History 420 - Dr. Gayle Olson-Raymer

Afghanistan, Pakistan, and U.S. Foreign Policy - A Historical Perspective

Map of Afghanistan and surrounding countries


Methods Discussion: Read the Map.

Carefully examine the above map showing Afghanistan at the center. What did you learn about Afghanistan from reading the map?


Goals for today's discussion:

  1. To understand the geopolitical realities of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the Central Asian Republics (CARs).
  2. To learn the history of Afghanistan through five stages, with special emphasis on U.S. foreign policy and involvement in the region through the late-20th through the early 21st Centuries.

Goal #1: To understand the geopolitical realities of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the Central Asian Republics (power point)


Goal #2: To learn the history of Afghanistan through five stages, with special emphasis on U.S. foreign policy and involvement in the region through the late-20th through the early 21st Centuries.

In order to understand Afghanistan today, we have to take a detailed historical tour of Afghanistan's history over the past 5000 years. We will do that through a chronology of at least five distinct stages:

  1. 3000 BC - 1747 AD: Afghanistan's multi-ethnic tribal society was shaped by its geographical location at the crossroads of many great civilizations.
  2. 1747-1919: Afghanistan became a nation under control of a single ruler from the Durrani Tribe as well as a cornerstone in the imperialistic designs of Russia and Britain.
  3. 1919-1973: Afghanistan's rulers tried to turn a multi-ethnic tribal society into a modern state that, in turn, lead to periodic tribal revolts and internal turmoil.
  4. 1773-1789: The Republic of Afghanistan began with a power shift from the Durrani monarchy to Communist-backed rule which stimulates first, an internal war between the Soviet-backed Communists and the growing power of Islamic fundamentalist tribal leaders and second, 10 years of war that began with the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
  5. 1989-to the present: Afghanistan was torn apart by internal struggles for control and by the two responses to 9/11: the U.S. response, Operation Enduring Freedom, and the U.N. International Response.

Selected Chronology of Afghanistan's History

First Stage Afghanistan History, 3000 BC - 1747 AD: Afghanistan's multi-ethnic tribal society was shaped by its geographical location at the crossroads of many great civilizations.

3000 BC-2000 BC. The Indus Valley civilization ruled over most of ancient Afghanistan - which was the economic, social, and political crossroad between Mesopotamia and eastern civilizations.Map of Median Persian Empire 600 BC

600 BC. The Median/Persian Empire conquered ancient Afghanistan.

522 BC--486 BC. The Achaemenid/Persian Empire overthrew the Median Empire. The Persian Empire was plagued by constant bitter and bloody tribal revolts from Afghans living in Arachosia (Kandahar, and Quetta)

329-326 BC. Alexander the Great conquered Persia, including Northern Afghanistan. Greek rule began but was plagued by constant revolts among the Afghan people.

Map of Silk Road 1st Century

170 BC-160 BC. The Greco-Bactrian Empire conqueredand ruled most of Afghanistan.

50 AD. The Kushan Empire conquered the Greco-Bactrian Empire. Within 200 years, the empire fragmented into petty dynasties.

400 AD. The Central Asian, nomadic White Huns or Huna conquered present-day Afghanistan and Pakistan, leaving most the area in ruins. The Huna made their capital in Bamyan where they began to destroy the Buddhist culture.

550 AD. The Persians in the Sassanian Empire reasserted control over all of what is now Afghanistan.

642 AD. The Arabs conquered Persia and invaded Afghanistan from the west, thereby introducing Islam into the region. At the time, Afghanistan had many different independent rulers and the Muslims were not welcomed. Mountain tribes attacked the Arab conquerers, making exploration of the area almost impossible.

963 AD. The Ghaznavian Empire, a Persian/Muslim dynasty of Turk orgin, conquered Persia, Afghanistan, and most of present day India. It's capital was Ghazni which is currently located in Central Afghanistan.

