abandon its partners at difficult times. This was the case in Georgia, Syria and Ukraine, and now the world is witnessing the same in Afghanistan.
In exactly the same way, a year before the departure from Afghanistan the USA chose to stand on the side-lines when the fate of the Karabakh conflict hung in the balance and war resumed with new intensity between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The American administration went no further than the standard meetings of the US secretary of state with the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia, which led to nothing substantive. Before that, the USA had practically distanced themselves from a settlement within the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group, letting settlement issues be discussed in Moscow. The issue of restoring Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity was not of great interest to the USA, while France from the very beginning adopted a pro-Armenian position because of the strength of the Armenian lobby. As a result, Azerbaijan restored its territorial integrity itself and ensured the primacy of the law.
For two decades the USA was in effect the world’s only superpower. But did Washington use that to create a comfortable balance and counterweight for itself? The USA did not recognise Russia’s significance in world politics, defining it as a “regional power”. As a result, Russia was able to gain quite a firm foothold as a “regional power”.
Various ideas are circulating to the effect that the USA left Afghanistan in order to leave the Taliban facing Iran. Some analysts say that this will lead to a conflict between the Sunni Pashtuns and Shia Iranians. This is an odd, protracted strategy that seems contradictory and unrealistic. One thing is clear – America is no longer the agent but an object of future processes. It won’t be Moscow and Washington reaching agreement on the future world order, but Moscow and Beijing, Ankara and most probably Berlin. As the unipolar world is breaking down.
The problem is not only that the Taliban will create a new Islamic emirate in which a large part of Afghanistan does not want to live. The fall of the US-backed government in Kabul will soon be sending shockwaves across the region
The main problem is that with the withdrawal of American forces the Taliban now occupy a greater area than they held before September 2001. So the idea is again gaining currency that if there is no presence in Afghanistan, Afghanistan is present in different parts of the world in two of its well known forms – radical Islam and drugs.
Afghanistan – geoeconomics v. geopolitics
It should not be forgotten that Afghanistan is thought to have mineral deposits worth one to three trillion dollars. And this is only on one-third of Afghan territory surveyed by the US geological service. For example, Afghanistan’s lithium reserves are comparable in size with Bolivia’s. Lithium is a key component in the production of batteries for smart phones and electric vehicles.
While the USA and Western countries are rushing to get out of Afghanistan, only China, Turkey and Russia are leaving their diplomatic representations in the country. These three countries are showing the greatest interest in Afghanistan. China controls the major copper deposit at Mes Aynak and is also thinking about the Silk Road via Afghanistan.
Turkey would like to lay a Jade Road for trade through Afghanistan, which is largely aligned with the Chinese infrastructure project.
Russia has shown a special desire to get involved. There is the TAPI project to construct a gas pipeline from Turkmenistan via Afghanistan and Pakistan to India. Moscow would pump its gas via the new pipeline directly to India, opening up a whole new market for Gazprom.
The Afghan world post-Covid
It is clear that the world cannot be unipolar. There are always two poles: positive and negative, North and South. So Afghanistan has laid the foundation for the end of the unipolar world, which is to be succeeded by a bipolar world again. But this is no longer a standoff between the USA and USSR, but competition between the Russia-China-Turkey-Germany axis and the USA-part of Europe axis.