The sudden announcement on December 20, 2018, by President Trump of a 50 percent phased withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan in the next few months, essentially to the dismay of US’ Department of Defence, marked by resignation of Secretary Defense General James Mattis, which either underscores the saying “Every exit is an entry somewhere else” or it may simply mean for America “You enter strong and you exit strong, and you’re going to be OK.” Although it may appear rather too early to write about “Afghanistan post US’ exit”, yet the intricacies involved and preparations needed to ward off potential devastating fallout by the affected countries attach a sense of urgency to consider likely scenarios and reactions by each and every major and minor stakeholder. Some American analysts believe that in deciding to withdraw from Syria and Afghanistan, President Trump is taking a political risk that George W. Bush and Barack Obama avoided after 9/11: being perceived as weak on terrorism. While Trump’s sudden announcement to commence draw down may have more to do with his pre-election promises to pull out from external wars to save money to consolidate internally under America First rubric, yet it also gives rise to many other speculations i.e. admission of defeat in Afghanistan, agreeing to Afghan Taliban’s demands, handing over the Afghan mess to Pakistan, leaving the arena open to their old strategic rival Russia and now China. The second main actor in the Afghan quagmire is the incumbent Afghan Government itself that is visibly upset on Trump’s withdrawal decision as also expressed by Afghan security. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Sunday, December 23, 2018, replaced two of the country’s top security chiefs with staunch anti-Taliban and anti-Pakistan officials, in a major shake-up days after US President Donald Trump’s decision to slash troop numbers in the country. Amrullah Saleh and Asadullah Khalid, both former heads of the Afghan intelligence agency, have been appointed to the critical posts of interior minister and defence minister respectively. Thus reconciliation with warring Afghan Taliban becomes even trickier and may result in heightened militancy, that is bound to undermine Pakistan’s and Chinese re-conciliatory efforts.The third major stakeholder in the Afghan conundrum are the Taliban, who after engagement by the US in UAE in Mid December 2018, appear to have gained a visible upper hand, with the US seemingly wilting under pressure and agreeing on some of their demands. Taliban have always believed that they could wait out invaders, saying,” If America has the watch, we have the time”. With almost 50 percent Afghanistan already under Taliban control or strong influence and public at large disenchanted with so called Afghan Government and unattractive Western promises, the US military drawdown will obviously result in a quick resurrection of Taliban who may not face much difficulty in defeating their new but relatively minor rival Islamic State and other foreign proxies operating from their soil predominantly. Furthermore, the major stakeholders in this imbroglio are; America, the Afghan Taliban, and the Afghan Government who have not agreed to compromise on their well known stances, demands and aspirations. Moreover, regional proxies need to stop and all regional and extra regional stakeholders need to sit on a round table to play a positive role while safeguarding their respective interests. Above all, Afghan Warlords, drug barons, smuggling mafias, installed government and warring factions need to stop exploiting the world and their neighbours and be sincere to their own country and ever suffering population.Some American analysts believe that in deciding to withdraw from Syria and Afghanistan, President Trump is taking a political risk that George W. Bush and Barack Obama avoided after 9/11: being perceived as weak on terrorismPakistan will be well advised to remember that the regional peace in Central Asia and South Asia (CASA) will remain hostage to the power play in Afghanistan; besides, exploitation by emboldened Indian greed. Iran being another affected country because of both instability as well as presence of its arch foe the US in Afghanistan, will be better served by enhancing strategic cooperation with Pakistan instead of allowing itself to be exploited by Indian business charm through Chabahar port and the new road and railway ventures. Pakistan may have to continue to fight on many fronts. Also, Pakistan and the US do not have the option to part ways for regional as well as for global peace and stability. Both countries need to jump over trivial affairs and think beyond Counter terrorism or Afghanistan puzzle. As of now, it is safe to guess that we may find a complete US’ withdrawal well before next presidential elections in 2020; therefore, in the face of enormous challenges associated with troubled and war ravaged Afghanistan that directly threatens CASA region, it will be prudent that all regional and some extra regional countries including China, Russia, Afghan incumbent government, Taliban representatives, Pakistan, Iran and all Central Asian Republics with additional presence of KSA, Qatar, UAE and Turkey join heads to formulate a joint plan to ensure that another round of civil war does not happen and peace and normalcy returns to Afghanistan. Pakistan may like to host the first summit to let the ball rolling followed by China and other countries. The Afghan owned, Afghan led and all inclusive slogan for peace in Afghanistan, now needs to be updated and broadened to make it an all inclusive regional solution for sustainability and durable peace in the region. That may also help in avoiding invasion of smaller countries and the consequent death and destruction of humans, culture, civilisations and economy of smaller countries under fabricated pretexts as witnessed in Afghanistan and other Middle Eastern Countries.All’s well that ends well!Saleem Qamar Butt, SI (M) is a retired senior Army officer with rich experience in Military & Intelligence Diplomacy and Strategic Analysis. (firstname.lastname@example.org)Published in Daily Times, December 26th 2018.