BRITAIN’S obsession with Brexit, a species of narrow English nationalism, has blinded us from understanding events in the rest of the globe. A case in point is the continuing, dangerous instability in Afghanistan and the ignominious collapse at the weekend of Donald Trump’s desperate attempt to broker a deal to let America withdraw its remaining troops in that country before next year’s presidential election. As a result, Afghanistan – home base to both the local Taliban Islamist insurgents and the late Osama bin Laden’s still potent al-Qaeda network – is about to re-enter our lives big time.

First, let me put Afghanistan – and related, bloody conflicts in Syria, Yemen and Libya – in context. The neoliberal world order of global free trade and unrestricted movement of capital was billed in the 80s and 90s of the last century as the path to jobs and prosperity (and therefore peace and harmony) for every soul on Earth. This was baloney then, and it’s baloney now. Unfettered monopoly capitalism does not spread wealth globally, rather it concentrates it – and the power that goes with it – in the metropolitan centres.

The upshot of neoliberal globalisation has been uniformly disastrous for individuals in the global South and for the planet’s environment. In the Islamic Middle East, Near East and North Africa, the presence of oil and gas meant those zones were reduced to providing hydrocarbon energy to fuel Western economic expansion. America and Europe colluded with local despotic and military elites – all corrupt to the fingertip – to extract petroleum wealth. No allied process of local industrialisation was permitted that would challenge existing Western interests or profits, so few jobs were created for the burgeoning populations of the Islamic zone. Mass poverty contrasted sharply with the obscene wealth of local, pro-Western elites. Inevitably this sparked popular resistance.

Sadly, this resistance took the form of a millenarian Islamism. In its early forms – the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, for instance – this utopian fantasy of “restoring” a socially just Caliphate in place of the Western satraps took a peaceful direction. But constant domestic repression, plus Western military incursions and support for dictatorial regimes in the name of “stability” (to go on extracting oil), turned the millenarian Islamic revival towards terrorism. From whence was born bin Laden’s al-Qaeda.

The futility of terrorism as a political strategy is that it substitutes pointless carnage – usually involving the innocent – for genuine political mobilisation. Eventually, it also turns its adherents into psychopathic zombies while terrorist leaderships frequently degenerate into using violence for their own enrichment.

Above all, terrorism lets the original oppressor off the hook politically. Thus, after the insanity of the 9/11 attacks, America was given an excuse not only to invade Afghanistan to (ostensibly) eliminate al-Qaeda, but also to get rid of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein. The latter move had absolutely nothing to do with combatting Islamist terror and everything to do with Western access to Iraq’s oil. Paradoxically, with Saddam’s anti-Islamist regime destroyed, the door was wide open for the inevitable rise of Islamic State and the destabilisation of the entire Middle East.

While the West has been absorbed in Iraq, then Syria, and now Yemen, it has – at least at a media level – seemingly forgotten about Afghanistan. Yet, 18 years on from the 1991 Western invasion to overthrow the then Taliban regime and capture Osama bin Laden, we remain involved – there are still 1000 British troops in Afghanistan. Ostensibly, of course, the Western and Nato military involvement in Afghanistan was declared formally over in 2014. But the reality is that the regime of President Ashraf Ghani (an Americanised intellectual who used to work for the World Bank) would not last the month but for his Western-funded army and the presence of 14,000 American troops to train and stiffen its resolve.

Donald Trump campaigned for the White House on a promise to bring US troops home from Afghanistan. But on election, he had to do a reverse ferret and actually increase American troop numbers in order to stave off a complete collapse of the puppet government and the return of the Taliban to Kabul. The Donald, who represents the isolationist wing of American capitalism, has been desperate to escape the nightmare that is Afghanistan ever since. To that end, he has been negotiating directly with the Taliban leadership to bring them into a coalition government with Ghani. In return, Trump offered to start withdrawing US troops immediately.

Unfortunately, the Taliban already control more Afghan territory than at any time since the West invaded in 2001. They have actually stepped up operations in recent days, launching offensives against three provincial capitals. Last week, a US soldier was killed in a suicide attack in Kabul. As a result, Trump has now cancelled a heretofore secret meeting with Taliban leaders at his Camp David retreat.

What are the Taliban up to? One theory in the US media is that their recent offensive is a way of increasing leverage in the negotiations with Trump. However, Trump had already conceded the quick withdrawal of US troops. More likely, the Taliban offensive is aimed at softening the already weak Ghani regime before winter makes military operations difficult, anticipating the inevitable American withdrawal.

Trump was so desperate to sign a deal with the Taliban before next year’s elections that he kept Ghani out of the negotiations (brokered by the Qataris). The secret Camp David meeting was designed as a fig leaf for the hapless Ghani to sign off on the deal. Clearly the Taliban were also bent on humiliating Ghani and destroying what’s left of his meagre support back home.

What happens next? The Taliban movement originally sprang up in the refugee camps in Pakistan sheltering hundreds of thousands of Afghanis who fled the Russian occupation after 1979. It is a typically Islamicist millenarian movement that aspired to create a utopian Emirate of Afghanistan under Sharia law. But the CIA armed the Taliban as part of its covert war against the Soviet Union and created a jihadi Frankenstein in the process.

At the same time, Pakistan recruited the Taliban as a pawn in the latter’s endless conflict with neighbouring India. The recent reckless decision by India to abolish internal home rule in Muslim Kashmir has opened the prospect of another – perhaps nuclear – war with Pakistan. A Taliban government in Kabul will be on Pakistan’s side in this conflict.

There is one other salient fact to remember about distant Afghanistan: it produces 90% of the world’s heroin. In fact, the area under opium poppy cultivation is increasing rapidly. Some 18 years of American occupation have done nothing to limit the Afghan drugs industry. Expect a new Taliban regime in Kabul to use drug exports to fund itself. Also expect the Taliban to give a home and financial support (again!) to al-Qaeda.

All this makes the Brexit quagmire seem like a tea party. But the West caused the Afghan mess and Trump’s cack-handed and self-serving negotiations have likely made it worse. The bottom line is that unless we create an economic system that genuinely brings peace and plenty to every part of the globe, we are all doomed to live with the consequences.