The US Interests and Policies in Afghanistan and the Region after Withdrawal

Ajmal Jalal


Twenty years ago, the interests of the US demanded invading Afghanistan, ending the Taliban’s rule and bringing in a new government. The reason for invading Afghanistan was 9/11 attacks. The Americans claimed that Al-Qaeda was responsible for it and should be punished. After twenty years, the US ends its presence reasoning that Osama bin Laden is no more alive and the Taliban promised that they will end their relationships with Al-Qaeda and similar groups and they will not allow anyone to use Afghanistan’s soil against any country particularly the US.

With the end of the US military presence, the question that arises is what will be the US interests and how they will achieve it in the region and Afghanistan. The rise of this question assures that even after the end of the US military presence, the US will pursue its interests in the region and Afghanistan. But, what will be these interests, where its boundaries will start and where will it end, and ultimately, through which policies and tactics the US will observe its interests, are debatable issues that will be, to its possible degree, addressed in this article.

How to Identify the US Interests in the Region and Afghanistan?

However, a large number of American political analysts believe that the US is responsible for human rights, women’s rights, civil liberties, and ultimately for democracy as its leader in the world, and therefore, they add up ensuring human rights, women’s rights and establishing democratic regimes to the list of the US interests.[1]  The reason behind the dominance of this belief on Americans’ public mind is the role of media, research centers, and is the result of the propaganda of the politicians through tools of social communication which should be created for legalizing any sort of US war. However, current and historical facts reveal that the above mentioned issues aren’t part of the list of the US interests. In southern America, Middle East, Africa and in other parts of the world, destroying governments and bringing in humanitarian catastrophes, supporting dictator regimes, supporting military coups against legitimate elected governments or staying silent regarding them are the things that are in opposition to the human rights and principals of democracy which make up a great part of the history of the US military, intelligence and political efforts.

The fact that the history of the US foreign policy witnesses that after the military presence in Afghanistan, the US will redefine its interests and set new boundaries must not be overlooked when trying to identify American interests in the region and in Afghanistan. On the way towards ensuring these interests, the type of the coming regime, the state of human rights, human catastrophe, immigration of millions of Afghans and even house-by-house civil war wouldn’t be its negative or positive factors.

Considering the above explanation, the situation in Afghanistan after the end of the military presence of the US has got complex. The peace talks are stopped, military movements are highly active that hundreds of humans are killed on daily basis and no one can anticipate what the future holds. Looking at this unknown situation, the US government is still unable to come up with a roadmap of its interests and next steps.[2] In such a situation, the only way through which the US interests could be understood is the principle of benefiting and harming from the incidents, changes and alterations. Meaning that it should be looked for that which Afghanistan is benefiting America and which Afghanistan is benefiting the countries of the region. As a result of this calculation, the US interests can be somehow analyzed.

The benefiting and harming sides of the coming situation of Afghanistan can be categorized in two categories; one side is the regional countries as a whole while the other side is America.

The Stands of the Regional Countries

Overall, the countries in the region see their interests in a stable Afghanistan, so that the geography is no more a concern for their security and with the help of the geography of Afghanistan the region alters to an economic bloc. Pakistan, particularly, shares this interest.

Pakistan is the most active regional country in Afghanistan’s issue. The historical takeaway of Pakistan’s military and intelligence agencies is to place the enmity or partnership with the Afghan government at the forefront of their national security issues. Rivalry with India, Durand Line and the Pashtun and Baloch nations dwelling to the east of Durand Line are all considered as major security problems for Pakistan.

Considering its situation, Pakistan doesn’t want to be stuck in a geography where a strong enemy like India lives and to the other side rise another powerful enemy Afghanistan. That is why, from 1970s, it is deeply involved in Afghanistan’s issues.[3]

Now that America’s military presence is ending in Afghanistan, observing the situation, the scale of balance seems to be heavier on Pakistan’s side. Pakistan tries to ensure its interests in the coming governing system of Afghanistan. Another fact beside this positive situation for Pakistan is that Pakistan’s economic situation is not good and it can get better when there is political stability and economic development in the region.  Pakistan needs to get connected to the markets of central Asian countries through Afghanistan, to sell its products and benefit from the sources of energy of that place. Also, China has multi-billion dollar project of China- Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) with Pakistan and wants to connect it through Afghanistan with central Asia. Beside this, Pakistan knows that an unstable Afghanistan is more than anyone dangerous for Pakistan, insecurities in on-border areas and possible bulk of millions of immigrants are small examples for that.[4]

