With the Taliban leadership dictating the rules of the game, the final hours of the lost Afghan war were unceremonious and humiliating for the departing US troops on Monday midnight at Kabul airport.
They flew out in waves at the Hamid Karzai International Airport – one lumbering flight after another – leaving behind many blazing issues such as the shape of to-be formed Taliban government or the nature of US diplomatic engagements with the Islamist rulers unsettled.
Foreign aid supply to 18 million people – half of Afghanistan's population – also turned uncertain with the American truly gone as economic and humanitarian crises loom large on the horizon of Kabul.
Amid the celebratory gunfire and fireworks followed by the last US plane departing Kabul, Taliban said "Afghanistan is now a free and sovereign" nation, and new rulers "want to have good relations with the rest of the world", reported Al Jazeera.
More than 1.14 lakh people have been airlifted from Kabul airport in the past two weeks as part of the US effort.
Diplomatic ties: It's up to the Taliban now
The future of Afghanistan entirely lies on the path the Taliban choses – the old cycle of vengeance, or the new way of acceptance and reconciliation. After taking over Kabul, Taliban leaders promised they truly will embrace the new one.
The United States has said it will decide on what to do in the future based on the Taliban's actions – the same rulers the US and its allies toppled in the 2001 invasion, said the The New York Times.
Some countries including Britain have said that no nation should bilaterally recognise the Taliban as the government of Afghanistan.
In a major development Tuesday, the first formal diplomatic meeting between Taliban and Indian delegates took place in Qatar, reported Reuters.
On Monday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced the United States will suspend its embassy presence in Afghanistan, instead opening a new diplomatic outpost to manage relations with Afghanistan in Doha, Qatar.
"The military mission is over. A new diplomatic mission has begun," reported Foreign Policy quoting Blinken.
Before charting out the future diplomatic engagements with the Islamist rulers, the Biden administration, however, will have to first determine how it is able to ensure a humanitarian and economic crisis does not break out in the country, reported Reuters.
According to the United Nations, more than 18 million people require aid and half of all Afghan children under 5 already suffer from acute malnutrition amid the second drought in four years.
Left to their fates
According to CNN, the US departure Monday left out somewhere between 100 and 250 Americans who have chosen to continue to stay in Afghanistan.
Besides, there are tens of thousands of Afghans entitled to protection from former US comrades and an entire nation to their fates under the Taliban rule.
The Biden administration said it expects the Taliban to continue allowing safe passage for the Americans, and others too who want to leave the country after the US military withdrawal.
But there are concerns about how those citizens will be able to leave if there is no functioning airport, says Reuters.
The Taliban are in talks with governments like Qatar and Turkey to seek assistance to continue civilian flight operations from there, the only way for many people to leave Afghanistan, it reported.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Sunday that repairs need to be made at Kabul airport before it can be reopened to civilian flights, said Reuters.
Turkey, which is part of the North Atlantic Alliance (NATO) mission, has been responsible for security at the airport for the past six years.
Keeping the airport open after foreign forces hand over control is vital not just for Afghanistan to stay connected to the world but also to maintain aid supplies and operations.
What kind of threat is posed by Islamic State?
The one area of cooperation between the United States and Taliban could be on the threat posed by Islamic State militants, according to Reuters.
It reported there are questions about how Washington and the Taliban can coordinate and potentially even share information to counter the group.
Islamic State Khorasan (ISIS-K), named after a historic term for the region who is a sworn enemy of the Taliban, first appeared in eastern Afghanistan in late 2014 and quickly established a reputation for extreme brutality.
The group claimed responsibility for 26 August suicide bombing outside the airport that killed 13 US troops and scores of Afghan civilians. The United States has carried out at least two drone strikes against the group since then and Biden has said his administration will continue to retaliate for the attack.
Awaiting the judgement of history
In the upcoming weeks, the US historians and analysts may look back on the failed solutions and the misguided strategies and army officers who assured victory in Afghanistan.
Perhaps the American people will demand accountability for the thousands of lives and trillions of dollars spent in the warfronts that met with the Taliban comeback, with more power the group had 20 years ago.
As for those left behind in Afghanistan, all they can do is look forward, asking themselves and anyone who will listen, "What comes next?". The upcoming weeks may provide more unflattering answers to that question.