April 1975 Saigon. The last line of defense to the city along with myth of defiance, invincibility, and military might had collapsed. A two-decade-long engagement of United States in the Vietnam was drawing to a dramatic close. Securing their withdrawal through Paris Peace Accord, US left the South Vietnamese at the mercy of unforgiving Vietcong for the times to come. People fight and die for faith not for reasons, rightly said. The fall of Saigon is in no way a military campaign gone wrong. The pledge for a new beginning, away from darkness, for millions was shattered. The words of US proclaimed ally and South Vietnam President Thieu on the eve of Saigon fall are self-explanatory;
"At the time of the peace agreement the United States agreed to replace equipment on a one-by-one basis. But the United States did not keep its word. Is an American's word reliable these days? The United States did not keep its promise to help us fight for freedom and it was in the same fight that the United States lost 50,000 of its young men."
Somehow, four decades onward Saigon reminds of "Kabul" and Thieu could be Abdullah, Ghani or Karzai may be. The elections, though awaiting final outcome, have proved to be the final episode of the chapter "Post 2001 Afghanistan". With US withdrawal on the cards, new Afghan regime no matter how legitimate and constitutional will have to bear the brunt of "enemies at the gate". Like South Vietnam, the Afghan national army has a severe flaw. Those who make up the ranks as protective are no different from those who threaten. In fact, Taliban has infiltrated much deeper into Afghanistan forces' rank and once the US & allies shield is off, they stand no chance against the battle-hardened Taliban. Throughout the Afghan campaign, US has virtually made no effort of bringing out the political side of battle-bred Taliban, sealing the fate for Afghanistan future. To say it politely, Afghanistan is filled with fault lines that will erupt as soon the equilibrium is disturbed. At max, the holders of power in Kabul can succeed in dividing the country into their sphere of influence, mostly North, while leaving the rest to Taliban. Like in the timeline from 1995-2000, the new region will again live in insecurity of constant campaigns and instability.
Post 2001 Afghanistan has not seen any percentage of institutionalization, let it be military, industry, judiciary, governance, and so on. This deficiency has deprived Afghanistan of the foundation it needed to establish the barrier against any future return of the extremist Taliban in their present stage. Karzai had not power nor liberty to set the national agenda in place, let alone the capacity to execute the turn-around. The indicators of Afghanistan progress are overshadowed by rampant corruption, lawlessness and alarming poppy cultivation. On regional front, an absence of clear policy lines by Kabul has invited all regional actors to play their part in the ongoing campaign, often witnessed as proxy war between various states/ parties.
US withdrawal in the present state of affairs will guarantee Taliban return to the driving seat on one hand, whereas fearful opponents will have no answer but to seek other patronages wherever possible.
The most feasible policy approach for Afghanistan today remains regional engagement for the future Afghanistan. The terminology refers to regional actors lead by China, Russia, Pakistan, and Iran converging for a sustained future of Afghanistan, for the collective benefit of the entire region. Afghanistan fault lines have already made strong shockwaves in the neighboring countries with Pakistan facing a storm of terrorism based across the border and in the tribal areas, China's Muslim-majority province has remained on the radar with growing terrorist activities and Iran has been vulnerable in its border regions from groups based in Afghanistan or linked to movements within Afghanistan boundaries. Lastly, it's not only Russia but entire Central Asia facing security constraints due to Afghanistan. A large number of Chechens, Uzbeks, Tajiks, etc, have moved to Afghanistan for the holy war against the allies. With time, they have organized themselves into tactical groups with strong outreach in their native lands. Based on this, the stakes are high for all neighboring and regional actors to form a collective policy on bringing Afghanistan back on track.
In the first phase Taliban needs to be engaged in the meaningful dialogue on future Afghanistan to bring them into political fold. Simultaneously, the institutes of Afghanistan needs strengthening, and to say it rightly overhauling. Regional security guarantee for the new Afghan government will be pivotal in nurturing a progressive and stable Afghanistan for the natives and the region. Ignorance by regional actors toward Afghanistan today will make it an uphill of bringing it back to normalcy, missing from over three decades.