Economic needs, its economic partnership with China and the issues of national security encourage Pakistan to work for stability in Afghanistan and the region and try not to lose its influence in Afghanistan at this new stage. But Pakistan wouldn’t let the Taliban to seize power by force. If the Taliban try to seize power by force, they will lose the legitimacy they have gained through diplomatic efforts over the past three years or so. Also, a government installed by force will not be recognized and acceptable to the international community and the regional countries. This is something that is in conflict with Pakistan’s interests. Pakistan wants the Taliban to participate in a legitimate coalition government to gain international and regional acceptance.[5]

China pursues two main goals in Afghanistan. The first one is economic, that is, to connect Pakistan’s seaports and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) with central Asian countries via land routes of a stable Afghanistan; The second one is security, that is, Afghanistan should not be a safe haven for those groups that could be used against China’s security, specifically with insecurity in Xinjiang, the Chinese projects will face barriers and delays. Beside this, insecure Afghanistan will become a major producer and exporter of narcotics which China fears.[6]

Russia also doesn’t want to face security problems in its southern borders. That is why it has vast military presence in Central Asia; and including regional countries, it has brought in a regional security coordination.[7] Russia and countries of Central Asia see ISIS as a major threat to themselves and this fear is grater due to the presence of the nationals of Central Asia in ISIS’s ranks. An insecure Afghanistan is counted as a suitable geography for the growth of ISIS and this will lead Russia and other countries of Central Asia to challenges which will have huge costs economically and will lead to human catastrophes. Currently, Russia’s strategy is to be on the side of no one in Afghanistan. Russia can cooperate with any kind of regime in Afghanistan but on condition that it shouldn’t pose a threat to Russia’s interests. Also, Central Asian countries and Russia fear Afghanistan’s narcotics problem like China and don’t want their markets to become major demanders of narcotics.[8]

Military presence of America in Afghanistan has been proven benefitting for both China and Russia. During America’s presence, for twenty years, China and Russia weren’t concerned about their borders. In the past twenty years, Russia has rigorously avoided direct interference in Afghanistan and didn’t want to be part of a puzzle that its solution is unknown. Also, Russian facilities and resources in the region are not to a degree that can handle a great war. Russia does not have such a control on its southern borders and Central Asian countries to prevent large-scale immigration, drug trafficking and the movement of insurgents. That is why, Russia hasn’t opposed the US presence in Afghanistan in the same way like in other parts of the world, especially in the Middle East.[9] China’s stand has been similar to that of Russia over the past twenty years, the US has established relative stability through its spending and efforts, and China didn’t want to be directly involved in Afghanistan’s issue.[10]

Iran has similar economic problems like Pakistan. As a result of years of economic blockade, Iran’s economy is in a dire condition. In Middle East, Iran is busy in many countries. Also, Iran, specifically, eastern Iran is located on the dry part of the world which is considered as a major problem for Iran’s national security. In such a situation, Iran tries not to waste resources and time on Afghanistan’s issue like that of the Middle East. At the same time, Iran does not want to have no part in the future of Afghanistan. Iran needs a stable and partner Afghanistan. Afghanistan is a good market for Iranian commercial products and oil. Besides, Iran has 25-year economic agreement with China and wants to broaden its economic relations with China and Pakistan. Economic activates of Iran, China and Pakistan in the region face challenges without a stable Afghanistan.[11]

In short, stability in Afghanistan is beneficial for the regional countries. A stable Afghanistan is a necessary step for the economic development of the region. But an insecure Afghanistan could pave the way for the growth of militant groups, insurgents and paramilitaries in the region, which will have far-reaching effects on the region as a whole, especially Pakistan, China, Russia, Central Asia and Iran. In such a situation, the regional countries will try to work for the stability of Afghanistan, and for them, without Pakistan which sees the Taliban as its chance, it wouldn’t matter which group or which side stabilizes Afghanistan.

American Interests and Policy

After twenty years, America believes that Al-Qaeda has been weakened up to a point of absence and the Taliban promised that they would let no one and no group to be a challenge to American interests. The president of America, Joe Biden, and other high-ranking officials believe that there is no need for military presence and activity in Afghanistan. It is so because the old threat is no more there. But ending military presence doesn’t mean that the importance of American interests is lost in the region and Afghanistan.

After twenty years, the region and the world is changed. China, as a major economic power, wants to grab hands over the globe, extend a new economic network with developing and impoverished countries from Asia to Africa, and challenge the American hegemony around the world. Also, Russia is ready to make allies and blocs in the region. Even if they don’t trust one another in Central Asia, China and Russia can trust each other against America. Russians has also challenged American hegemony in the last ten years in the Middle East. India is the only regional country that can walk together with America but other regional countries are either America’s strategic competitors or seek the heavy side of the scale of balance for their own benefits.

