It’s been 40 years since the Iranian Revolution took place, creating disorder in the Middle East and altering its balance of power. Both Saudi Arabia and Iran have long coveted supremacy and domination over the other, but they have come across an endless conflict that seems unlikely to be fixed as yet. Be it any civil war, uprising or insurgency; Iran and Saudi Arabia always seem to be involved. The real tension began when Ayatollah Khomeini came into power, sparking a rivalry between the two theological states. The Middle East has since been smoldering as this conflict had a devastating effect on the region. For now, what the policymakers must remain concerned with is not the cold war between Iran and Saudi Arabia; but the emergence of a new key player in the region. Like the radical regime of Iran that rose after ousting the last Shah of Iran — the Taliban are set to plug the power vacuum left after the withdrawal of the United States (US) from Afghanistan. They have been successful in bringing the Allied forces to a stalemate despite the military might that the latter possesses. America too seems to have realised the political weight of Afghanistan after losing $ 1 trillion in the Afghan War. Although Zalmay Khalilzad is confident that until everything is agreed on, nothing is a done deal. Moreover, he also affirms that a complete ceasefire is guaranteed after the withdrawal, forcing the Taliban into peaceful politics. Despite all the apparent diplomacy, the Taliban strenuously want the Americans to withdraw from their homeland at all costs and in future, even if they break their vows, the Americans will be reluctant to come back. The US shall remain coy about Afghanistan it will leave behind for the region, with the Taliban still not defeated and a hasty peace deal in progress. Presumably, it seems that the Taliban are in want of peace after a long war and are ready to negotiate if a withdrawal is assured. Still, post-withdrawal Afghanistan raises a myriad of apprehensions about regional stability. A shift in the regional paradigm can be contemplated and the Taliban will certainly be given a chance to choose their foes and associates. As far as now, Iran seems to have an influential role in bringing the Taliban to the table and will continue to foment a cordial relationship with the fighters. Conflicts are likely to break out as proxy wars will find a center stage in Afghanistan where the scrimmage for influence and control might dispel the peace. The stark verity of the 1990s Afghan civil war is a lesson for the pragmatic ones. How vulnerable are the Afghan forces in the post-withdrawal scenario is obscure, and vital to comprehend before sealing any conclusive agreement with the Taliban. The Afghan army is characterised by a staggering 47 percent desertion rate of trainees in the US, and 18 percent serving officers as highlighted in the SIGAR report. Human resource productivity and utilisation in the battlefield is essential to plan; despite, funneling a mounting $41.8 billion on training the Afghan army, it has withered in war. Their defeat can be traced to their frail human intelligence resource. In asymmetric (fourth generation warfare) guerilla warfare, technological advancement, and evolving cyber warfare — it is pivotal to equip the soldiers with the expertise, and knowledge to combat terrorism. Afghanistan does not have a NACTA-like intelligence apparatus which has coordinated successful operations from Zarb-e-Azb to Radd-ul-Fasaad in Pakistan. Undoubtedly, the NDS (National Directorate of Security) of Afghanistan has topnotch digital intelligence equipment but lacks Human Resource development for clandestine operations. Throughout history, it is an established norm that the US withdraws leaving behind chaos. Developing nations like Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Egypt were all left in tatters owing to US involvement in the Arab Spring The Afghan army possesses low morale and is financially dependent upon the US and other NATO powers. Rife with corruption, nepotism, and ineffective war strategies, the Afghan National Army (ANA) is imploding under its own structure; a stark reality in this regard is the statement of Major General Richard Caiser, the Combined Security Transition Commander, who claims to have erased the names of 30,000 ghost soldiers mostly in the 215th Corps of the ANA. Fuel, food, and weapons pilferage all amount to the ANA’s rising attrition rate as their officers are interested in plundering money rather than fighting insurgents. Ghost soldiers are a disaster for both the military and the taxpayer. Additionally, operations cannot be planned with inaccurate, and unverifiable records of troop strength, therefore, this aids those who are exacerbating the war rather than resolving it. In 2015, SIGAR emphasised on the importance of an audit of the ANA since $300 million were lost as ghost soldier salaries to the Afghan army. This is alarming for the US as well as local Afghans. The Afghan security forces have to chalk out a framework to keep their adversaries at-bay in the post-war withdrawal. The Taliban are not the only actors in the war in Afghanistan, rather the Islamic State, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), and multifarious movements are garnering for dominance in Afghanistan. In my perspective, the mindset of the officers, and commanders needs to be widened in defense, intelligence, cyber-networking, and war studies through joint courses in foreign institutes in the US, particularly, in the context of guerilla warfare. Only after successful reduction in war causalities should the US withdraw; since a hasty withdrawal would not only affect the Afghan government but the ample sum of money spent on the training of Afghan forces would also be squandered. Similarly, over 70,000 Afghan lives have been rendered in the war against terrorism; such pandemonium could have been averted through timely negotiations. Apprehensions pertaining to the internal strife within the Afghan army fabric will escalate with chances of a renewed hotbed of war. There are numerous families who would not accede to Taliban rule losing their loved ones An unforgiving and relentless vicious cycle of warfare would not cease without the consensus of all stakeholders. Russia, India, China, and the Middle Eastern actors all will grapple for supremacy over Afghan minerals through lobbying for puppet governments. Today, in Trump’s presidency, America is striking a deal with the Taliban without the Afghan government on board. Surprisingly, the government along with other people with whom the US cooperated before negotiations are all vying for a post-departure political plan which can evolve a perilous hotchpotch of competing parties in Afghanistan. Throughout history, it is an established norm that the US withdraws leaving behind chaos. Developing nations like Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Egypt were all left in tatters owing to US involvement in the Arab Spring. The ultimate question stands whether the Trump administration is serious about its aim to simply withdraw its troops and descend Afghanistan into another civil war, or leave a comprehensive settlement behind it. The power players negotiating with the Taliban need to mend their ways in dealing unilaterally with the situation. Rather, a planned exit should be foreseen. A hasty withdrawal would mean choosing to lose, no matter how rationalised. Peace and stability in Afghanistan is imperative for the long term repose of the region. Muqeet Tahir Malik and Abdul Fatir Khan are unwavering followers of International affairs, with a focus on political and diplomatic relations. Their writings and content are derived from cross examination and analysis of contemporary developments, history overlay and information Published in Daily Times, February 28th 2019.