1219-1221. The Mongol Empire under Genghis Khan invaded Map of Mongol EmpireAfghanistan and the surrounding region. The irrigation systems in Afghanistan were destroyed, turning fertile soil into permanent deserts. Intermarriage between the Mongols and local tribes led to the origins of the modern-day Hazara ethnic group.

1500-1700s. Afghanistan was divided among several foreign entities: the Uzbek Kingdom of Balk in the north, the Safavid Persians to the west, and the Moghul Empire, a Persian/Islamic dynasty, in the east ruling from its capital in Kabul.

1700 Due to thousands of years of invasions, Afghanistan had become ethnically diverse. Western Afghanistan was home to Persian speakers (Dari, as the Afghan Persian dialect is known); central Afghanistan was dominated by the Hazaras who also spoke Dari but were converted to the Shiite branch of Islam under the Persians; western Afghanistan was inhabited by Tajiks, who also spoke Dari; northern Afghanistanwas home to Uzbeks, Turkmans, Kyrgyz, and others who spoke the Turkic languages of Central Asia; and in the south and east, the Pastuns spoke Pashto, a mixture of Indo-Persian languages.

1736. The Persian leader, Nadir Shah, occupied southwest Afghanistan and in 1739, he occupied Kandahar. Throughout his rule, he faced widespread Afghan resistance.

Second Stage Afghanistan History, 1747-1919: Afghanistan became a nation under control of a single ruler from thePashtun, Durrani Tribe as well as a cornerstone in the imperialistic designs of Russia and Britain.

1747. Ahmad Shah Abdali, of Abdali Pashtuns (later known as the Durrani Pashtuns), founded the modern state of Afghanistan and made its capital at Kandahar. By 1772, Ahmad Shah Durrani's empire extended from Central Asia to Delhi, from Kashmir to the Arabian sea - thus giving it free access to ocean trade. After centuries of fragmentation, Afghanistan was under the domination of a single local ruler who, for the first time, had support from most of the tribal leaders. The already existent divisions between the Durrani and Ghilzai tribesAfghanistan in 1772continued until the Durrani lost power over the centralized state of Afghanistan in 1973.

1773. Ahmad Shah died, plunging Afghanistan into civil war over disputes about his heir. The capital of Afghanistan transferred from Kandahar to Kabul.

1809 The British and Afghans signed a treaty of mutual defense against Russia that set the Great Game into motion - a confrontation between the British and Russian empires. Both powers viewed the presence of the other power as a threat to their imperialist interests and viewed Afghanistan as a buffer state Map of world in 19th Centurybetween their empires.

1834 Shuja Shah tried to regain the throne by marching a Sikh army through Punjab, (now Pakistan), the northern region in India closest to Afghanistan.

1836. The Afghan prince, Dost Mohammad Khan, defeated the Shuja Shah west of Peshawar, but lost the city. Dost Muhammad contacted the British governor general of India asking for help to regain Peshawar, thereby formally setting the stage for British intervention.

1837. With backing from Russia, a Persian army besieged the city of Herat. The British saw this as a threat to their interests in India, and began to fear a Russian invasion of the North-Western frontier of Afghanistan.

1839-1843. The First Anglo-Afghan War erupted.

1843-1895. The British greatly expanded their empire at the expense of the Afghan nation once ruled by Ahmed Shah Durrani.

1878- 1880. The Second Anglo-Afghan War was the second time the British invaded Afghanistan. The war ended after the British emerged victorious against the Afghan rebels and the Afghans agreed to let the British obtain their geopolitical objectives. Most of the British and Indian soldiers withdrew from Afghanistan. The Afghan tribes were permitted to maintain internal rule and local customs but they had to cede foreign control to the British who were trying to stop the expansion of the Russian Empire into Indian. The British then installed Abdur Rahman Khan on the throne.

