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Afghanistan’s Next Chapter

The country is on the cusp of another transition, and the defining features of the new phase remain to be seen. In assessing the future, it will be important to reflect upon the recent past, in order to break the cycle of unlearned lessons that have brought Afghanistan and its interlocutors to this point.

NEW DELHI – The recent geopolitical history of Afghanistan can be divided into five phases. But now it is at the cusp of another transition, and the defining features of the new phase remain to be seen.

During the first phase, from 1974 to 1979, Pakistan began to give refuge and training to Islamists who could be deployed against Mohammed Daoud Khan’s government. Then, from 1979 to 1989, Pakistan, the United States, and Saudi Arabia financed, trained, and equipped the mujahideen who fought against Soviet troops. From 1989 to 1996, Afghanistan was in transition as regional warlords gained power, closed in on Kabul, and overthrew President Mohammad Najibullah. From 1996 to 2001, the Taliban government ushered in a period of wanton savagery and – with the exceptions of Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates – diplomatic isolation.

The fifth phase began in 2001, following the 9/11 attacks. Since then, the US has been embroiled in a war supporting a patchwork Afghan government against a resurgent Pakistan-backed Taliban. The sixth phase raises two questions: Did the US lose the war in Afghanistan and, if so, why?

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