In perhaps the most important foreign policy decision of his administration, President Joe Biden has decided to withdraw all American troops from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021. This marks the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on America’s two most important global cities by some jihadists, masterminded from Afghanistan. Given an opportunity, he would have liked to postpone the crucial decision, but he was running short of time ever since he entered the White House. Even Biden will not be sure that his decision would ensure a stable, secure, and prosperous Afghanistan. But he had to make the decision since there is a strong demand in the US to end the ‘forever war’.

What makes Biden’s decision different from that of his predecessor, Donald Trump, is the absence of any conditionality involving the troop withdrawal. This is equivalent to defeat; almost akin to offering Afghanistan to the Taliban without ensuring that they forsake any links with the al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups in Afghanistan. The point is that the US decision is taken under compulsion of America’s domestic circumstances, in defiance of accepted wisdom (the Pentagon wants to maintain at least a modest troop presence), yet without any comprehension of how Afghanistan will look like after September 11.

In all fairness, we don’t have any answer to Biden’s question: “No one wants to say that we should be in Afghanistan forever, but they insist now is not the right moment to leave. So, when will it be the right moment to leave? One more year? Two more years? Ten more years?” But his exit announcement will have far-reaching implications on both domestic and regional stakeholders in the Afghan conflict. Though technically everybody still expects them to, the Taliban has no incentive now to agree for a power-sharing deal with the Kabul regime, led by President Ashraf Ghani.

The peace conference between the Afghan government and the Taliban in Turkey, previously scheduled during 24 April to 4 May to decide the foundational principles of the future Afghan political order, has now been postponed. Turkish Foreign Minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, has said that the talks were moved until after the holy month of Ramadan ending in mid-May. But the real reason for the delay is non-participation from the Taliban. Clearly, the exit deadline makes it less imperative on the Taliban to consider agreeing to a ceasefire, which is essential for any forward movement in the peace process. Once the Americans reach home, the Taliban will certainly resort to war, taking it to its logical conclusion by capturing Kabul.

Though the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, was in Kabul to reassure Afghan leaders about America’s “enduring” partnership, coinciding Biden’s announcement to leave Afghanistan, it remains to be seen how long the Afghan security forces will hold the triumphant Taliban at bay. Rhetoric notwithstanding, the sudden US exit will expand, not limit, the zone of religious intolerance, extremism and authoritarianism in and around Afghanistan. It requires a huge leap of faith to believe that the Taliban have transformed a great deal, and will not like to alienate the international community by indulging in indiscriminate violence to impose an Islamic Emirate over non-willing populace.

Biden’s decision to leave Afghanistan has given Pakistan much to cheer about. Since Pakistan has maintained all along that there is no military solution to the Afghan conflict, it is a moment of vindication for Pakistanis. The US-Taliban deal in February 2020 was made possible with Islamabad’s backing. Pakistan has a considerable influence over the Taliban, and it has played the most important role in bringing them to the negotiating table. As Rawalpindi has always wished to indirectly control Afghan decision-making authority, particularly on foreign relations with India, the Taliban’s inevitable return to Kabul will provide Pakistan with the ‘strategic depth’ vis-à-vis India. Despite Biden’s pronouncements of giving a key role to India after the drawdown, New Delhi’s leverage with Kabul is set to decline.

But strategic victories always bring tactical headaches. Things might not turn as rosy as they appear now, and Islamabad is aware of the challenges it will face following the complete American exit from Afghanistan. Since the Taliban’s heavy-handed tactics will invariably invite spirited backlash from the non-Pashtun leaders, Afghanistan might descend into a bloodier civil war, forcing Pakistan to manage the flow of refugees. Pakistan is not in a position to deal with an unstable and faltering neighbour when its own economy is on a life-support mission from the IMF loans. Pakistan’s ‘iron brother’, China, will also lose if the Taliban forcibly make a bid for total control of Afghanistan, leaving no options for former mujahideen leaders to fight back. Beijing’s ambition to roll out the CPEC in Afghanistan will also receive a setback if the Uyghur insurgents find shelter in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

India has every reason to be anxious about Biden’s exit plan. Countries like Pakistan, China and Russia have their own strategic interests, which are better served without American presence in Afghanistan. But India’s strategic interests have been better served with a strong US military presence. However New Delhi has been on the margins ever since Washington began a formal peace process with the Taliban. Aware of the consequences of a Taliban takeover and fully invested in the democratically-elected government, India has reluctantly supported the intra-Afghan talks between the Taliban and Kabul regime. But it has simultaneously revived its contacts with former mujahideen leaders. Afghan warlord Ismail Khan was recently in New Delhi, during which he met with the India’s external affairs minister, S. Jaishankar.

There was a glimmer of hope in New Delhi when the Biden Administration initially hinted at the possibility of a policy review of the Trump administration’s Afghan strategy. But things seem to have become quite uncertain now. Indian diplomats, who will be attending the Afghan conference in Turkey, would like to know how the US will “hold Taliban accountable” after its troops leave Afghanistan.