1880. The reign of Abdur Rehman began and continued through 1901. His reign was characterized by modernization and efforts to unite the diverse tribes of Afghanistan under his control and under the banner of Sunni Islam. He achieved such consolidation in three ways: suppressing various rebellions by following up his victories with harsh punishment, execution, and deportation; decreasing the power of his most powerful Pashtun enemies, the Ghilzai, and other tribes by moving them from southern and south-central Afghanistan to areas north of the Hindu Kush with predominantly non-Pashtun populations; and creating provincial governments different from old tribal boundaries, giving provincial governors a great deal of power in local matters and placing an army at their disposal to enforce tax collection and suppress dissent. During his reign, Abdur Rahman eroded the power of tribal organization as provincial government officials allowed land to change hands outside the traditional clan and Map  of Durand Line 1893tribal limits.

1893. The British foreign secretary of India, Sir Henry Mortimer Durand, signed an agreement with Afghan ruler, Amir Abdur Rehman Khan separating Afghanistan from what was then British India. The Durand Line established a 1,600 mile border between Afghanistan and British India, splitting Afghan tribal areas and leaving at least half of Pashtun Afghans in what is now Pakistan. The most contested Afghan loss was the North-West Frontier Provinces - an area that is currently part of Pakistan and whose national control has been contested since the Durand Line was established.

1907. Russia and Great Britain signed the Convention of St. Petersburg, which brought about the end of the Great Game when Russia recognized Afghanistan as a semi-protectorate of Great Britain.

1919. The Third Anglo-Afghan War occurred.

Third Stage Afghanistan History, 1919-1973: Afghanistan's rulers try to turn a multi-ethnic tribal society into a modern state which, in turn, leads to periodic tribal revolts and internal turmoil.

(Note: All print in green below involves a relationship between Afghanistan and the United States)

1919-1929. Amanullah Khan Photo of King Amanullah(photograph below) created new cosmopolitan schools for both boys and girls, overturned centuries-old traditions such a strict dress codes for women, increased trade with Europe and Asia, and advanced a modernist constitution that allowed for equal rights and individual freedoms.

1921. Afghan leaders reached out to the United States asking for assistance in developing its natural resources. Over the decade, several Americans recommended to the U.S. State Department that the United States pay greater attention to Afghanistan. No governmental response ensued.

1924. The Khost rebellion was a response to Amanullah Khan's modernizing achievements. Occuring in the southern tribal provinces, the year-long war found Islamic tribes rising up against the government. The rebellion was brutally put down, with 14,000 people perishing.

1929. Amanullah Khan abdicated and Habibullah Kalakani took control of Afghanistan. Several months later, he was overthrown and killed by his rival, Nadir Khan. Within two years, Nadir Khan established full control of Afghanistan, abolished the modernization reforms of Amanullah Khan, and backed a new constitution giving he and his family broad powers. Much of his support came from rural,Photo of Mohammed Zahir Shah in 1963 conservative mullahs.

1933. Nadir Khan was assassinated by a college student, and his son, Zahir, inherited the throne which he ruled until 1973. Mohammed Zahir Shah (photograph to the right) was the last king of Afghanistan.

1934. The United States formally recognized Afghanistan.

1937. The U.S. Inland Exploration Company received a 75-year lease for oil exploration in Afghanistan. Within a short period, Inland paid a penalty and withdrew from the lease.

1942. The U.S. established its first American legation in Kabul.

1947. Britain withdrew from India. British India was divided into Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan - without an Afghan presence in the official partition agreement.

1948-1955. Afghanistan repeatedly approached the United States for assistance to modernize their army. The U.S. rejected such requests, largely because it was reluctant to incur any obligation to Afghanistan should it be threatened by the USSR.

1948. The U.S. aligned itself with Pakistan, while Pakistan made it clear that it was determined to block Afghanistan's territorial claims to the North-West Frontier Province.

1949. Afghanistan's Parliament - the Loya Jirga - denounced the Durand Treaty and refused to recognize the Durand line as a legal boundary between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Pakistan sought closer ties with the United States to protect it against Afghanistan.

