At a briefing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying highlighted the death of a 17-year-old Afghan football player, Zaki Anwari, who fell from the landing gear of an American C-17 while taking off from Kabul airport. “The American myth down,” she said. “More and more people are waking up.”
In Russia too, the state media was overflowing with schadenfreude, even as it was angered by concerns about Afghan defeats among its fragile Central Asian allies. “The moral of the story is: don’t help the stars and stripes,” tweeted Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of Russia’s RT broadcaster. “They’ll just hump you and dump you.”
But now that America’s 20-year Afghan war is over, despair is turning to a more sober view of how war and withdrawal will affect the global balance of power.
The surprise recession of America’s Afghan client state marked the limits of American hardwired power. The dramatic scenes of despair in Kabul have disappointed and enraged many American allies, particularly in Europe, with considerable reputational damage.
Yet despite their propaganda narratives of America’s weakness, Beijing and Moscow know that America is not the only loser.
The US continues to dominate in terms of raw military power and economic resources. Its pivot away from Afghanistan means Washington will not be distracted in its strategic rivalry with China and Russia, two nations that seek to rebuild an international order that has benefited American interests and its allies for decades.
And unlike Russia and China, in countries adjacent to Afghanistan, the US is far from the direct consequences of the Taliban takeover, from refugee flows to terrorism to drug trade. From now on the management of Afghanistan is a problem for Moscow and Beijing and their regional allies.
“The chaotic and sudden withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan is not good news for China,” said Ma Xiaolin, an international relations scholar at Zhejiang International Studies University in Hangzhou, China. Power. “China is not ready to replace America in the region.”
In a phone call with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sunday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi called on the US to remain involved in Afghanistan, including helping the country maintain stability and combat terrorism and violence. Ministry website.
Moscow also urged the US and allies not to back down. President Vladimir Putin’s special envoy for Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov said Western countries should reopen the embassy in Kabul and hold talks with the Taliban on rebuilding the country’s economy. “This applies first of all to nations that have been there with their forces for 20 years and caused the devastation we are seeing now,” Mr. Kabulov told Russian TV.
Chinese scholars who advise the government expect the US to refocus military resources to counter Beijing, particularly in the western Pacific, and to show greater resolve in a region that has strategic importance. There is now a rare point of bipartisan consensus.
President Biden justified the move by highlighting the inevitability that President Biden announced a withdrawal from Afghanistan in his April speech that cost hundreds of billions of dollars and claimed 2,465 American lives: “Instead of returning to war with the Taliban We have to focus on the challenges that lie ahead of us.”
Focusing on air support, intelligence, and logistics rather than ground combat, the US could have been able to keep the Afghan Republic away from the Taliban for decades, if not decades, while continuing to have a relatively low US military presence. Rather than a military defeat, as in Vietnam in the 1970s, the US withdrawal was a deliberate policy move, even if it had unintended consequences.
“The serious people in Moscow understand that the American military machine and all the components of America’s global superiority are going nowhere, and the whole idea of not engaging in this ‘forever war’ was correct,” said Alexander Gabuev, Carnegie. A senior fellow at the Moscow Center. “Yes, the execution was monstrous, but the desire to concentrate resources on priority areas, particularly East Asia and China, is creating a certain unease, unease and sense of strategic logic here.”
He said the main hope in Moscow is that the withdrawal of Kabul will lead to more political polarization inside the US, Republicans trying to invalidate the Biden administration, and new tensions in relations between the US and its allies.
These tensions are already real, especially after Mr Biden rejected European requests to extend the August 31 withdrawal deadline so that the allies would be able to evacuate their remaining civilians and Afghan allies out of Kabul. Thousands of people who are eligible for evacuation are stranded.
Even America’s closest allies such as Britain have openly criticized the US withdrawal. Tom Tugendhat, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the UK House of Commons and a veteran of the Afghanistan War, compared the defeat in Kabul to the Suez Crisis of 1956, which barred the limits of British power and heralded a strategic withdrawal of his country.
“In 1956, we all knew the British Empire had ended, but the Suez Crisis made it quite clear. Since President Obama, the action has been an American comeback, but my god, that has been made clear,” Mr Tugendhat said in an interview.
He said it is not necessarily good news for Russia and China.
“The reality is that Chinese and Russian bad behavior is only possible in a US-organized world,” Tugendhat said. “You can only be an angry teen if you know your father is still going to put petrol in the car the next day.”
US sectarianism in Afghanistan has raised particular concern in Taiwan, the democratic island Beijing seeks to unite with the mainland – by force if necessary. The US is legally obligated to help Taiwan defend itself. After pro-Beijing politicians warned that Taiwan should not rely on US aid in the event of a Chinese attack, Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen issued a statement calling for the island to become more self-sufficient.
