The war in Afghanistan and the decline of US hegemony: will China and Russia become the final beneficiaries?

By Kandis Leung

US President Joe Biden made a statement on 14th August: “In our nation’s more than 20 years of war in Afghanistan, the United States has sent its best young men and women, invested nearly $1 trillion, trained more than 300,000 Afghan soldiers and police, equipped them with the most advanced military equipment and maintained their air force as part of the longest war in US history.”

On 15th August, the Taliban entered the capital Kabul and the global public was shocked and dismayed. The fleeing of President Ghani announced the complete failure of 20 years of US policy in Afghanistan.

Firstly, the US expended enormous human and material resources and failed to achieve the goal of establishing democracy, rebuilding Afghanistan, and destroying the Taliban. The Taliban troops were met with no decent resistance from the Afghan government. With twenty years of dedication wasted, everything appears to be back to square one. 

The withdrawal is a blow for NATO and Europe

Secondly, the miscalculation of the Afghanistan military forces was confusing. The CIA estimated that the Taliban would take 18 months to take over all of Afghanistan and at least three months to capture the capital city of Kabul. Yet, it took the Taliban less than a month to sweep across the country.

The US military was stationed in Afghanistan not for just a year or two, but for 20 years. Whether it was a CIA intelligence failure or an optimistic estimate from Biden about the Afghan government’s military strength, it should not have happened. The US should have had a correct evaluation of the corruption of the Afghan government, the failure to implant democracy in Afghanistan, and the strength of the Taliban. The failure of intelligence was indeed a significant mistake.

Thirdly, the US hastily withdrew its troops from Afghanistan, giving the impression that it is self-serving and only cares about itself at critical moments. The US ignored the great danger to those Afghans who had cooperated with the US military and the military from other countries. This has been met with discontent and complaints from the Afghan people and criticism from within the United States and across the world. 

The withdrawal is a blow for NATO and Europe. Unprecedented doubts arise about the US’s credibility and ability to keep its word. Tony Blair, who ordered the UK military into the country 20 years ago, publicly criticised Joe Biden’s justification for the pullout as ‘imbecilic’. 457 British soldiers were killed in action. Blair said the withdrawal of the US was ‘tragic’ and ‘unnecessary’, and the decision of the US to abandon Afghanistan makes “every jihadist group around the world cheering”; German President Steinmeier also sharply criticized the decisions from the US: “The desperate scene at Kabul Airport is a disgrace to the West.”

“The situation now is not good for the Americans, so it’s good for us.”

Arkady Dubnov, a moscow based analyst

This incident has revealed the extent of NATO’s dependence on the United States. As Trump correctly pointed out, many European NATO countries still fall far short of the target of spending 2% of GDP on defence. The US withdrawal from Afghanistan has made European countries realize that it is time to stop relying on US military power and instead they must take a more serious approach to their defence responsibilities.

While the outrage over the US pullout from Afghanistan grew, the power distribution in Afghanistan shifted. Sohail Shaheen, a spokesman for the Taliban’s political office in Doha, Qatar, told British media (Sky News) they received ‘political support’ from Russia, China, and Pakistan. 

So while the world is condemning the US for its irresponsibility, China, Russia, and Pakistan are trying to establish a good relationship with Afghanistan. The influence of China, Russia and Pakistan is expected to expand in Afghanistan. Zhu Yongbiao, a Chinese government expert on Central Asia and a professor at Lanzhou University, stated that “China has benefited from [the US’s] irresponsible behaviour, which has harmed the US’s worldwide image and the relationship between Washington and its allies”.

Arkady Dubnov, a Moscow-based political analyst and expert on Central Asia, offered a similar view. “We can align our interests (with China) in terms of anti-Americanism,” he said. “What is good for us is bad for the Americans, and what is bad for us is good for the Americans. The situation now is not good for the Americans, so it’s good for us.” China and Russia may become the final beneficiaries.

Image: Anna Kuptsova via Palatinate Illustrations

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