Roundtable Essay

Head, US and the Americas Programme; Dean, The Queen Elizabeth II Academy for Leadership in International Affairs
Michael Keating

The United States has a long and varied history of engagement with Afghanistan. But through all the tortuous turns and ups and downs, the relationship, from the US perspective, has almost always been a transactional one. Given its 'front line' status, Afghanistan has usually been a pawn in a bigger strategic game, initially between the Communist bloc and the capitalist countries in the region (including Iran under the shah, Pakistan, and India) and subsequently between the secular world and radicalized Islam. Afghanistan’s current status as a ward of the United States and international community is unusual and will not last.

This essay suggests that regardless of whether a bilateral security agreement (BSA) is signed between Afghanistan and the United States, and assuming Afghanistan does not again become a haven for terrorism targeting the United States, US interest will diminish. So too will US resources invested in the country - whether military, economic, developmental or diplomatic. Neighbouring powers, such as India, Iran, and Pakistan, who have an immediate stake in a secure, stable Afghanistan, will become more important players. Long memories, the need for strategic depth and the fear that Afghan soil will once again become a battleground for proxy warfare will militate against the realization of the Afghan government’s vision of the country as the peaceful and prosperous 'heart of Asia'.

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This essay was originally published in the roundtable “Afghanistan Beyond 2014: The Search for Security in the Heart of Asia,” Asia Policy, no. 17 (2014): 1–65. For the full roundtable, visit The National Bureau of Asian Research (NBR) retains all rights to this material in all languages.