1950s. King Zahir Shah continued to rule over the Afghan monarchy, providing a weak central government. Most Afghans had no nationalistic ties and instead, were led by local tribal leaders (khans) and teachers of Islam (mullahs). Beginning in 1973, the real ruler was the Afghan prime minister, the King's cousin and brother-in-law, Mohammad Daoud.

1955. In March, Pakistan closed the border between the two nations for five months during which it refused transshipments of goods to or from Afghanistan. Afghanistan appealed to both Iran and the U.S. for alternative routes to the Persian Gulf or Arabian Sea, but both nations denied assistance. Consequently, Daoud turned to the USSR for assistance in guaranteeing an exchange of Soviet petroleum and building materials for Afghan goods.

1956. The U.S. issued the Baghdad Pact Planning Study on Community Inspired Threat to West Pakistan which warned of a clear opportunity for the USSR to align with Afghanistan in its pursuit of a Pashtunistan ally "that borders on the Arabian Sea, [and] places the Soviets in the position ... of posing a threat to sea lines of communication in the Persian Gulf, the Arabian Sea, and the Indian Ocean." But it was too late; Afghanistan had already aligned itself with the Soviets.

1960s. Two large modern universities arose - Kabul Polytechnic and Kabul University - and fostered a new Afghan intellectualism. As the decade progressed, tensions within Afghanistan grew out of class, ethnic, and religious differences between four groups: the urban-centered, foreign-educated elite who ran the nation's bureaucracy; the officer corps from the wealthier Afghan families who were increasingly radicalized by Soviet influence; the ethnic minorities - Hazara, Tajik, Turkmen, and Uzbek - whoe each had their own culture and history; and the radical Islamists mostly from the rural areas who opposed attempts to modernize Afghan life.

1961. Pakistan and Afghanistan severed diplomatic relations and ended all border traffic between the two nations. Pakistan closed its borders to the Pashtuns on the Afghan side of the border. Afghanistan became almost entirely dependent on trade with the Soviets.

1964. The King ordered the convening of a Loya Jirga to draft and approve a new Afghan constitution. Although most of the 452 people (including six women) assembled could be expected to support the King, members elected from the entire nation also participated. After 10 days of meetings, on September 20, all the members of the Loya Jirga signed the new constitution. On October 1, the King signed the constitution and it became law of the land.

1965. On January 1, the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) was founded byAfghans from diverse leftist Communist groups who united for the principal purpose of gaining parliamentary seats in the elections. Four PDPA members won parliamentary seats. In September, Afghanistan held its first nationwide elections under the new constitution.

1970s. Fundamentalist, radical Islamist parties arose throughout the Middle East in reaction to failed secular Arab nationalist movements. By the end of the decade, such fundamentalist groups had gained strength at universities, especially in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Egypt, and Jordan.

Fourth Stage Afghanistan History, 1973-1989: The Republic of Afghanistan began with a power shift from the Durrani monarchy to Communist-backed rule which stimulated an internal war between the Soviet-backed Communists and the growing power of Islamic fundamentalist tribal leaders as well as a ten-year-war that began with the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan which, in turn, launched the Afghan resistance movement.

1973. On July 17th while Zahir Shah was on vacation in Europe, Mohammad Daoud Khan Photo of Muhammed Daoud Khan(photograph to the right) and the PDPA led a military coup. Daoud Khan abolished the monarchy, declared himself the first President of Afghanistan, and established the Republic of Afghanistan. Daoud turned to the Soviet Union for aid to try to crush a growing Islamic fundamentalist movement and to try to modernize the state structure.

1978. The Communist coup, called the April Rebellion, occurred during which President Daoud and his family were killed and Nur Mohammad Taraki took power as head of the country's first Marxist government. This coup brought an end to more than 200 years of almost uninterrupted rule by the family of Zahir Shah and Mohammad Daoud.

1979-1989. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan tore the nation asunder.

