Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Afghanistan note

Via Amnesty International.

I don't know exactly what to think about the Biden plan for Afghanistan, except to say no, Ross, it's not Trumpism—it's President Obama, who set dates for complete withdrawal by April 2010 during the 2008 campaign; by 2014 in June 2011 and by 2016 in May 2014; and in 2015, Obama fixed a last date for withdrawing all the troops, in 2017, but the guy who was president in 2017 reversed that, almost doubling the number of troops to 14,000 instead. Obama's policy, wanting to withdraw them bet never quite managing to do more than draw them very far down, from 100,000 at peak in 2010 to 8,400 when he left office, has so far been the same as Biden's, who campaigned to bring them back by this May and has now pushed it back to September. Whereas Trump's policy, as ever, was to follow the advice of the last person he spoke to before posting the tweet, with varying results, because he spoke to different people.

It's become clear that nothing NATO troops do in Afghanistan is going to make the situation there any better, after 20 years. It's not clear that pulling troops out will make it any worse, especially, than it is, either: US military seems certain that the likelihood of another redoubt of anti-US terrorists living in the mountain caves under Taliban protection the way the Qa'eda did 20 years ago is extremely low, and they think they could handle it from outside the country if it did. Is it likely the Taliban will sweep through the country, destroying the social progress the capital has seen over the past 20 years, the way they did in 1996-98 with the social progress they had made during the time of Soviet dominance, pictured at top? That's the implicit threat that the corrupt and feckless Kabul government seems to be holding out—"Protect us, or they'll come and stick all the women back in purdah!"

Even some of the women in government are getting fatigued with the argument, per The Times, though:

“It is too early to comment on the subject. We need to know much more,” said Fatima Gailani, an Afghan government negotiator who is involved in the continuing peace talks with the Taliban. “One thing is certain: It is about time that we learn how to rely on ourselves. Women of Afghanistan are totally different now. They are a force in our country; no one can deny them their rights or status.”

and there are signs that the simmering "civil war", which continues to kill people all the time in spite of the presence of NATO, isn't a new struggle between two sides but the old multilateral warlordism that never went away:

As American troops prepare to leave and fractures form in the Afghan government, militias controlled by powerful local warlords are once more rising to prominence and attacking government forces.

I'd ask people to remember this: Afghanistan has never been a country, but a very big frontier, between the Persians of Iran in the west, the Turkic populations of former Soviet Central Asia and China to the north and east, and the Indic people, mainly Pashtun, of Pakistan and India to the south; the Taliban are Pashtun, not "Afghan" to the extent there is such a thing at all, and the charisma that enabled them to seize so much territory back in 1998 is gone; they're just another warlord group now, corrupt and creepy (Russia may still be helping them out financially, but stopped that bounty program over a year ago, and is now actively engaged with the US, alongside China and Pakistan, in brokering peace talks).

Maybe instead of worrying, as we tend to do, about whether NATO is "abandoning" the crappy old regime set up by the Bush administration, we should think of withdrawal as offering the best chance to people like Fatima Gailani to assert themselves. That—as opposed to propping up President Ghani—is the only prospect for an actually good outcome, inside Kabul at least. We'll keep sending money, and political advisers as long as it's safe. Why not try treating it as something that could be good for Afghanistan?

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