Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics
The price of failure in Afghanistan
On the eve of Hamid Karzai’s inauguration as Afghanistan’s president, the obvious question to ask is what happens if he, or more crucially his Western backers, fail to turn back a resurgent Taliban the second time around.
Steve Coll, journalist and president of the New America Foundation, sets out four consequences of failure in Afghanistan in a blog in The New Yorker, which speak to those especially in America who question its involvement in the first place in this far-off “graveyard of empires.”
A new ABC/Washington Post poll says 52 percent of Americans don’t believe the war is worth the costs.
1) If the world were to give up on Afghanistan and the Taliban were to return to power, it would mean a re-run of the Civil War in the 90s, but this time on “steroids”. It is inconceivable that the Taliban could triumph in the country completely and provide a regime (however perverse) of stability and so you could have a rump Afghan government dominated by ethnic Tajiks and Uzbeks find arms and money from India, Iran, and perhaps Russia, Europe and the United States. This would likely produce a long-running civil war between northern, Tajik-dominated ethnic militias and the Pashtun-dominated Taliban.
2) Success in Afghanistan would give momentum for a Taliban revolution in Pakistan. If the Quetta Shura regained power in Kandahar or Kabul, it would undoubtedly interpret its triumph as a ticket to further ambition in Pakistan. The Pakistani Taliban would likely be energized, armed and financed by the Afghan Taliban as they pursue their own revolutionary ambitions in Islamabad.
3) Increased Islamist Violence Against India : The probable knock-on effect of a second Taliban revolution Afghanistan would be to increase the likelihood of irregular Islamist attacks from Pakistan against Indian targets as they see to extend their influence. In time, democratic Indian governments would be pressed by their electorates to respond with military force, and the world would then have to deal with a fourth Indian-Pakistan war, this time both nations nuclear-armed.
4) Al Qaeda’s ambitions against Britain and the United States would strengthen. While al Qaeda’s capacity to launch disruptive attacks on American soil remain low, it would be absurd to argue it won’t be strengthened by a Taliban return to Afghanistan, Coll says. London may well be more vulnerable to a future attack five or ten years after an Afghan Taliban revolution, given the large Pakistani Diaspora in Britain that the “bad guys” may well use to blend in.
Finally, while the threat to the rest of the world from an unstable Afghanistan has been spelt out innumerable times, what about the risk to Afghans themselves? An Oxfam survey offers a sobering glimpse of the mood of the nation with these findings: one in five Afghans questioned said they had been tortured, one in 10 claimed to have been imprisoned at least once since 1979, when Soviet forces invaded, and one in six Afghans are currently considering leaving the country.
One of the survey’s respondents from the eastern province of Nangarhar summed up what instability in Afghanistan has led to already by saying more than 2 million people had died in decades of conflict, 70 percent of the country had been destroyed, and its economy virtually eliminated.
“Half our people have been driven mad. A man who is 30 or 40 years old looks like he is 70. We always live in fear. We are not secure anywhere in Afghanistan,” the respondent said.
[Top: A U.S. Marine passes Afghan children while on patrol in Helmand province (Reuters/Asmaa Waguih); above: Afghan children hold a banner during the celebration of Peace Day in Kabul in September (Reuters/Omar Sobhani)]