The United States maintained an estimated force of 140,000 troops in Afghanistan before President Obama announced its withdrawal. In addition, many private contractors and so-called advisors were also dispatched to the country. These men were purportedly sent on a mission,in response to 9/11,not only to eradicate Al-Qaeda from Afghan territory but also to stabilise and reconstruct the war-torn nation. However, this ostensibly very holy and extremely noble endeavour has failed to materialise despite an almost two-decade-long campaign. In fact, the Afghans seem to be worse off today than they were during the Taliban regime. Terrorism continues to ravage the country while hunger and disease take their toll on those who escape suicide bombings and IED explosions. Nonetheless, Donald Trump today believes he can not only prevent the Taliban from taking over the entire country but also cleanse Afghan territory with only 10,000 soldiers. Is it possible? History suggests otherwise. This raises another important question: Is terrorism the real agenda in Afghanistan? A closer examination of America’s Afghan policy indicates otherwise. Afghanistan is a landlocked country located at the heart of South Asia. In the north, it is neighboured by the energy-rich Central Asian states of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan while Russia lies in close proximity. Nuclear-Armed Pakistan is placed at the South-East. The so-called rogue state of Iran is positioned to the West. China, an emerging challenger to US hegemony, is situated to the East. Afghanistan is surrounded on all sides by resources that America craves and competitors that Washington dreads. The September 11 attacks not only enabled an American overthrow of the Taliban regime but also presented Washington with an opportunity to realise the pipeline dream through a military presence in Afghanistan Presence in Afghanistan serves three major objectives of American foreign policy. One, it enables American multinational corporations to materialise and dominate the prised oil and gas pipeline business linking Central Asia to South Asia, Africa and Europe through Afghanistan. Two, America can easily expropriate the large a reservoir of mineral ores in Afghanistan. Third, it permits America to keep an eye on its competitors — rising China and resurging Russia as well as other regional powers such as India, Pakistan and Iran. The pipeline politics first emerged during the 1990’s, particularly when the Taliban were in power. Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan were keen to export their oil and gas to energy-starved countries of South Asia and Europe. This could only be accomplished by constructing long pipelines. The lure of lucrative profits associated with the exploration of oil and gas fields in Central Asia and the subsequent construction of pipelines dragged Russian, American and even Argentinian companies into a fierce competition. Senior executives from all major multinational corporations vied with the Taliban for contracts to build these pipelines through Afghanistan and onwards to Pakistan, Iran, India and Europe. General Naseerullah Babar is reportedly the man who conceived the idea and route of these pipelines through Afghanistan. However, civil war in Afghanistan presented a major obstacle to the realisation of this dream. Moreover, Russia and America could not reach an agreement on an adequate share of business in this intercontinental project. Meanwhile, 9/11 occurred, and the United States obtained a moral pretext to invade Afghanistan. The September 11 attacks not only enabled an American overthrow of the Taliban regime but also presented Washington with an opportunity to realise the pipeline dream through a military presence in Afghanistan. However, despite a long and sustained presence in the country,American administrations have failed to comprehend the internal tribal and political dynamics of the country. A complete breakdown of law and order coupled with a strong Taliban resistance to western forces has prevented the construction of any pipeline to this day. The second reason to remain in Afghanistan is its vast natural resources. US Geological Survey estimates suggest the country is endowed with 60 million tons of copper, 2.2 billion tons of iron ore and 1.4 million tons of rare earth elements. This vast reservoir of minerals coupled with the internal weakness of the country is an open invitation to plunder and loot by powerful nations. Consequently, and unsurprisingly, the United States and its western allies have seized upon the opportunity to confiscate the enormous wealth of Afghanistan. Finally, the country’s strategic location is another inducement for America’s long-term military presence. As mentioned earlier, Afghanistan is neighboured by Russia and China — the two major challengers to American supremacy. A sustained presence in Afghanistan enables the United States to gather intelligence on its rivals by stationing itself at their doorsteps. It can also connive with India to foment trouble in Balochistan to sabotage the CPEC. Kulbhushan Jadhav is a prime manifestation of this agenda. Similar secessionist and terrorist activities can be planned, financed and supported in Central Asia to stir up disturbances at Russia’s borders. The Iranians can also be monitored and interfered with in a similar fashion.This is why presence in Afghanistan is so critical to America’s hegemonic designs. If terrorism were the real issue to invade a country for almost two decades, then perhaps Somalia warrants such a large-scale invasion much more than Afghanistan or Iraq. But fortunately, the Somalis are neither surrounded by Chinese and Russians nor have they so far presented a lucrative oil and gas business proposition. The writer is an engineer-turned development practitioner. He can be reached at email@example.com Published in Daily Times, May 21st 2018.