Who'll keep the peace in Afghanistan?

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Just hours before the August 31 deadline, US forces have fully withdrawn from Afghanistan after almost 20 years.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.


The US can't wait to get out, but that doesn't mean Afghanistan is no longer America's problem. For the US, the chaotic withdrawal and the first deaths of American soldiers since the 2020 peace deal with the Taliban are a sobering reminder that it'll have to continue keeping a close eye on the country. After all, ensuring Afghanistan would never be the staging ground for another 9/11 was the whole point of invading it in the first place.

Complicating things further, Afghanistan will soon become a blind spot for US intelligence. With no boots on the ground, it'll be very hard to figure out if ISIS-K or a resurgent al-Qaeda are planning attacks on US interests. Musings about the US sharing intelligence with the Taliban are wishful thinking at best, so an embattled Joe Biden needs a workaround.

If the US wants to stay in the Afghan intel loop, it'll have to rely on friends who are more willing to work with the Taliban. Two important ones are NATO ally Turkey and Qatar, which the Taliban have reportedly asked to help maintain security and run Kabul's airport. Both have yet to respond to the offer, but they'll certainly consider it because they have an interest.

The Turks want to keep Afghanistan as stable as possible to prevent a mass exodus of Afghans that'll end up in Turkey trying to reach Europe, while the Qataris — who hosted the Taliban leadership during the US peace talks — have emerged as an unexpected diplomatic heavyweight in this crisis.

There's also one influential Afghan neighbor with a complicated relationship with the US: Pakistan. The Pakistanis are arguably the country that stands to benefit the most from the military success of the Taliban, the brainchild of Pakistan's intelligence service. But they too want to avoid further mayhem, especially if that means the Pakistani Taliban creating trouble along the shared border, as well as even more Afghan refugees in the country that already hosts the most by far.

US-Pakistan relations have sourced since the 2011 US killing of Osama bin Laden on Pakistani soil and over countless deaths of Pakistani civilians in American drone attacks, leading Islamabad to pivot closer to China (which has come with its own set of problems). Regardless, the Pakistanis have leverage with Uncle Sam because the US will need access to their airspace to launch drone attacks from Qatar on terrorists inside Afghanistan. Islamabad may oblige, perhaps for more billions of dollars worth of US military aid in return.

Two US adversaries that also want a stable Afghanistan are China and Russia. The Chinese have long hinted that they'll recognize the Taliban if they restore some semblance of law and order, because Beijing wants Afghanistan to hop onto its Belt and Road in exchange for access to its mineral riches. Xi Jinping knows the Taliban need money that doesn't come from opium, while the Taliban know Xi needs assurances that Chinese-built infrastructure won't be blown up by ISIS-K or anyone else.

Meanwhile, the Russians, with a long history of jihadist violence on their own soil, are doing their part to help secure Afghanistan's porous borders, hoping the Taliban will return the favor by keeping militants away from the former Soviet republics of Central Asia.

Ultimately, though, it's really up to the Taliban. As the country's de facto rulers, they must prove they can maintain security. But the same way they've learned that taking power is much easier than running a country, the Taliban will soon realize that keeping the peace will be a lot harder than winning the war.

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Germany's historic moment of choice is finally here, and voters will stream to the polls on Sunday for the country's first post-World War II vote without a national leader seeking re-election. They will elect new members of the Bundestag, Germany's lower house of parliament. The leader of the party that wins the most seats will then try to secure a majority of seats by drawing other parties into a governing partnership. He or she will then replace Angela Merkel as Germany's chancellor.

If the latest opinion polls are right, the center-left Social Democrats will finish first. In coming weeks, they look likely to form a (potentially unwieldy) governing coalition with the Green Party and the pro-business Free Democrats, which would be Germany's first-ever governing alliance of more than two parties.

Change?

Though he's a man of the center-left, Olaf Scholz, current finance minister and most likely next chancellor, wouldn't represent a radical break from Merkel. He's among the more fiscally frugal of Germany's Social Democrats, and after decades in German politics, he's an experienced technocrat and a skilled manager of political alliances.

Nor would a change in government radically shift Germany's foreign and trade policies. Its new government, whoever it includes, will keep strong security ties with the United States and NATO and protect opportunities to expand economic relations with China. Germany's dependence on Russian energy will demand a continuation of Merkel's pragmatic approach to Vladimir Putin's government.

Scholz's conviction that a strong and cohesive EU is good for Germany will limit any temptation to get tougher with the governments of Poland and Hungary over their violations of EU rules and principles. And aware that COVID can widen gaps between richer and poorer EU countries, and that anti-EU economic populism remains a potent force in Italy and elsewhere, he's likely to support a generous approach to pandemic recovery in southern Europe.

