Two years on: Afghanistan, the region, and beyond

The Taliban’s return sent shock waves around the world. Here are a few key geopolitical assessments made at the time, and how they’ve held up:

  1. 🇨🇳 Neighbouring China will fill the West’s vacuum

Since 2021, China has announced a new land route to Afghanistan, an oil deal, and Kabul’s partial inclusion in an infrastructure program.

The pace has been slow, partly because conditions aren’t right, but more because China’s core interests here are really in security: border stability, cooperation on Uighur militants, and the safety of Chinese nationals.

So it’s still early days yet, but Beijing seems to be proceeding with caution.

  1. 🇵🇰 The Taliban’s return will benefit neighbouring Pakistan

After decades of quiet support, Pakistani leaders openly welcomed the Taliban’s return; the hope was it’d now be a pliable, pro-Pakistan neighbour.

But newly emboldened Taliban-linked groups have since killed hundreds of Pakistanis; there’ve been more clashes along the disputed border; and Kabul has shrewdly exploited its occasional leverage on the trade front.

So on balance, it’s hard to see how the change has served Pakistan well.

  1. 🇺🇸 US prestige and credibility will be damaged beyond repair

In theory, there were plausible arguments for each US path: the US could cut its losses and reprioritise resources elsewhere; or it could maintain a limited footprint in-country to degrade terrorist groups and preserve US credibility.

But the reality was messy: a chaotic withdrawal, the Taliban flag over Kabul on September 11, and an endless visa wait for folks who supported the US.

Credibility is tough to build, and tougher to rebuild.

Intrigue’s take: We’ve barely scratched the surface here, and we’re mindful that these events have touched many Intriguers personally.

But as we glance in the rear view mirror, we’re struck by how similar it looks to the road ahead: tough for Afghanistan, its neighbours, and beyond.

Also worth noting:

  • Afghanistan has an estimated $1T in untapped mineral wealth.
  • Three countries recognised Taliban rule during 1996-2001: Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Pakistan. That number is now at zero.
  • The US and the Taliban held their first talks since 2021 in Doha earlier this month.
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