The prevailing view among US allies and partners in Asia is that Washington can now deliver on the “pivot for Asia”, which the Obama administration had promised as a way to counter China, but largely fulfilled. failed to do so because it was busy with Afghanistan. Middle East.
“There are lessons to be learned,” said S Paul Choi, a former South Korean military officer and adviser to the US military there. “On a more positive note, what is Asian allies would like to see more attention, greater human resources, more training of personnel … that focuses more on the region rather than terrorism in the Middle East.”
White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki earlier this month challenged the notion that the events in Kabul create an opportunity for Moscow or Beijing to test America’s will in their own neighbourhood. “Our message is very clear: We stand by the individuals in Taiwan, as outlined in the Taiwan Relations Agreement.” “We stand with partners around the world who are subject to the kind of propaganda that Russia and China are projecting. And we will continue to deliver those words with actions.”
While the chaos in Afghanistan has at least temporarily undermined America’s credibility with partners and allies, these relationships, from Taiwan to Israel to Ukraine, are based on a unique set of commitments—and, of course, America’s Afghan enterprise. Unlike, there is no preset expiration date. Washington has broadcast its intention to leave Afghanistan since President Obama’s first term more than a decade ago, though many Afghan leaders believed it would never actually do so.
Slawomir Debski, director of the Polish Institute of International Affairs, an influential Warsaw think tank, said the trouble in Kabul would have little effect where it matters to his country: the US and NATO’s ability to stop Russia on the eastern side of the alliance. .
“None of the aides criticized the Biden administration for the withdrawal decision. He criticized its pathetic execution,” he said. “But that doesn’t change the fundamental relationship. Our alliance with the Americans goes long enough for us to know that they make mistakes that are easily avoidable.”
The US invaded Afghanistan in 2001 because the country’s Taliban rulers at the time had hosted Osama bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders who plotted the September 11 attacks on the US. Since then, Islamic terrorist groups, especially the far more radical Islamic State, have gained other footholds around the world, from Mozambique to the Philippines to West Africa.
Afghanistan, where Islamic State bombed Kabul airport on Thursday, killing 200 Afghan and 13 American soldiers, shares a small part of a mountainous border with China and a long, porous border with Tajikistan and other Central Asian states. which sends millions of migrant workers to Russia. .
During recent visits to Russia and China, Taliban leaders have assured their hosts that they will never allow international terrorists to operate from Afghanistan again.
“The Taliban are saying all the right words for now: they will not allow their territory to be used for terrorist activities in the east, in Xinjiang, or to the north, in Central Asia,” said Andrey Kortunov, director general of Russian International Affairs. Council, a Moscow think tank that advises the government. “But so far these are just words. … There are many more questions than answers.”
For China, the key issue in Afghanistan has long been the presence of Uighur militants of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, or ETIM, and its successor, the Turkestan Islamic Party. The United Nations has estimated that about 500 of these Uyghur militants are in Afghanistan, mostly in northeastern Badakhshan province.
The foreign minister of the fallen Afghan Republic, Hanif Atmar, said in an interview in early August that the deployment of these Uighur militants, some of whom had returned to Afghanistan from the battlefields in Syria, was one of the reasons explaining the Taliban’s lightning strike. was one of in the north of the country. Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen and other senior officials have repeatedly said that the Taliban will not interfere in China’s internal affairs.
Foreign Minister Mr. Wang raised the issue directly with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the head of the Taliban’s political office, when the two met in China in late July. After that meeting, China said it had made clear its demands on the Taliban to break ties with all terrorist organizations and to take concrete action against ETIM.
Eager to succeed where the US has failed, Beijing is reluctant to engage in Afghanistan’s domestic politics or bear the burden of indefinitely subsidizing the bankrupt Afghan state. The Chinese military lacks experience beyond Chinese borders.
Moscow, with its painful history in Afghanistan, is also proceeding cautiously. “Afghanistan is a unique place. It has shown throughout history that no one benefits from the Great Games,” said Fyodor Lukyanov, head of Russia’s foreign and defense policy council.
Wang Huiao, president of the Center for China and Globalization, a Beijing-based think tank and adviser to China’s State Council, cited the example of Vietnam, once the site of a humiliating US military defeat and now one of Washington’s key partners. Asia.
“It was the same story with America’s withdrawal from South Vietnam in 1975: People said it would be occupied by China or the Russians,” Mr. Wang said. “Watch it now.”
Don’t miss a story! Stay connected and informed with Mint. Download our app now!!