But climate policy, an area where Merkel concedes she should have done more, will be an important and interesting story to watch. Given its leadership within the EU and its standing as the world's fourth largest economy, the influence of Germany's next government on climate policy will be crucial to global climate strategies. A new German government with Scholz as chancellor will likely push the pace of transition from carbon to renewable energy, at least in part because the Green Party coalition partner will push for this as hard as it can. The Greens must show progress on the climate front to maintain political credibility and popularity. If the Free Democrats are indeed part of the coalition, they'll push hard to limit tax increases to pay for tougher climate action, but they won't blow up the coalition that gives them a seat at Germany's governing table.

Merkel's legacy

Even in a country that values stability and continuity, Angela Merkel's 16-year run is remarkable. More than once she's proved the maxim that it's not the smartest or strongest who survives, but the one most adaptable to change. Merkel is smart and strong, to be sure, but she'll be remembered longest – by both devoted admirers and bitter critics – as the leader who insisted Germany could and should do more to help indebted countries survive Europe's sovereign debt crisis (2010-12) and to manage the surge of migrants that followed unrest in the Middle East (2015-16). Her improvisational talents also led her to change tack on nuclear power (after the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan) and on common European debt.

But the main reason Merkel leaves power with an 80 percent approval rating is that, whether she receives more credit than she deserves, she has presided over a period of economic expansion and prosperity in Germany that few other world leaders can match. It's all the more remarkable then that her party looks set to find itself in opposition once a new government is formed. It's Merkel that German voters like, not her political family.

Bottom-line: Whatever he accomplishes as Germany's next chancellor, Olaf Scholz will find Angela Merkel a tough act to follow.

Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, shares insights on US politics:

Is a US government shutdown coming?

Hard to say. Republicans and Democrats generally are in agreement about the need to fund the government. And they generally agree at what level the government should be funded. And they generally agree about the need for supplemental money for Afghanistan and some natural disasters, coming out of hurricanes this season and wildfires. What they're not in agreement about is the federal debt limit, which is the cap on US borrowing that the US hit in early August and needs to be extended by some time in October. Otherwise, the US will have a first-ever default. This would be a very bad outcome with cataclysmic results for the entire world economy.

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Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel has seen a lot during her 16 years in power. She's navigated a global economic recession, multiple wars in the Middle East which sparked an EU refugee crisis, and now a once-in-a-generation pandemic. Often the only woman in the room, Merkel has had to learn to tactfully deal with dozens of idiosyncratic world leaders. Many have come and gone since 2005, but Merkel has won elections again and again. We take a look at who she's dealt with from the top democracies (by economic size) throughout her tenure.

In May 2020, economic historian Adam Tooze told GZERO World he feared 1 in 5 American workers could still be out of job now due to COVID. It didn't happen. Why? Tooze says he failed to anticipate how quickly we'd get highly effective vaccines, and the scale of the economic stimulus the government was willing to put up. During the 2008 financial crisis, he explains, "we were still beginning to flex our muscles with regards to economic policy, and the scale of fiscal and monetary stimulus that we've seen is as unprecedented as the shock of the spring of last year."

Watch Tooze's interview with Ian Bremmer on the latest episode of GZERO World, airing on US public television starting Friday 9/23/21. Check local listings.

Will Evergrande be China's Lehman Bros? Chinese authorities are bracing for the increasingly likely default of Evergrande, the country's most indebted property developer. If Evergrande — a gargantuan corporation with properties in 200 cities across China — stiffs its creditors, that'll send shockwaves throughout the country's financial system, and the wider Chinese economy and society. The possible ripple effects on home buyers and countless companies and individuals that do business with or are owed money by Evergrande have invited comparisons with Lehman Brothers, the US investment bank whose 2008 collapse triggered an American financial crisis that quickly spread to the entire world. Although in principle authoritarian China has ways of containing the fallout, the potential for social unrest is real — and opacity could make it worse. More broadly, the demise of such a big player in the country's once-booming real estate market, which accounts for over 7 percent of GDP, would expose the shaky foundations of China's debt-driven economic growth model, eroding confidence in China both at home and abroad.

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Betrayal. Treason. Duplicity. These are some of the words used by the French government to describe the US' recent decision to freeze Paris out of a new security pact with the UK and Australia in the Indo-Pacific, which nixed a contract for Australia to buy French submarines.

Macron's subsequent tough stance against one of its oldest and closest allies is unusual, including his decision to briefly recall the French ambassador from Washington, the first time a French president has done so. But this headstrong strategy is also a deliberate diplomatic choice.

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