With US pullout, Afghanistan faces messy free-for-all for influence

In announcing thousands of troops would be pulled out of Afghanistan, President Donald Trump was meeting the mood of the United States but also opening the door to growing, if still limited, influence by US adversaries, experts say.
Afghanistan’s neighbours have complex and often competing interests in Afghanistan, where the United States, backed by Western allies, has been the undisputed top foreign power in the nearly 20 years since its invasion.
What could emerge is less a “Great Game,” as the 19th-century battle for influence in Central Asia was known, but more a great disorder, with the United States stepping back as the Taliban potentially ramps up violence to topple the internationally-backed government in Kabul.
“No one is going to pick up the American role because no one has the same aspirations and objectives,” said William Wechsler, a former senior Pentagon official now at the Atlantic Council.
“But what will happen is that as we depart, every other player will try to achieve their much more limited and specific objectives — which is what led, in no small part, to Afghanistan being such a mess in the first place.”
The Trump administration has said it would pull 2,000 troops from Afghanistan and another 500 from Iraq by mid-January, shortly before President-elect Joe Biden is inaugurated.
Trump has vowed to end unpopular “forever wars” and Biden has for years advocated winding down the intervention in Afghanistan, the longest in US history, which began following the September 11, 2001 attacks.
“Afghanistan’s neighbours share an interest in having US troops leave the region but not leave abruptly,” said Scott Worden, director of Afghanistan and Central Asia programmes at the US Institute of Peace.
“Nobody wants to see a collapse and a renewed civil war and they don’t want to have refugees or terrorists coming across from Afghanistan,” he said.
Iran’s leading concern is US troops, but Tehran “would definitely like to avoid having the Taliban in control of Afghanistan — and a hasty US withdrawal makes that outcome more likely.” — AFP