In such an environment, America is forced to reorganize its priorities in the list of interests and alter its policies. The end of military presence in Afghanistan is the first step in reorganizing the priorities in the list of interests and altering policies.

Currently, it seems that America follows some specific goals in the region and sees its interests in achieving these goals. The first of these goals is that Afghanistan’s soil shouldn’t be used in any case against America and this goal is achieved. The second one is that insecure Afghanistan shouldn’t pose danger to Pakistan which as a result will lead to falling the nuclear weapons of Pakistan to the hands of insurgents. Or the Afghan problem gets that wider that it leads to nuclear war between India and Pakistan.  America closely observes the conflict of Pakistan and India in the region and doesn’t want to leave its only ally, India, to dangers. America has always made its concerns clear about the nuclear program of Pakistan and currently, reducing tensions between India and Pakistan is an essential part of America’s strategy about South Asia.[12] The third goal is that Afghanistan should have a government that is not under the influence of regional competitors of America. A government that is independent and doesn’t look at America as a strategic enemy even if the Taliban has a major and important part in it is acceptable for America.[13]

The interests of the regional countries and America’s goals are not in conflict but are even closer. The regional countries see a stable Afghanistan beneficial for them and due to the regional rivalries none can have complete control or hegemony on the future government of Afghanistan. In such a situation, America is not forced, and doesn’t consider it as its responsibility, to spend 40 billion dollars annually on stabilizing Afghanistan all alone by itself or to lose its troops. America now believes that a stable Afghanistan more than anyone is beneficial for regional countries and they should greatly than anyone take their part in the process of peace and stability in Afghanistan. This belief of America is more evident in the interview of America’s Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, with CNN. [14]


To conclude, after twenty years of military and political efforts, the US has failed to bring political stability and security to Afghanistan. Countries in the region are skeptical of the US plans; that is why, they maintain relations with the Taliban as well as with the Afghan government. The situation in the region is changing and American competitors are calmly making plans for their regional and international goals. Looking at all these, the US does not want to bear all the costs of Afghanistan’s stability and security alone, and use its intelligence and military resources to an unknown time in a fruitless war. That is why, the US is putting an end to its military presence and wants to hand over responsibility of Afghanistan’s security and stability to regional countries. At this stage, the role of the US will be to support the peace process to the best of its ability, to prevent an immediate collapse of the Afghan government through assistance, and to put the necessary pressure on them when necessary to agree to peace talks.

  If the war in Afghanistan stops, it is in America’s interest, and if the war continues, it will be on harm of the countries in the region which are America’s strategic competitors. If the situation in Afghanistan worsens, the Americans will be able to control their regional interests and goals, to some extent, from the countries of the region and, when necessary, they will intervene militarily. Given the circumstances, there are little reasons for the possibility that the US wants Afghanistan’s intentional instability and war against its regional competitors, particularly China and Russia. If the regional countries see their interests in the stability of Afghanistan, they can easily prevent the spread of war together. America will not be willing to compete against all in such a situation.

The end

[1] Annie Pforzheimer “Protecting Wider U.S. Interests after a Troop Withdrawal”. Center for Strategic and International Studies, 16 June 2021,

[2] Mitchell, Ellen. “Biden Struggles to Detail Post-Withdrawal Afghanistan Plans.” TheHill, The Hill, 19 June 2021,

[3] “Pakistan: Shoring Up Afghanistan’s Peace Process.” Crisis Group, 30 June 2021,

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Babb, Carla, et al. “China’s Plans in Afghanistan Following US Troop Withdrawal.” Voice of America, 18 June 2021,

[7] Lewis, Dustin. “Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).” HLS PILAC, HLS PILAC, 30 Mar. 2015,

[8] TRENIN, DMITRI, et al. A Russian strategy for Afghanistan after the coalition troop withdrawal. CARNEGIE MOSCOW CENTER, May 2014,

[9] Ibid.

[10] Babb, Carla, et al. “China’s Plans in Afghanistan Following US Troop Withdrawal.” Voice of America, 18 June 2021,

[11] SETH J. FRANTZMAN “After US Afghanistan Withdrawal, Will Pakistan, Iran and Turkey Take Over.” The Jerusalem Post |,

[12] JIM GARAMONE. “President Unveils New Afghanistan, South Asia Strategy.” U.S. Department of Defense,

[13] Felbab-Brown, Vanda. “US Policy toward Afghanistan: Consider the Trade-Offs, Including with Other Policy Areas.” Brookings, Brookings, 14 Jan. 2021,

[14] Gaouette, Nicole, and Jennifer Hansler. “Blinken Says US Withdrawal from Afghanistan Will Concentrate the Minds of ‘Free Riders’ in the Region.” CNN, Cable News Network, 30 Apr. 2021,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *