Americans' evaluation of the consequences of withdrawing from Afghanistan is as this: the Taliban's relationship with China is improving; its relationship with Russia is not something to Washington’s satisfaction; the relationship with Iran also causes dissatisfaction; ties with Al-Qaeda are still maintained; and only de-escalation of the Taliban's tension with India is desired by the US. If the situation continues like this, the US can put two scenarios on the agenda. First, The scenario of baiting and bloodletting; and second, the scenario of establishing stability in Afghanistan.
By: Nozar Shafiee
Following the complete US military withdrawal from Afghanistan, which led to the collapse of the republican system in this country, the Taliban took power in Kabul. But the United States refused to recognize the new Afghan government. After about more than a year, negotiations between the US and Taliban officials began, and following several meetings between the intelligence officials of the two countries, the US special representative has started meeting with Taliban leaders as well as anti- Taliban political leaders based outside Afghanistan.
Considering the above news and information, a question arises: whether the Americans have paid attention to Afghanistan again, and have determined a new position for Afghanistan in their strategy? Any analysis related to Afghanistan, depends on the answers to the following basic questions.
What is Taliban’s position regarding Afghanistan’s internal issues, such as inclusive government and human rights? What is the Taliban's position towards China, Iran, Russia, India and Pakistan? (China, Iran and Russia are among the important variables affecting the US policy towards Afghanistan.) And finally, what is the position of the Taliban towards Al-Qaeda?
The answers to these questions will determine whether the new actions of the US in relation to Afghanistan indicate this country's return to Afghanistan or not. Also, this important point should be considered whether the variables that made America to leave Afghanistan in 2021 have changed? Because the Americans believed that the war in Afghanistan is an endless war, and the US might encounter the problem of Vietnamization of the war in Afghanistan in the future; the Americans also believed that the continuation of the war in Afghanistan would prevent this country from focusing on the East Asian region – where China is located. These issues are actually questions and points that, if answered, the meaning of the US negotiations with the Taliban and other Afghan officials may gain a new meaning. Americans consider the following three options when dealing with international or regional crises, or dealing with their own foreign policy crises:
A- Solving the crisis
B- Crisis management
C. Crisis escalation
Reappearance of the US in Afghanistan
According to available reports, the US primarily intervenes in crises that directly endanger its interests, and secondly, it pays attention to crises which the UN Security Council wants to deal with. Therefore, this question is raised whether the issue of Afghanistan is related to the vital interests of the US, or the United Nations Security Council has requested for an action to be taken about the Taliban. A key question that arises is what is fundamentally important to America is stability in Afghanistan or instability in this country?
Based on the answer to this question, the behavior pattern of the US is determined. That is, if the US is looking for instability in Afghanistan, it will probably take two policies: one is crisis management, and the other one is crisis escalation; and if the US is looking for a solution to the Afghanistan crisis, it will definitely move towards solving the crisis and ending the crisis. Based on the developments that have taken place in Afghanistan over the past year and a half, it is possible to determine in what direction the US policy towards Afghanistan is moving.
What is certain and is the answer to the above questions, is that the Taliban's internal policy has not changed in the past year and a half. That is, the Taliban have not moved towards intra-Afghan talks, respect for human rights, or the formation of an inclusive government. Can such a policy be tolerated by the United States? The answer is depends on the Americans’ evaluations after their withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Possible US Scenarios in Afghanistan
The Americans’ evaluation of the consequences of their withdrawal from Afghanistan is that the relationship between the Taliban and China is moving towards improvement; The Taliban's relationship with Russia is not at least something that satisfies the Americans; The Taliban's relationship with Iran is not something that the Americans are happy with; and the Taliban's relationship with Al-Qaeda is not a relationship that the Americans are satisfied with. But the relationship between the Taliban and India seems favorable to the US, because the relationship between the Taliban and India is not only not moving towards tension, but also it is going towards de-escalation.
Taliban's relationship with Pakistan is also a relationship that seems almost stable. Although the Taliban is the best option for Pakistan in Afghanistan, the connection between the Taliban and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is worrying for Islamabad. Therefore, this issue has still remained an unresolved issue for Americans. If the situation continues this way, what should Americans do? Americans can put several scenarios on the agenda.
1) The scenario of baitingand bloodletting
The first scenario is that the US contributes to the instability of Afghanistan, in such a way that this instability has a negative impact on the Taliban government as well as on China, Russia and Iran. This instability will lead to the reaction of these countries and they will move towards conflict with the Taliban. Therefore, the Americans are actually pushing the Afghan crisis towards a conflict between the Taliban (together with Taliban’s allies, such as the East Turkestan Movement, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and Jaish al-Adl), and the regional and international rivals of the US, namely Iran, Russia, and China. In strategies of great powers, this issue is called baiting and bloodletting. Based on this strategy, the US tries to create conflicts among its rivals under any pretext, and then fuel these conflicts in order to waste its rivals’ energy. In this scenario, in addition to weakening the Taliban, the allied groups of the Taliban as well as the major and regional powers that compete with the US in Afghanistan or at the international level will be weakened.
Therefore, it is possible that the Americans, by entering into negotiations with the Taliban and other Afghan politicians, apparently moving towards stability in Afghanistan, but in practice, the result of their action is instability in Afghanistan.
2) The scenario of establishing stability in Afghanistan
In the second scenario, the US is really looking for stability in Afghanistan. The goal of the US in negotiation with the Taliban is to continue intra-Afghan talks, and to force the Taliban to expel Al-Qaeda from Afghanistan, so that America can calmly focus on China. According to this scenario, the current actions of the US in Afghanistan are somehow a continuation of the Doha negotiations. In other words, these talks are another part of the US withdrawal process from Afghanistan. That is, the US withdrew its troops at one point, and uses diplomacy at another point. So through diplomacy, the US can achieve what it could not achieve through war. In this case, the US will seek for intra-Afghan talks to be started, an inclusive government to be formed, and human rights in Afghanistan to be respected. Also, Al-Qaeda will leave Afghanistan, in which case Afghanistan can become a base for the US again. This base will be a neutral government in the worst case (from Americans’ point of view).
It seems that the US is worried that after leaving Afghanistan, not only instability has not formed in Afghanistan and the regional environment has not become insecure, but also the rival countries of the US have been able to establish good relations with the Taliban, and the Taliban is not considered a threat to the regional countries. In addition, The US is worried about the fact that regional countries are practically narrowing the field for the US, by ignoring the development of the Taliban's relations with Al-Qaeda. Therefore, it seems that the US is trying to take an active diplomacy to prevent this situation. The output of this active diplomacy will be the development of US relations with Afghanistan, and the limitation of Al-Qaeda activity in Afghanistan. At the same time, activating ISKP in order to target the interests of China, Iran and Russia or target the bases of these countries inside Afghanistan, where necessary, will be another consequence of this diplomacy. As a result, it seems that the negotiations of US officials with the Taliban or Afghan politicians, can be analyzed in such frameworks.
It seems difficult to understand which of these scenarios is closer to reality. The outcome of negotiations between Taliban officials and Afghan politicians with the US will be revealed in the future. By discovering another piece of information in the future, it will be possible to find out which of the mentioned scenarios the US is looking for.
Nozar Shafiee, has PhD in international relations, and is a university professor.