Afghanistan: why are we all there?

It seemed so logical after 9/11.  Now the end is nigh, are we any further forward?

Talking to the BBC, David Miliband, a former UK Foreign Secretary, said we are entering the end date of 2014 without an end game, and he thinks that's "dangerous".  Arbitrary entry, devised on spurious grounds with little military or nation-building progress made, and now looming departure.  Were we even right to tread on this foreign soil?

Foreign adventures have come adrift in Afghanistan on countless occasions in history as British, Russians and others attempted to coerce the tribal Afghans into line.  We should have learned our lessons from history that Afghanistan is a special state.  A very different place indeed.  Of course, the Afghani Taliban devised and executed an authoritarian regime which to us in the West appeared brutal and illiberal.  To many, if not most Afghans it must have seemed such too.  Who likes to be subjugated?

There was a time in the '70s or so when travellers passed through or stayed awhile in this beautiful and cultured country, when time seemed to have stood still.  The proud, armed and self-assured locals were warm in their acceptance of foreign-ness because they knew their way of life was secure - occasionally fraught with danger and infighting, but independent of international intervention.  Then the Russians came.  And the Taliban were formed to expel them.  Arabs and other Muslims joined the fight, and foreign powers injected money, training and expertise to assist them.

The rest is history.  Al-Qaeda used the Taliban's victory to play a long-game of Jihad and Caliphate-dreaming and the countries of the West suffered blows to their people, economies and esteem.

As often has been the case in history, the rebels in the mountains or in the desert eventually come to the negotiating table to settle.  I suspect the same will occur in Afghanistan.  The Indian prime minister appeared to support such an idea.

Undoubtedly, the president - Hamid Karsai, will have prepared for this moment, when foreign troops will leave and the Taliban or their successors will return.  He must have an exit strategy in place.  His cohorts have reportedly developed quite a network of patronage to protect them in that eventuality.  Assuredly others in the present Afghani administration likewise.

So, in the end what was the Coalition's gain?  Why did all those foreign troops die or become injured?  And what will become of Afghanistan?

For one, I hope it will be free to decide its own future.  Building a real nation-state, where everyone - including women - have their say.  However tortuously hard that is to achieve.  It must be the country itself which chooses that route.  If the Arab Spring has (hopefully) taught us anything, it's that the people themselves must choose secular democracy.

It has almost certainly been beyond the capability of the Coalition - as funds have gone adrift, and provinces have reverted to former practices.  Local headmen in such places wield inaudinate power, and dislodging them or changing their attitudes at best is nigh impossible, I bet.

So, money lost, men and women lost, goal lost, it seems to have been all a bit fruitless.  But then, a cursory look at history would have advised anyone intent on a venture in Afghanistan to be warned off.  But our governments had other more devious and strategic plans, other dreams, other scores to settle.

And the hard-pressed, hardworking and patient taxpayers of Germany, Britain, New Zealand, Australia, France and America (and many, many, many others too) footed the huge bills of the politicians' aspirations.

Or have I missed something?  Oh yes, Pakistan.  Now that's another topic entirely.

1 comment:

  1. All seems so obvious in retrospect. Actually, as you point out rather well above, it wasn't too difficult to forecast the outcome up front. I don't think you're missing anything... except maybe oil, or more accurately, geopolitics?

    I really do struggle to believe that the West, and particularly the US, really cares about fixing up authoritarian regimes - there are enough cases of them ignoring or propping up some nasty places, and harassing (or worse) inconvenient, but democratically elected, leaders.

    Or am I just too much of a cynic?