Global and regional power players have political and economic stakes in the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan which will endure after the promised US exit. Pakistan, as well as Iran and China fear spillover effects from instability in Afghanistan: the spread of radical Islamism, terrorism, and illicit flows of drugs and refugees. For Russia, the additional fear is that radical Islamism will spread throughout Central Asia has led to the pragmatic approach of supporting the Afghan government, the political opposition, and the Taliban. Pakistan and India are engaged in limiting each other’s influence in Afghanistan. Pakistan is trying to maintain strategic depth, while India is currently one of the main donors of international aid to Afghanistan. Many political analysts dread chaos and a bloody civil war aimed as maximising gains in the wake of the vacuum created by this hasty withdrawal of US and NATO forces. They apprehend that the Taliban may assume control, taking over vast parts of Afghanistan, either by force or through a deal with the opposition; fragmenting the country further. Thus Afghanistan may return to a situation similar that of 1994, where Sharia rule prevailed. What if one of the warring parties invites terrorist groups back into Afghanistan to fight on their side. The country will once again become a platform for international terrorist organisations. Due to the volatile security situation, all foreign military personnel will be forced to leave. The US military withdrawal may well be followed by financial withdrawal, minimising international financial assistance and thereby making it difficult for the international development and humanitarian sector to carry out its work. It will certainly encourage the uninterrupted flow of illicit drugs, further compounding corruption and organised crime. With the inevitable risk of Afghanistan’s becoming a new front for Daesh, regional actors and neighbouring states such as Iran, China, and Russia will increase both engagement with and support to the Taliban, while continuing to pursue separate national agendas. Proxy wars will definitely become the order of the day, once more. Afghanistan should be included in China’s BRI in order to increase the independence of the Afghan economy. The issue raises the question as to whether regional powers are basing their engagement in Afghanistan on local interests or else on geopolitical interests vis-a-vis the US However, this nightmarish scenario will not only be unacceptable to the vast majority of Afghans — but also to the entire region. Almost all the regional and neighbouring countries earnestly aspire for peace and stability in Afghanistan. But the question remains: how to ensure this? The viability of a sustainable peace settlement depends on the support of regional actors, especially Pakistan, and development of the Afghan economy. All regional actors need to increase investments, for example by including Afghanistan in China’s BRI (Belt and Road Initiative), in order to increase the independence of the Afghan economy. The issue raises the additional question as to whether the regional powers are basing their engagement in Afghanistan on local interests within the region, or else on geopolitical interests vis-a-vis the US. The commitment and priorities of neighbouring states and regional powers such as Iran, Pakistan, and Russia greatly depend on the ability of the US to communicate the long-term plan for commitment. Moreover, the viability of peace depends on the government capacity in handling numerous challenges: endemic corruption; organised crime that specialises in the opium trade; human rights abuses; and the patron-client system that marginalises the majority of the Afghan population. However, it is pertinent to mention that the current regime in Afghanistan sees itself as irrelevant and marginalised from the ongoing peace initiatives and seems to suffer from severe panic attacks. President Ashraf Ghani and his National Security Adviser (NSA) Hamdullah Mohib have recently spewed venom against Pakistan and its security institutions. This shows their utter frustration with the political situation in Afghanistan and their malice towards Pakistan. It is almost as though the Afghan leadership wants to divert attention from their own rampant corruption in Afghanistan by unnecessarily criticising Pakistan. The Afghan NSA is well known for his irresponsible remarks and dubious background. He was barred from all meetings with the American officials after his questionable comments against the US. Both Ghani and his NSA have little credibility in Afghan society and no stakes in peace since their families are settled abroad. Both of them have been snubbed and criticised on various occasions by the US and the international community for doing little for peace. Pakistan has always strived for a friendly government in Kabul. Therefore, Islamabad has made a conscious choice to appear as a neutral actor in the Afghan peace process by not positioning itself with either party. During various deadlocks between the Afghan government and the Taliban at the Doha negotiations, Pakistan opted not to intervene. Instead, it formally acknowledged President Ashraf Ghani as the new head of state, and expressed its desire to work closely with the Afghan government in the future. This has also improved Pakistan’s credibility before the international community in its commitment to ensuring the desired outcome from the Intra-Afghan Dialogue. Furthermore, improving its bilateral relations with Afghanistan is of utmost significance to Pakistan, in the context of India too. Although India may not be an active participant in the peace process, it has its own interests in Afghanistan’s stabilisation. India has always had good ties with Afghanistan’s elected governments. Its interests in Afghanistan are simply to use its territory to checkmate Pakistan’s power and influence in the region. By establishing a strong relationship with both the Afghan government and the Taliban, Pakistan can reduce India’s economic, political and security influence in Afghanistan. Accordingly, Pakistan should hope for a coalition government in Kabul. A Taliban-led government may have visible tilt towards Pakistan, but Pakistan may not want them to be in complete control. A 1990s Afghanistan on Pakistan’s western front would lead to the resurgence of terrorism and militancy in the region by empowering terrorist groups in Pakistan. It is important to know that under the terms of the withdrawal, Washington has pledged to “hold the Taliban to its commitment to ensure Al Qaeda doesn’t threaten” the US and allied interests. But if Afghanistan descends into civil war after the departure of American troops, the result will be a failed state in the heart of South Asia that once again has the potential to become a magnet for extremism, with far reaching implications for the entire region. India may also see the deteriorating peace and security as opportunity to launch its old malicious campaign against Pakistan, labelling it as a state which sponsors terrorism. This could prove to be a daunting challenge to Pakistan’s credibility which is hard earned due to its critical role as a facilitator and negotiator in the Intra-Afghan Dialogue. Likewise, Pakistan cannot confront more backlash from the international community for not doing enough to curb terrorism. Pakistan has done massive work to ensure compliance of the 27-point agenda agreed with FATF (Financial Action Task Fore) and thus get its name removed from grey-list during the upcoming plenary in late June. Pakistan’s role in ensuring an enduring peace in Afghanistan cannot really be over-emphasised. Therefore, the future of peace and security in the region depends upon the role Islamabad chooses to play in the Afghan peace process. It will also largely depend on the much needed support by Washington and cooperation extended by the incumbent regime in Kabul. The writer is a civil servant by profession, a writer by choice and a motivational speaker by passion!