By M. A. Saki

Terrible U.S. defeat in Afghanistan tilts power balance in China’s favor: professor 

August 25, 2021 - 18:16

TEHRAN - A leading Indian academic says China can play a leading role in the region through partnership with Afghanistan now that the United States has failed terribly in the Central Asian country and the Taliban has taken over.

“The terrible defeat of the U.S. and the overwhelming victory of the Taliban also enhance China’s importance and tilt the balance of power in the region in China’s favor,” Ashok Swain tells the Tehran Times.

Actually, the U.S. has failed miserably in Afghanistan and it is pulling its troops out of the country after a 20-year futile war.

Political observers say that U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan will leave a power vacuum that can be filled by regional players, especially China, Iran, and Pakistan.

“China also has historically strong relations with Pakistan, and its relations with Iran are also on the upswing,” Swain points out.

The Indian professor is of the opinion that the U.S. military failure in Afghanistan might prompt Washington to abandon military adventures in the world.  

“The Afghanistan failure might persuade the U.S. not to engage in military adventure in other countries in the future,” Swain notes. 

Following is the text of the interview:

Q: What are the implications of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan?

A: The U.S. should not have invaded Afghanistan in 2001. If it did, it should have left in 2002 after defeating the Taliban. That would have been the appropriate time to make a peace deal with the Taliban when they were morally down and diplomatically isolated. Instead, the U.S. got engaged in a so-called nation-building project in Afghanistan with many lofty goals.

However, in reality, the government it patronized in Kabul was a collection of warlords and tribal leaders. It was neither democratic nor benevolent. Massive corruption and ethnic division failed to bring stability in Afghanistan, and at the same, it also increased the popularity of the Taliban among Afghans. Biden’s decision to the withdrawal of troops led to the immediate collapse of the Afghan government. The abject surrender of the puppet government and its army shows that the U.S. miserably failed in the ‘nation-building’ project in Afghanistan.

The Afghanistan failure might persuade the U.S. not to engage in military adventure in other countries in the future. The terrible defeat of the U.S. and the overwhelming victory of the Taliban also enhance China’s importance and tilt the balance of power in the region in China’s favor. The Taliban has assured China not to support the militant groups in the Chinese territory. If the Taliban can deliver as per the promise, China will provide much-needed investment. China also has historically strong relations with Pakistan, and its relations with Iran are also on the upswing. By adding Afghanistan as a partner, China will dominate the region.  

Q: Do you agree with the view that Afghanistan is a graveyard for empires and superpowers?

A: There is no doubt the Soviet Union and the U.S. have received terrible defeats at the hands of Afghans after long wars. The UK had also fought unsuccessfully many times to subjugate the Afghans in the 19th Century. However, the way the Soviet Union collapsed after the Afghanistan debacle, the U.S. will not witness that. The U.S. is much stronger as a nation than what the Soviet Union used to be. The U.S. has also seen a similarly crushing defeat in Vietnam in the past and has bounced back. Undoubtedly, these defeats by superpowers demonstrate that if a nation refuses to be subjugated, no power on earth can dominate it forever. If anything, the U.S. should learn the lessons from Afghanistan and not engage itself in changing the regimes in other countries through the use of force.   

Q:  President Biden claims the U.S. could not continue to support a failed government forever. And why did the Afghan government and military fail to resist the Taliban?

A: As I have told before, the Afghan government had no popular legitimacy as Afghans saw it not as their representative but as the puppet regime of the U.S. The internal rivalry and rampant corruption had made the situation much worse for the Afghan government. Biden is right to call the Afghan government a failed one, but it was a failed government primarily thanks to the U.S. More than the Afghan government, the U.S. had hoped on the Afghanistan National Defense and Security Force (ANDSF), which it had created, trained, and armed with billions of dollars to be able to halt the Taliban advances for some time. But, ANDSF melted like anything in front of highly indoctrinated and battle-hardened Taliban militants. The U.S. had trained Afghan Special Forces well. But, the local ethnic group leaders selected the regular troops of 300,000. Many of them were trained for a few days, if at all, before being sent to the frontline. In many cases, troops have been recruited only on paper to draw salary only. The massive corruption, fragmented ethnic loyalty, and the lack of any ideological or national motivation has led to the spectacular failure of the ANDSF.

Q: What was the U.S.'s main goal when it invaded Afghanistan in 2001? 

A: The U.S. had invaded Afghanistan in 2001, and at that time, the initial stated aim was to fight against terrorism and its support networks. However, after comprehensively defeating the Taliban by early 2002, the U.S. didn’t leave. Instead, it stayed on in the name of ‘nation-building’ and lofty promise of creating a democratic modern Afghanistan with respect for the rule of law and protection of human rights. So, American officials are correct to the extent that nation-building was not the stated aim in the early months of occupation, but it had been at least for the last 19 years. 

Q: What are the differences between Democrats and Republicans when it comes to Afghanistan?

A: There is not much difference between Republicans and Democrats in the context of Afghanistan if we compare the Bush administration and the Obama administration. However, the Trump administration gave legitimacy to the Taliban, forced Pakistan to release several high-profile Taliban leaders from the region, negotiated and signed a peace agreement with them, and fixed a date for troop’s withdrawal. 

However, it left the thankless job for the Biden administration to do, the actual withdrawal. Biden has shown leadership and has gone ahead with the troops' withdrawal despite severe criticism from Republicans and Democrats. But, it was a no-win war, and Biden has done the right thing by ending it and accepting America's defeat.  

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