When US President Joe Biden briefly referred to the Berlin Airlift – the operation 73 years ago to supply a city to which access had been blocked by the Soviet Union – in describing the states’ evacuation efforts – United in Afghanistan, it revealed the inspiration for a larger plan to redeem its disorderly exit.
After 10 days of missed signals, desperate crowds and violence around Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport, Biden and his team are eager to change the tale of the chaotic end of America’s longest war.
Occupying the presidential palace in Kabul, the triumphant Taliban leaders, bazookas in hand, proclaimed that “the war is over in Afghanistan”. Yet all over Afghanistan we see images of anxiety, despair, chaos and fear. Winter has finally arrived in Afghanistan.
The situation calls for serious questions: how did the Taliban regain territorial control of Afghanistan? How did the Taliban manage to be so strong, despite the United States’ efforts to bring them down? What made this possible? Among many causal explanations, the geopolitical economy of opium can be seen as a plausible factor that led to the victory of the Taliban.
As the tragic chaos at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul continues, two interconnected political negotiations unfolding are likely to determine Afghanistan’s immediate future. One focuses on building a new political order in Afghanistan and the other on international recognition of the nascent Taliban-led government.
Despite the current triumphalism in Pakistan to “overthrow” the US-backed order in Kabul and “push” India out of Afghanistan, Delhi can afford to step back and signal that it can wait. On the one hand, Rawalpindi is far from establishing a new political order dominated by the Taliban. Then there is the challenge of ensuring the international legitimacy of an order supported by Pakistan in Afghanistan and of securing its future.