1979. Hafizullah Amin, who had become prime minister, was opposed to Taraki, and in October, Taraki was secretly executed, with Amin becoming the new president. Widespread resistance to the new government spread to about two-thirds of the nation.

1981. President Ronald Reagan promised $3.2 billion to aid Pakistan in its support of the Afghan rebels. Saudi Arabia agreed to match U.S. financial support to Pakistan's efforts against the Afghan rebels.

1982. The ISI began to recruit radical Muslims from around the world to come to Pakistan and fight with the Afghan rebels. Pakistan had standing instructions to all its embassies abroad to give visas, with no questions asked, to anyone wanting to come and fight in Afghanistan. Between 1982 and 1992, more than 100,000 "Arab Afghans" from 43 Islamic countries were either trained in Afghanistan or educated in Pakistani and Afghani madrassas.

1983. U.S. intelligence and other sources indicated that the USSR was willing to withdraw from Afghanistan. The U.S. Congress and President Reagan worked to continue the war in the hope that it would become the Soviet Vietnam and that an Afghan victory would totally defeat the USSR.

1985. President Reagan signed National Security Directive No. 166 ordering the US to use all available means to compel the Soviets to withdraw from Afghanistan. The CIA immediately began supplying and training rebel mujahideen resistance fighters in Pakistan.

1986. The CIA began providing Stinger anti-aircraft missiles to the mujahadeen which allowed them to destroy the Soviet air advantage. Eventually, the U.S. provided over 2,000 anti-aircraft missiles to the mujahadeen.Photo of  Mohammad Najibullah

1987. The $30 million requested by the CIA in 1984 for the Afghan resistance had grown to $630 million in 1987; each increment was matched by the Saudis.

1988. Osama bin Laden created al Qaeda (the base) as a service center for Arab Afghans and their families to forge a broad-based alliance.

1989. The USSR was defeated and withdrew from Afghanistan, ending the war that lasted 10 years, claimed 1.5 million Afghan and between 40-50,000 Soviet lives, and forced somewhere between 3-5 million Afghanis to leave the country.

Fifth Stage Afghanistan History, 1990-to the present : Afghanistan was torn apart by internal struggles for control and by the two responses to 9/11: the U.S. response, Operation Enduring Freedom, and the U.N. International Response.

1990. The United States and the Soviet Union agreed that President Najibullah would remain in power until internationally regulated elections could be held. Najibullah introduced a multi-party system and refugees began to return home.

1991. The USSR fell and its dissolution began as shown in the map below. ( Post-Soviet states in alphabetical order: 1. Armenia, 2. Azerbaijan, 3. Belarus, 4. Estonia, 5. Georgia, 6. Kazakhstan, 7. Kyrgyzstan, 8. Latvia, 9. Lithuania, 10. Moldova, 11. Russia, 12. Tajikistan, 13. Turkmenistan, 14. Ukraine, 15. UzbekistanMap of dissolution of USSR.) The mujahadeen began fighting each other for control over the drug trade, for liberation of their country from Najibullah's rule, and for control over CIA, Pakistani, and Saudi weapons.

The CIA concluded that the mujahadeen were of no further use to the U.S. and cut off all support. President Najibullah held a press conference and desperately appealed to the U.S. for help - warning that without its assistance in rebuilding the nation, the mujahadeen would tear the nation asunder. The U.S. declined his appeal.

1992. The Afghan Civil War formally began after rebel troops ousted President Najibullah on April 25th. The newly formed Islamic State of Afghanistan came into existance as the mujahadeen fought to control Kabul

1993. California based oil giant Unocal began to Map of actual and proposed pipelines through Afghanistanresearch a plan to construct a pipeline between Turkmenistan and Pakistan through Afghanistan.

1994. Saudi Arabia stripped bin Laden of his citizenship for his anti-monarchical activities.

1996. Sudan expelled bin Laden who then moved to Afghanistan where he lived under the protection of the Taliban. Bin Laden issued his first declaration of jihad against the US which he declared occupied Saudi Arabia. "The walls of oppression and humiliation cannot be demolished except in a rain of bullets."

