Surely, the US did not fight a 13 year war merely to leave Afghanistan in the hands of an immature and incompetent Afghan government. If one is aware of US strategic objectives in South Asia and Central Asia, one will come to the quick realization that despite the ISAF withdrawal on 31 December 2014, the US intends to stay around. Looking at US history post 1945, once the US enters, it is difficult to get it out, as to date US troops remain in Germany, Japan and Iraq. Long before the proposed ISAF withdrawal, the US was involved in negotiations with the Karzai government to sign a Security Agreement that would allow the US to continue further into Afghanistan, along with NATO forces. The proposed Security Agreement evolved around elongating the presence of US troops, securing military bases for the US, as well as immunity for US soldiers in Afghanistan. On 9-5-2013, Hamid Karzai announced, “America intends to establish nine bases in Afghanistan.” He also said, “We agree to give the US these bases” and said, “Serious negotiations are being conducted on these issues with Americans.” In a statement by Pakistani Senator and Chairman of the Senate Defence Committee, Mushahid Hussain, on 14-09-2013, after his return from a four day visit to Kabul, he clarified that the total number of US and NATO troops will be approximately 20,000. He elaborated that there were over 100,000 U.S. contractors who were engaged in various security and other related responsibilities for both Afghanistan and Pakistan. This number would not be affected by the withdrawal of ISAF.

In an article published 12-09-2013 in the Military Times, General Joseph F Dunford, the commander of ISAF and U.S. Forces Afghanistan stated: “Beginning in January 2015, U.S. and coalition forces will begin a new but significantly smaller mission called Resolute Support, which will focus on completing the development of Afghan security institutions. Americans serving as advisers will help the Afghans develop the expertise and capacity for functions such as planning, budgeting, logistics and intelligence. With a relatively small footprint, the U.S. and our coalition partners will cement our hard-fought gains and make sure what we’ve done over the past twelve years is enduring. While Afghanistan still faces many challenges, for America it is headed in the right direction towards an outcome. A political solution will be needed to end decades of war in Afghanistan. We can best support an outcome that protects our national interests by remaining engaged in this region, supporting the Afghan people and the ANSF, holding the Afghan government accountable for needed reforms, and facilitating a diplomatic solution to the conflict.”

This proposed smaller mission still amounts to considerable size and on 30-09-2014, the US and Afghan government signed a Bilateral Security Agreement that permits the US stay till 2024 and beyond. Under the Bilateral Security Agreement’s annexes, the US military will have access to nine major land and airbases, to include the massive airfields at Bagram, Jalalabad and Kandahar, staging areas not only for air operations in Afghanistan but the US drone strikes that continue across the border in tribal Pakistan. The additional bases – in Kabul, Mazar-i-Sharif, Herat, Helmand, Gardez and Shindand – ensure the reach of the US military throughout Afghanistan. These bases will naturally allow the US to enforce much needed stability in Afghanistan that stems from its objective to access and control energy supplies from Central Asia. The Central Asian States are landlocked countries, and hence depend on other countries for transit routes. The US wishes to route the resources via Afghanistan to Pakistan, as the shortest path to a sea port is the Afghanistan-Pakistan route. Moreover, during the global economic crisis, such a route requires the minimum costs. Adopting the alternative Russian route is fraught with difficulties. As an example, in January 2009, in a dispute with Ukraine, Russia cut off the complete supply to Ukraine, resulting in 60% of the supply to Europe being cut. So given stability in Afghanistan, the US can naturally induce the Central Asian States to consider this route. Subsequently, the US has pushed hard for the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline, whilst simultaneously working against the (Iran-Pakistan-India) IPI pipeline, with TAPI better serving US strategic objectives of establishing a stranglehold over the Central Asian states energy resources and out-competing Russia and China for these prized resources.

Bearing this in mind, whilst the US has secured bases through the Afghan government, the US realises that she will be hard pushed to stabilize Afghanistan without solving the tribal dilemma in Pakistan. Afghanistan will not be stable without overcoming the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani networks. Therefore it is not surprising that the US has continuously told the Pakistan army to do more over the last 13 years in the tribal areas, with numerous military operations directed towards cleaning out tribal areas to assist in the stabilization of Afghanistan. Indeed, dependency on Pakistan is great, as mentioned by the US Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff, Martin Dempsey, in an article published 19-07-2013 in the Economic Times, in which he stated: “Our strategic and national security goals remain to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaeda and to prevent the return of safe havens in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This would not be possible without Pakistani support.” So the US is neither able to defeat Al-Qaeda without Pakistani support, nor subdue the Afghan Taliban without Pakistani support. Hence, the solution in Afghanistan is dependent on Pakistan.

To conclude, the withdrawal of ISAF is just an illusion and a myth, with the US and NATO lingering on in Afghanistan, with it looking to secure stability in Afghanistan to establish hegemony over Central Asian resources. For this much needed stability, Pakistan is crucial; without Pakistan there is no possibility of the US achieving its objectives and this makes Pakistan central not only to its objectives in Afghanistan but wider objectives in South and Central Asia, such as out-competing Russia and China, blocking the emergence of an independent Islamic project and constructing India as a counter weight to China’s economic growth in the region.

The writer is an assistant professor of political science at LUMS.