What Kind of Afghanistan Does the United States Want?

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Like any actor in the international system, the United States (US) prioritizes her interests in bilateral relations. From the perspective of the US, Afghanistan is no exception. In this context, the US may always tend to make “beneficial” collaborations to maximize her national interests. So, what the US wants is Afghanistan, basically a country that is quite dependent on it, is governed by an administration that is willing to work with Washington and, if possible, grateful to it. In addition, Afghanistan has a “predictable” desire to carry out policies in line with the regional policies of the US. However, achieving the ideal situation in question is not always possible. Even in such environments, great powers are not uncommon to completely abandon their expectations. The Washington administration may consider different options if an ideal scenario does not materialize itself.

If the ideal scenario mentioned as in the above does not occur, the US will likely consider different options. The first of these options is for the US to accept an Afghanistan that can cooperate with her regional partners, if not with itself. Thus, it may be possible to achieve national interests indirectly. The second option is to have an Afghan administration in power that carries out policies in line with neither the US herself nor her regional partners. When faced with such an environment, at least she will be tried to ensure that the Afghan administration carries out a policy that does not conflict with the regional rivals of the US and does not harm its own regional goals. Because in cases where profit maximization cannot be achieved, at least it will be aimed to minimize the damage to be seen. In short, it is desirable that an uncontrolled or undirected Afghanistan would not harm Washington’s regional interests.

Another option that reflects the least desirable situation for the US is to hold power by an Afghanistan administration that does not work in harmony with itself or its partners, cooperates with its rivals in the region, and thus harms regional interests. In such a scenario, Afghanistan’s functionality disappears, as the US cannot benefit in the short or medium term. It may be desirable for an Afghanistan that has lost its functionality not to be a functional partner for the regional or global rivals of the US. To briefly explain this option, elements such as keeping Afghanistan as a regional or even a global problem center, leaving it too weak to fulfill its obligations arising from any international agreement, and thus avoiding it due to the costs of countries wishing to cooperate with Afghanistan, or when cooperation comes to the fore, the regional rivals of the US should not be harmed by it, can be considered within the scope of this option.

The expectations of the US from Afghanistan vary according to the conjuncture and are adapted to new situations following the changing conditions. Therefore, it is difficult to say that Afghanistan will lose all her importance to Washington, even if the ideal scenario in terms of bilateral relations is not realized. If there is a problem with the Afghan administration, the existing government will be changed, and “more open to cooperation” administrations will take over.

In the early years of the 1996-2001 period, when the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan, the US, pleased with the relative stability of the country, personally carried out the overthrow of the administration after the Taliban provided support to the terrorist organization Al-Qaeda, that is, her own enemies.

It has been seen that the relations between the US and Afghanistan are compatible, especially in the first period of the new Afghan administration, namely the Hamid Karzai Government, established in 2001. However, because the harmonious relations between the two countries did not continue for a long time, problems occurred. The criticisms made by Karzai for the fact that many civilians lost their lives in the operations carried out within the scope of the fight against the Taliban during the second term of the Hamid Karzai Government and statements by the US that it wanted a puppet administration in Afghanistan were not welcomed by the Barack Obama administration.

After this event, considered “ingratitude” by the American public, many news and analyses against Karzai began to appear in the Western media, especially in the US. In almost all analyzes of Karzai’s character, it is stated that he is “unstable” and “unpredictable.” The situation showed that Karzai is no longer perceived as an “ideal” ruler, as mentioned above, from the point of view of the US. Karzai, who received a standing ovation after his speech in the American Senate in 2004, ceased to be an actor that could cooperate with time. The Obama administration’s desire to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan caused Karzai to refrain from signing the Bilateral Security Treaty between the US and Afghanistan, which led to the cooling of relations between the two administrations.

On the other hand, the statements of Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, who were candidates in the 2014 Presidential Elections, that they would establish warmer relations with the United States and approve the Bilateral Security Treaty, were welcomed by Washington. Thus, the US has found colleagues who are “more open to cooperation” in Afghanistan.

Another point that should be added is that international actors consider not only identity or unity of understanding but also the element of power when establishing relations based on mutual interest. Because in many cases, it is seen that the groups with which there is a consensus are not in the administration in the addressee countries. In such an environment, it is tried to establish a unity of interests on common ground with the political movements that hold the administration and are seen as the most influential group.

In short, the groups holding power constitute the primary contact group, even if there is no unity of understanding. To evaluate Afghanistan specifically, the administrations established after 2001 tried to be the most powerful group in the country. Still, a strong power could not be found throughout the country and could not be successful. In such cases, the continuation of interest-based relations may become the primary option by establishing a common ground with groups such as the Taliban that hold power. However, at the current stage, it is seen that the US and the Taliban are far from meeting on a common ground.Although it is not impossible to establish a negotiating table between the parties, as in Doha, it is possible to say that it can only be installed in a position where the hand of the US is vital. Otherwise, the Washington administration will not sit at the table.

In addition, the illusion that what is ideal for the US is also suitable for Afghanistan is desired to continue. In other words, there is a desire to establish a unity of understanding between the US and Afghanistan administrations. Thus, with efforts to make Afghanistan a better country, US regional and international policies can be integrated, and governments in Afghanistan can remain “useful” to the US. If this ideal situation cannot be fully achieved, it is possible to try to ensure relations and mutual interests in minimum commonality. In this respect, criticisms made on democracy, human rights, women’s rights, and minority groups’ rights can be forgotten after a while, provided that the government in the country mentioned above agrees with the minimum common interests.

As a result, ideal Afghanistan desired by the US should primarily depend on itself to some extent. If possible, it should put the national interests of the United States first, even when the national interests of the two countries conflict. If this is not possible, it is desirable to at least not serve the interests of its regional rivals. A weak and troubled Afghanistan is seen as the ideal scenario if both situations would not be realized. Whether Afghanistan is strong or weak, democratic or theocratic, unitary or federal, it will not be a priority if the US benefits from its national interests. Considering the current pressure on the Taliban, the blocking of Afghanistan’s national reserves, and the lack of adequate assistance to the country, it is possible to say that the Washington administration focuses on a weak and problematic Afghanistan.

Dr. Erdal BAYAR
2009 yılında Ankara Üniversitesi Siyasal Bilgiler Fakültesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü’nden mezun olan Dr. Erdal BAYAR, iki yıllık memurluk hizmetinin ardından 2011 senesinde Van Yüzüncü Yıl Üniversitesi Erciş İşletme Fakültesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü’nde Araştırma Görevlisi olarak göreve başlamıştır. 2015 yılında Hacettepe Üniversitesi Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü Uluslararası İlişkiler Anabilim Dalı’nda sunduğu teziyle yüksek lisans derecesi alan Bayar, 2021 yılında Gazi Üniversitesi Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü Uluslararası İlişkiler Anabilim Dalı’nda hazırladığı “Sosyal İnşacı Yaklaşıma göre 2001 sonrasında yeniden inşa edilen Afganistan'ın Dış Politikası” başlıklı teziyle doktor unvanını almıştır.