1998. In July, the Taliban successfully took over Mazar - thus controlling over 90% of the nation. Shortly thereafter, the Taliban killed between 6,000-8,000 Hazara, Uzbek, and Tajik.

Map of Afghan Civil War

1999. The ex-king of Afghanistan, Mohammad Zahir Shah, called for a Loya Jirga to discuss ways of bringing peace to the country and dealing with the competing powers of warlords, but the Taliban ridicule his attempts at establishing peace.

2001. In March, despite pleas and requests from various international diplomats and Islamic scholars, the Taliban destroyed ancient historical statues in the Kabul Museum, historical sites in Ghazni, and blew up the giant Bamiyan Buddhas from the 5th century.

2002. In March, US-led forces launched Operation Anaconda in an attempt to destroy al Qaeda and Taliban forces fortified in mountainous positions in eastern Afghanistan. The 16-day operation ended with several results: the US and Afghan forces removed the majority of the Al-Qaida and Taliban presence from the Shahi-Kot Valley; US forces suffered 80 casualties in the operation, with 8 killed and 72 wounded, whhile al Qaeda and Taliban estimates ranged from 100 to 1,000 casualties; and an unknown number of al Qaeda fighters were able to escape the Shahi-Kot Valley into Pakistan.

2003. The U.N. advised Afghan refugees not to return and NATO took control of security in Kabul, marking the organization's first operation outside of Europe in its history. (The photograph to the right is of US/NATO troops patrolling poppy fields in the Kandahar region.)Photo of U.S./NATO troops patrolling poppy fields in Afghanistan

2004. In January, Afghanistan adopted a new constitution making the nation a republic with three branches of government (executive, legislative, judiciary)

2005. Afghanistan held the first parliamentary elections in more than 30 years.

2006. A robust insurgency began against the U.S.-backed Afghan government by a coalition of Taliban, warlords, and Afghan and Pakistan tribal militias. Between 2002 - 2006, the overall number of insurgent attacks increased 400 percent while the number of deaths from such attacks increased 800 percent. The number of suicide attacks quadupled. In 2007, the number of insurgent-initiated attacks increased 27 percent.

2008. As of July , hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars had been spent on permanent infrastructure for foreign military bases in Afghanistan, including a budget of $780-million to further develop the infrastructure at just the Kandahar Air Field base.

2009. In January, the U.S. began work on $1.6 billion of new, permanent military installations at Kandahar. In February, the New York Times reported that the U.S. would build two large new military bases in southern Afghanistan: one in Kandahar province near the Helmand border, and the ther in Zabul, a province largely controlled by the Taliban

2010. In January, Taliban commanders held secret exploratory talks with a United Nations special envoy to discuss peace terms. Regional commanders on the Taliban's leadership council sought a meeting with the UN special representative in Afghanistan and it took place in Dubai on January 8. It was the first such meeting between the UN and senior members of the Taliban. On January 26, at a major conference in London bringing together some 70 countries and organizations, Afghan President Hamid Karzai told world leaders that he intended to reach out to the top echelons of the Taliban within a few weeks with a peace initiative.

Map international Troop Levels2 010

2011. In January, President Karzai made his first official state visit to Russia by an Afghan leader since the end of the Soviet invasion in 1989.

2012. In May, NATO endorsed the plan to withdraw foreign combat troops by the end of 2014, giving security responsibilities to Afghan forces. The new French President Francois Hollande said France would withdraw its combat mission by the end of 2012 - a year earlier than planned.

2014. Over 450 U.S. military bases had been built in Afghanistan.Map of U.S. Bases in Afghanistan

2015. In January, a NATO-led follow-on mission "Resolute Support" got underway, with some 12,000 personnel to provide further training and support for Afghan security forces.

2016. In January, the Taliban controlled more territory than at any time since American forces kicked them out of power in 2001. The government in Kabul was largely dysfunctional, a new peace process was not in the works, and the U.S. no longer had a long-term strategy for Afghanistan.


