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Who'll keep the peace in Afghanistan?

Just hours before the August 31 deadline, US forces have fully withdrawn from Afghanistan after almost 20 years. But the country, now controlled by the same militant group that the American military ousted two decades ago, is nowhere near stable.

Last week's deadly suicide bombings outside Kabul's airport by ISIS-K — the local affiliate of the Islamic State and ideological enemy of the Taliban — have sown fresh doubts about the Taliban's capacity to maintain even basic security once the US is gone.

Major outside players are at odds about how to deal with the Taliban. But they all share a common interest: doing whatever's necessary to prevent further terrorist attacks and a refugee crisis. Let's take a look at a few of them.

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Will Pakistan emerge a winner in Afghanistan?

As the Taliban complete their breathtakingly rapid campaign to retake control of Afghanistan and thousands of people swarm Kabul's airport in a desperate bid to flee the country, the world is watching with bated breath to see what happens next. The US is primarily preoccupied at the moment with completing the withdrawal that set off the Taliban offensive and extracting all its citizens safely, while other countries in the region are already looking ahead and worrying that an Afghanistan led by the Taliban could once again become a staging ground for actions by Islamic terrorists.

Pakistan, however, is much less concerned, given its history of close ties with the Taliban. Eurasia Group analyst Akhil Bery explains that Pakistan stands to benefit from the Taliban's recapture of Afghanistan, though it also poses some risks.

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Would you recognize the Taliban?

The Taliban have returned to power in Afghanistan after two decades. Over the next few weeks and months, a host of foreign nations with a stake in the country's future will have to make a very tough choice: grant legitimacy to a regime that has committed atrocities against its own people, or risk the potential fallout of turning Afghanistan into the isolated, drug-running state sponsor of terror it was prior to US occupation. For some, the decision will depend on how the Taliban behave, while others seem to have already made up their mind.

Here are a few arguments on both sides of the international recognition debate.

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The Graphic Truth: The US can't buy Pakistanis' love

The longstanding US-Pakistan relationship is not an easy one. Despite the billions of dollars the US doles out to Islamabad in economic and military assistance, Pakistanis hold extremely unfavorable views of America and its leadership. After 9/11, Pakistanis held more positive views of the US, but that changed in the 2010s, when the killing of bin Laden inside Pakistan's territory and deadly US drone strikes that killed Pakistani civilians sparked deep animosity against Washington. President Trump then made things worse by playing favorites with India, Pakistan's nemesis. We compare US aid flows to Pakistan with Pakistani views on American leadership over the past two decades.

As the US withdraws from Afghanistan all eyes are on Pakistan

As the US withdrawal from Afghanistan is now well underway, all eyes have turned to a country at the heart of the decades-long struggle for dominance there… Pakistan, where the effects of 20 years of Afghan war have been felt acutely.

Background. During the Cold War, the US and Pakistan worked closely together to foment jihadist resistance to Soviet influence in, and then occupation of, Afghanistan. But after the Soviet collapse, the bilateral relationship got more complicated, especially post 9/11, when the US went to war against the Afghan Taliban regime that still enjoyed close ties to the highly influential Pakistani military.

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What We're Watching: Deadly clashes in Pakistan, Xi Jinping's calendar app, Parisian courts vs Macron

Pakistani radicals vs French cartoons: It's been a tumultuous week in Lahore, Pakistan's second largest city. After widespread protests broke out across the Muslim world late last year after Paris defended French publications' rights to publish satirical images of the Prophet Mohammad, the radical Pakistani Islamist group Tehrik-i-Labaik Pakistan (TLP), gave Pakistan's government until April 20 to expel the French ambassador, when it had planned nationwide demonstrations. When Prime Minister Imran Khan refused to meet their demands, more violence erupted across the country and authorities arrested the TLP leader — prompting TLP supporters to hit back by kidnapping six state security personnel in Lahore this past weekend. Authorities have now banned the TLP outright and are bracing for more violence in the coming days. France, meanwhile, has urged all of its citizens to leave Pakistan.

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What We're Watching: India-Pakistan talk water, Saudis float Yemen ceasefire, Polish writer in peril

India and Pakistan break bread over... water? Representatives from India and Pakistan are meeting this week to discuss water-sharing in the Indus River for the first time since the two countries severed relations following India's suspension of autonomy for Kashmir almost three years ago. It's a big deal — especially for the Pakistanis, whose farmers get 80 percent of the water they need to irrigate their crops from the Indus. Even more importantly, the meeting is also the latest sign of an apparent thaw in Indo-Pakistani ties, starting with last month's ceasefire agreement on Kashmir. A recently released readout of the secret talks that preceded that truce shows unusual impetus by both sides to make progress, and was followed up by rare conciliatory messages between Delhi and Islamabad. Given the long history of animosity between the two nuclear-armed nations -- they have gone to war three times since 1948 -- it's hard to be optimistic, but let's see if these water talks can move things along further.

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What We're Watching: Pakistan PM on the ropes, China's green plans, Colombia's post-peace problems, Thai cat rescue

A body blow for Pakistan's Prime Minister: Imran Khan suffered an embarrassing defeat this week when members of the National Assembly, the country's lower house, voted to give the opposition bloc a majority in the Senate. (In Pakistan, lower house legislators and provincial assemblies elect senators in a secret ballot.) The big drama of it all is that Khan's own Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party holds a lower house majority, which means that lawmakers supposedly loyal to his party voted in secret for opposition candidates. Khan's allies claim that PTI members were bribed to support the opposition, and the prime minister says he will ask for a lower house vote of confidence in his leadership. That vote will not be secret, but even if he survives, the political damage is done. Without a Senate majority, he has no chance of passing key reform plans, including constitutional amendments meant to centralize financial and administrative control in the federal government. Khan has, however, refused to resign.

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