The immediate question everyone faces is whether or not to recognize the Taliban as a legitimate government. Pictured: Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid (center) speaks during a press conference in Kabul on August 24, 2021. (Photo by Hoshang Hashimi/AFP via Getty Images)
Twenty years ago when the United States was sucked into the Afghan cesspool, pundits were divided about the ultimate aim of intervention. President George W Bush talked of GWOT (remember the acronym?) or Global War on Terror. His critics argued that, unless it led to nation-building in Afghanistan, the intervention would make no sense.
Two decades later, the intervention has not advanced GWOT, as Islamist terrorism has spread to two dozen countries in Asia and Africa, with sleeper cells in Latin America. As for nation-building, the US has instead ended up with a travel agency based in Kabul airport under an astonishingly incompetent management.
President Joe Biden, the man heading the travel agency, says the US has spent more than a trillion dollars to get involved in what he claims is "the most difficult operation of its kind" in history.
The trillion dollars claim is too daft to merit detailed rebuttal. No one quite knows how much the US has spent on its Afghan adventure and what percentage ended up in Afghan, American, European, Pakistani and other corrupt pockets.
As for Biden's claim that his travel agency faces an unprecedented logistical challenge, he needs to read about the Berlin Airlift to see what miracles the "Great Satan" could achieve under competent leadership.
The mess in Kabul has given America-bashers a field day.
Mocking America today is easy. While Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin are chuckling, European and Canadian "allies" are wearing a smirk.
The usual suspects in the End of America crowd are also bringing their buckets of water to the mill. Francis Fukuyama, the neo-Hegelian "End of History" peddler a generation ago, now claims that, after all, it wasn't history that ended but US supremacy.
What is interesting, however, is that when all the mocking is done and the smirks displayed, the mockers and smirk-wearers insist that, after all, it is only the US that can "do something about it." More than 30 nations are looking to the same inept United States to get their citizens out of Kabul and into safety. The European "allies" are waiting to see what Washington does with regard to recognizing the Taliban as the new rulers of Afghanistan.
All those who hope to benefit from the return of the Taliban might do well to take a deep breath and wait and see whether the returners succeed in forming anything resembling a state in the normal sense of the term.
The Chinese are licking their lips dreaming of exploiting Afghanistan's "endless reserves of strategic metals".
Whether or not such reserves actually exist is beside the point. What the Chinese need to think about is the actual possibility of looting those versions of King Solomon's Mines at a time when Chinese businessmen and engineers are being assassinated in supposedly friendly Pakistan. Further along the way, Beijing would also have to worry about the Wakhan Pass becoming a corridor for exporting the Taliban's "true Islam" to Xinjiang (East Turkestan).
The Pakistanis might think that their Taliban "allies" will help them secure "strategic depth" against India. But that could work in the opposite direction, with the Taliban reviving Kabul's 100-year dream of annexing the Pashtun-populated parts of Pakistan. It is no accident that Taliban spokesmen refuse to recognize the so-called Durand Line, the border fixed by the British in the 19th century to divide Pashtun tribes. Worse still, Pakistani leaders may soon face the revival of the Pakistani version of Taliban, responsible for more than 30,000 deaths since 2000.
The Khomeinist mullahs in Tehran are also drinking orange juice to celebrate the Taliban's return. In a webinar held by the official news agency IRNA, Khomeinist "experts" expressed jubilation at what they see as "humiliation of the American Great Satan." They need to read, or re-read Machiavelli's "The Prince" to ponder some diabolical possibilities. What if the Taliban are coming back with the blessing of the "Great Satan" to revive their initial mission of outflanking Iran from the east as it comes under growing pressure on its west?
After all, haven't the same trio of Hamed Karzai, Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai and Zalmay Khalilzad, who helped create the made-in-USA Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, re-emerged as key players in Taliban's return through a simulacrum of negotiations ending with Joe Biden's "travel agency" in Kabul?
Vladimir Putin, too, might be wise not to laugh at America, even though Biden's leadership might remind one of the Keystone Cops. Unlike the USSR that was defeated by the Mujahedin in a real war lasting a decade, for reasons we can't yet fathom, Biden decided to let the "terrorists" walk back into Kabul without a fight.
The Taliban's foreseeable failure in providing anything resembling effective governance in what is a difficult terrain could open more space for other "holy warriors" dreaming of a global caliphate and the return of " all lands that were once under Islamic rule" which would include vast areas from Russia to the Iberian peninsula.
The Europeans are right to be worried about a tsunami of refugees triggered by the Taliban, with the threat of hundreds of terrorists pouring in as part of that amorphous mass. But they, too, know that whatever happens next, they won't be able to devise an effective policy without US participation, if not leadership.
Turkey's president Recep Tayyip Erdogan is talking of "special relations" with the Taliban in pursuit of his dream of a pan-Turkish "commonwealth" from the Balkans to China. He, too, is bound to find out that Taliban can never offer anything but a nightmare.
The immediate question everyone faces is whether or not to recognize the Taliban as a legitimate government.
The answer should be clear for two reasons. To start with, the current international doctrine is that no government produced through war and violence should be granted de jure recognition unless and until it has submitted to some form of referendum or elections supervised by the United Nations.
The second is that the US-led intervention, eventually involving NATO members, came in response to the UN's decision that the terrorists responsible for the 9/11 attacks, and those who gave them shelter, should be brought to justice. That would include virtually all of those who might form a Taliban government or, if, thanks to Karzai and Khalilzad, a façade is erected, hold the strings.
Whether or not to legitimize a terrorist group determined to impose a repressive regime on a long suffering nation is the key issue. It cannot be handled without the "Great Satan," now inspiring stand-up comedians, leading the way.
Whatever Fukuyma and others may fantasize about a "world without America" is not for today.
Amir Taheri was the executive editor-in-chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at or written for innumerable publications, published eleven books, and has been a columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat since 1987.