To summarize :

  1. Throughout the first phase of Afghanistan's history, 3000 BC to 1747AD, Afghanistan's multi-ethnic tribal society was shaped by its geographical location at the crossroads of many great civilizations.
  2. During the second phase of Afghanistan's history, 1747 to 1913, the Pashtun Durranis came to power and tried to unite its multi-ethnic tribal society into a single modern nation. This period witnesses two major problems: internal civil wars about tribal control over Afghanistan; and external interference from two of the world's greatest imperial powers - England and Russia - who became embroiled in what became known as the Great Game.
  3. During the third phase, 1919 to 1973, which began after the end of the Third Anglo-Afghan War, Afghan rulers tried to turn their multi-ethnic tribal society into a modern state, only to meet major resistance from Islamic tribal members in the rural parts of the nation
  4. The fourth phase began with the Communist-backed military coup in 1973, continued with a Communist take over in 1978 and ended in 1989 with the withdrawal of the USSR from Afghanistan after a ten-year Cold War battle that found the U.S. and Pakistan funding a covert war of fundamentalist Muslims against the USSR. The consequences of this Communist-backed era and the ten-year war have had a long-term effect on Afghanistan:
  5. This brings us to the fifth and current stage, 1989 to the present, as we see Afghanistan again torn apart by both internal and external struggles: internal struggles about who will control the national government, and two external responses to 9/11- the U.S. response, Operation Enduring Freedom, and the U.N. International Response.

In conclusion, we should think critically about the words of Paul D. Miller who served as director for Afghanistan and Pakistan on the National Security Council staff from 2007 through 2009.

"... the war in Afghanistan and its aftermath are likely to have far-reaching consequences for the United States and the world. Americans are likely to be far more wary about intervening in other countries or volunteering troops for peace-building missions abroad—unjustifiably, since the under-resourced and deadline-constrained American intervention in Afghanistan is hardly an ideal test case for the principle of intervention. NATO has been strained badly by the war and almost certainly will not attempt another out-of-area operation for the foreseeable future. Ongoing instability in Afghanistan risks spilling over into Pakistan, a highly dangerous scenario. The war has inflicted irreparable damage on U.S.-Pakistani relations, but without the benefit of having actually won the war and pacified Pakistan’s western border. The failure to foster effective governance in Afghanistan means that transnational drug traffickers effectively have free run of a large swath of South Asia.

The U.S. and Afghan failure to reign in corruption has tarnished democracy’s reputation both in the country and beyond it. The project of liberal order-building, which the United States has spearheaded since World War II, took an unnecessary hit because of Obama’s poor wartime leadership in Afghanistan (and Iraq).But even that is not the most damning consequence of Obama’s legacy in Afghanistan. The war was, first and foremost, the frontline global U.S. counterterrorism efforts against the transnational jihadi movement. In 2011, Leon Panetta, then serving as Secretary of Defense, claimed that al-Qaeda was near strategic defeat. The same year President Obama assured Americans that the “tide of war is receding.” Both statements were false, as critics argued at the time and as later events proved. The Administration failed to understand the essential conditions of victory in war: the creation of an alternate just political order. Without a stable and legitimate political order in Afghanistan, there will be no end to political violence there ...

Some critics, in their eagerness to highlight the flaws in President Bush’s handling of the war, argue the U.S. government had unrealistic ambitions for democracy and good government in Afghanistan. But this criticism misses the point and fails to explain what the alternative should be. Whether or not Afghanistan is ready for democratic government—and we should note that Afghanistan’s first democratic constitution was ratified in 1964—it needs an effective government. Competent, functioning institutions are the precondition for any sort of future stability in Afghanistan."

Paul D. Miller, "Obama's Failed Legacy in Afghanistan," The American Interest, February 15, 2016 at http://www.the-american-interest.com/2016/02/15/obamas-failed-legacy-in-afghanistan/