America’s allies in Europe and Asia thought they had learned to digest and compensate for the instinctive unpredictability of President Trump. But the bitter resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and an abrupt announcement of plans to withdraw troops from Syria and Afghanistan are being viewed as watershed moments for Washington’s relations with the world. Many countries were already trying to recalibrate their relations with Mr Trump, who views traditional allies competitors. From South Korea to Japan, France to Germany and other countries in the NATO alliance, senior officials have been talking aloud about how to do more on their own and ways to be less reliant on a Washington focused on ‘America First’.But they also had faith in Mr Mattis, who presented himself a man of continuity and of traditional alliances, and who worked to strengthen them considerably regardless of the views held in the White House. He was also regarded by traditional allies as their most sympathetic and effective conduit to Mr Trump and as the “adult” of last resort able to restrain, balance or ignore the whims of an unpredictable president. Many American allies had faith in Mr Mattis, who as defence secretary worked to strengthen traditional alliances despite opposition from the White House. Mr Trump is often scornful of America’s decades-old network of multilateral alliances and sees them as a costly burden. They were created after the catastrophes of World War II, both in Europe and in Asia, and aimed at supporting delicate, battered democracies and deterring the ideological and imperial ambitions of both Communist powers, Russia and China. These alliances cost the American taxpayer real money, of course, but the payments were not altruistic – they prevented the United States from having to engage in yet another global conflict, another world war. And they created increasingly wealthy markets for American products, both industrial and agricultural. In turn, many allies fought alongside the United States in its wars – in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. When Al Qaeda attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, NATO exercised Article 5 of its treaty: If one NATO country is attacked, all NATO countries will be considered under attack and will join in defence.India fears that an Afghan political settlement will lead to the restoration of a Taliban-led government. It is now scrambling to preserve its ‘assets’ in Afghanistan through the good offices of Iran and Russia. China holds the most important ‘unplayed’ cards in the game. It has the financial and diplomatic clout to bring all the regional players – Pakistan, Iran, Russia and the Central Asians – on boardMany analysts say that the United States has been so indispensable for so long at the geopolitical table and hence Mr Trump’s volatility and disregard for allies could fundamentally diminish America’s global clout if the country is no longer seen as a dependable ally. According to political analysts, like-minded countries moving on without the United States as well as countries such as China, Russia and Iran filling the void that has been created, US withdrawal can only lead to more global insecurity, which will negatively impact the United States as much as Europe. No other country in the world symbolizes the decline of the American empire as much as Afghanistan. There is virtually no possibility of a military victory over the Taliban and little chance of leaving behind a self-sustaining democracy – facts that Washington’s policy community has mostly been unable to accept. While many American troops stay behind steel-reinforced concrete walls to protect themselves from the very population they are supposed to help, it is striking how little discussion on Afghanistan has generated in government and media circles in Washington. When it comes to Afghanistan, Washington has been a city hiding behind its own walls of shame and frustration. While Chinese, Pakistanis, Indians and Iranians are all developing competing energy and mining projects in and next door to Afghanistan, the United States appears to have little commercial future in the country, even though it spends about $45 billion there annually. The total cost of the war could reach as high as $2 trillion when long-term costs are factored in, according to Brown University’s Cost of War Project. All that to prop up an unstable government that would most likely disintegrate if aid were to end.On the other hand, India fears that an Afghan political settlement will lead to the restoration of a Taliban-led government. It is now scrambling to preserve its ‘assets’ in Afghanistan through the good offices of Iran and Russia. China holds the most important ‘unplayed’ cards in the game. It has the financial and diplomatic clout to bring all the regional players – Pakistan, Iran, Russia and the Central Asians – on board. Obviously, these cards will be played by Beijing in the context of the current tense transition in the wider US-China relationship. The endgame in Afghanistan is evolving rapidly. Expectations of an end to America’s long military adventure in Afghanistan have unleashed multiple moves to shape the country’s future. Among them, Pakistan is presumed to enjoy the greatest influence due to its perceived relationship with the ascendant Taliban. Islamabad confirmed its influence in arranging the participation of high-level Taliban representatives in the recent Abu Dhabi talks. Islamabad’s positive diplomatic role, coordinated with China, and responsive to the interests of other regional players, must also be leveraged to advance Pakistan’s interests: normalisation of Pakistan-US relations; elimination of Balochistan Liberation Army and TTP terrorism from Afghan territory; return of Afghan refugees, and expansion and smooth implementation of CPEC, its acceptance by the US, and the GCC’s partnership in the enterprise.Published in Daily Times, January 25th 2019.