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Prelims Capsule

International Relations

Is America’s obsession with the war finally over? Lessons learned by the US from the Afghan war

Is America’s obsession with the war finally over? Lessons learned by the US from the Afghan war


  • GS 2 || International Relations || India & its Neighbours || Afghanistan

Why in the news?

  • The rapid withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan has been matched by the Taliban’s rapid advance across the country. While the US has confirmed that 90 percent of the withdrawal has been completed, the Taliban has claimed control of 85 percent of Afghanistan’s territory.
  • These developments have pushed Afghanistan into the hands of regional powers, who now bear the burden of filling the military void left by the US withdrawal.
  • The concept of a regional solution to Afghanistan has always had a lot of political clouts. However, divergent regional strategic perspectives limit the prospects for a long-term agreement on Afghanistan.

What lessons should the world learn from them?

An ‘appalling’ withdrawal

  • History will judge the United States not by the decision to withdraw from Afghanistan, but by the appalling manner this withdrawal was executed, communicated, and planned twice. The US government made catastrophic mistakes by undercutting both evacuation effort timelines and not expanding the airport perimeter to have more protection from attacks and allow more access points to the airport.
  • The aggregate of this miscalculation, and many others, resulted in the deaths of US service members, the creation of effective Taliban checkpoints, an inability to retrieve US persons throughout Kabul and the rest of Afghanistan, and a humanitarian disaster at the gates of Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.
  • Afghanistan has now become a warzone ruled by terrorists and violent jihadi extremists that is exponentially more dangerous than before the US withdrawal. This threat is compounded by the risk of having abandoned Americans in Afghanistan. The United States must hold to its promise that every American citizen, permanent resident, and special immigrant visa (SIV) applicant who wants to leave Afghanistan can do so. Until then, this mission is not complete, but rather it is a failed mission.

Military interference

  • Before embarking on this adventure, China should sit back and learn from the mistakes of the Western world’s interventionist policies. In 2000, Beijing even commissioned a report about Germany’s foreign policy between 1870 and 1914, to study the transition from a policy of low profile under Bismarck, to a policy of asserting power under William II. It seems that China adhered to the wrong model.
  • The US’ defeat as liberator or invader (depending on who you ask) in Afghanistan fundamentally questions the role of military interference in today’s world. Interventionist policies have been in constant back and forth since the end of the Second World War, which can be divided into three phases.
  • During the Cold War, military interference by former colonial and new imperialist powers, first and foremost the USSR, took place in the shadow of nuclear weapons. This provided a breathing space in a world paralyzed by the possible use of ultimate force. Each side sought to extend its influence from Africa to the Middle East, over Latin and Central America to Asia. The resulting power struggles often led to so-called “proxy” wars.

It’s time to lead by example

  • As someone who has lived through the US debacle in Vietnam, the Iranian Revolution and its ensuing hostage crisis, the 9/11 attacks, and the US invasion of Iraq, I find the hysteria over Washington’s withdrawal from Afghanistan infuriating, unjustified, and historically deaf.
  • For sure, the US exit from that “graveyard of empires” could have been handled better but the democratic veneer which the United States and its allies pasted onto Afghanistan has always been thin. Using diplomatic and economic tools, the Biden administration should continue to extract Americans and others wishing to leave Afghanistan and advocate for humans, especially women’s rights.
  • But its first responsibility should be to strengthen democracy and human rights at home and to ensure that Afghan refugees are properly welcomed so that they can become productive citizens. A good first step would be to reallocate the $3 billion the Defense Department had slated for the now-collapsed Afghan military toward refugee resettlement. If there is anything we should have learned by now, it’s that the best way for the United States to continue leading the world is by example not military invasions.

The status of women

  • Following September 11, 2001, protecting people from despotism and barbarism was increasingly considered a way to protect oneself. With democracy, we brought peace. Nonetheless, this new enthusiasm for interventionist policies overlooked an essential lesson: you cannot save people without their help. For many, the important collateral damage inflicted on civilians is a sign that their lives count less than those of the alleged liberators.
  • In 2021, the defeat of the West in Afghanistan and the failure of the French in the Sahel open a third chapter in the history of interventions. This chapter resembles the post-Vietnam War order but includes a radically novel element: the arrival of China as a key player.
  • America’s failure is all the more tragic because Afghanistan has made undeniable progress over the past twenty years, in particular concerning education and the rights of women.They will be the main victims of the US’ changing priorities and fierce desire to end its unfortunate adventure in the country.
  • Beyond Afghan women, there are also 120,000 interpreters and their families who supported the allies over the past years. To abandon them is to condemn them to certain death. It is our moral responsibility to provide them with asylum and help. An inglorious departure does not necessarily have to be a shameful one.

The implication of USA withdrawal

  • Regional Security-It is assumed that after the withdrawal of the coalition forces from Afghanistan, the militants would be re-organized/restructured and could threaten the peace of the entire region by drawing the neighboring countries into the war. Thus the reduction/withdrawal can endanger the stability of south and central Asia.
  • Afghan Forces-The international community is prepared to help the Afghan forces by providing money, equipment, and training. But it is not known whether this help will be sustained over a longer period. There is also a possibility of the ANSF disintegrating along ethnic lines, in case the Taliban, a predominantly Pashtun-majority entity.
  • Economy-As the country is dependent upon aid; it has been less focused upon trade over the last decade. Unstable Afghanistan will lose investment opportunities and hence economic and political crises can make the region extremely unstable
  • Political uncertainty- Government has no or very weak control beyond Kabul.  The Parliament is divided into disunited groups of disgruntled elements, this disunity and hatred can pose a grave threat to the political situation in Afghanistan.
  • Pakistan  Interference- Some researchers argue that the Pakistan military actively aids the insurgents through funding, the provision of weapons, strategic planning, and so on, which are bound to increase post US withdrawal.

Way forward for India

  • The withdrawal may increase international and regional terrorism, the re-emergence of Taliban influence in Pakistan, and political instability in the region.
  • The larger concern for India is the resurgence of the Taliban, which can both reassure and incite extremist elements in Kashmir and other parts of India via India-focused militant groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed, which are believed to have relocated to Afghanistan in large numbers.
  • India’s Afghan policy is at a major crossroads; to safeguard its assets there as well as to stay relevant in the unfolding ‘great game’ in and around Afghanistan, India must fundamentally reset its Afghanistan policy. The changing political and security situation requires India to be more open to adapting its maximalist position and starting a dialogue with the Taliban.
  • Diplomatic initiatives
  • India must make all possible efforts to get the international community to hold the Taliban to its word on letting all foreigners leave with peace, protecting the lives of all Afghan citizens, and respecting international humanitarian law.
  • India also chairs the Taliban Sanctions Committee of the UNSC. It will have an important role in framing the international response to the Taliban’s demands for the lifting of all sanctions against its leaders.
  • India Communicating to the Taliban: Talking to the Taliban will allow India to ask the militants for security guarantees in exchange for ongoing development aid. India may be able to persuade the Taliban to consider the idea of gaining independence from Pakistan.


  • India, as would be impacted by the consequences of American withdrawal, has to work with the Taliban and other regional powers to protect its interests and stabilize Afghanistan. If India remains active and patient too, many opportunities could open up in the new Afghan phase.

Mains model Question

  • As Afghanistan falls to the Taliban, what does it mean for the Middle East?