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    The Aftershocks of the Saudi and American Debacle in Afghanistan

    Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan have a complex relationship. Their ties date back to the 19th century when Afghanistan became the first Muslim country to recognize the second Saudi state of 1824 to 1891. In 1930, Ibn Saud recognized King Nadir Shah’s rule in Afghanistan, in 1932, the two countries signed their first friendship agreement, and in 1950, King Zahir Shah’s visit to Saudi Arabia was commemorated on a Saudi stamp.

    Ties over the following decades remained close. This was not so much because of Saudi geopolitical interests in Afghanistan, but rather how the country affected Saudi Arabia’s relations with Iran and Pakistan, a major rival and an important ally of the kingdom respectively.

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    The Soviet occupation of Afghanistan from 1979 marked the summit of Saudi influence. In coordination with Pakistan and the United States, the Saudis famously supported the mujahideen and also assisted many Afghan refugees. Throughout the 1980s, the kingdom exercised direct interference over various Islamist groups in Afghanistan and many Saudis traveled there to fight the Soviets.

    After the Soviet Union departed in 1989 and throughout the subsequent civil war in Afghanistan, the Saudis continued their role of manipulating Afghan politicians and factions, using their petrodollars and religious influence on behalf of the US, with mixed results. In 1993, all of the Afghan mujahideen factions signed a peace agreement in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, but that failed to stop the conflict.

    Saudi Ties With the Taliban

    Following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021, some commentators have encouraged the Saudis to try to play the religious card again. In June, Muslim scholars from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia signed a “declaration of peace” in Mecca, which Arab News described as a “historic, landmark event on the path toward reconciliation between warring factions.” But the Taliban rejected the move — which, in any event, had no impact on peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government — as a theatrical attempt to steal the diplomatic limelight from Qatar using Islamic mercenaries.

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    Saudi influence over the Taliban began with funding hardline religious schools, or madrassas, in Pakistan where the movement started. It effectively ended in 1996 when the Taliban first took over Afghanistan. At the end of the 1990s, Saudi citizens were officially barred from giving money to any charity that was not state-approved, which meant Saudi public funding for the Taliban was largely cut off, except for a few individuals acting without the explicit knowledge of the government. A 2013 research paper by the German Institute for International and Security Affairs stated that Saudi “fundraisers for the Taliban … are believed to extensively exploit networks and use old mechanisms dating back to the times of Saudi cooperation with mujahedeen and Taliban functionaries.”

    When the Taliban last ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, Saudi Arabia was one of only three countries to officially recognize their government; Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates were the other two. This was not because the Saudis supported the Taliban regime, but rather because they were looking for a way to grease the wheels for an approach by Prince Turki al-Faisal, the head of Saudi intelligence, to persuade the Taliban to extradite Osama bin Laden, the Saudi leader of al-Qaeda.

    The Saudis calculated that by recognizing the Taliban government, they could win influence as they had done in the past with other factions and warlords. But in 1998, when Prince Turki traveled to Afghanistan with a delegation of Muslim figures, the former Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, turned him down.

    The Saudi View of the Taliban

    The House of Saud now faces a disconcerting moment over Afghanistan, not least because like the former Afghan government, the royal family depends on the US for protection against external enemies and internal threats.

    In a report by Wikistrat about the implications of the Taliban takeover on Saudi Arabia, Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, a fellow for the Middle East at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, comments: “Questions are likely to be mounting in Riyadh about the sincerity and the reliability of US security guarantees which themselves have been a matter of considerable uncertainty since the September 2019 attacks on Saudi oil infrastructure.” He adds that the “sudden abandonment of Afghan partners, spelled out clinically and coldly in [Joe] Biden’s televised address, may resonate strongly among US regional partners for whom President [Barack] Obama’s perceived abandonment of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in 2011 set in motion a questioning of US motivations that then continued into the Trump era.”

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    Neil Quilliam, a Middle East analyst at Chatham House, continues in the same Wikistrat report: “The Taliban leadership will likely begin a campaign to challenge the legitimacy of the Al Saud and appeal directly to the Saudi population to challenge the ruling family’s authority.” He adds that the “nature of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan is a cause for concern in Saudi Arabia. President Biden’s speech about the withdrawal, wherein he noted that remaining in Afghanistan no longer constitutes a vital interest, has also sent shockwaves through the Saudi leadership.”

    The Taliban may turn on Saudi Arabia in the media war. Transnational jihadist groups like al-Qaeda could also threaten the Saudis from Afghanistan again. But as Sami Hamdi explained in the Arab Digest podcast, there are reasons why Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman might benefit from the situation in Afghanistan in terms of finding a renewed utility toward the US. A foreign diplomat in Riyadh, quoted by Reuters, predicted that the kingdom will take a pragmatic approach. “The Saudis have a historical relationship with Afghanistan and will eventually have to accept the Taliban [again] … They have no other option,” he said.

    In 2019, Jalaluddin Shinwari, the former Taliban deputy minister of justice, told the New York Times: “What [we] are saying to Americans is this: You have accepted Saudi Arabia, and we won’t do more than their basic code — retribution for murder, chop off the hand for robbing. If you have accepted Saudi, what’s wrong with us being another? The rest will be your priorities: aid, friendship, economic relations.”

    The US Would Never Pull Out of Saudi Arabia

    The Taliban can dream of a relationship with the US akin to that which the Saudis enjoy. Yet that relationship is completely different from whatever ties the US has with Afghanistan. The United States would never pull out of Saudi Arabia the way it did from Afghanistan, not only because of hydrocarbons — although with the Middle East still providing around 31% of world oil production and 16% of global natural gas supply, this remains an important factor. Nor is American support just about Israel’s security — although the US and its Western allies certainly wish to ensure this, and they are ready to work with any Arab regime, particularly Saudi Arabia, that is ready to officially recognize Israel on US terms.

    The main reason the US can never pull out of Saudi Arabia is because of the unthinkable consequences of losing Saudi control of the two holy mosques in Mecca and Medina to al-Qaeda or another jihadist movement. That is why US support for the Saudis remains solid despite misgivings on both sides.

    *[This article was originally published by Arab Digest, a partner organization of Fair Observer.]

    The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy. More

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    Tony Blair’s Stand-Up Number

    Is there any reason to pay attention to what Tony Blair, the British prime minister between 1997 and 2007, has to say after the Afghan debacle? The former member of the comedy duo, composed of George W. Bush (the inarticulate gaffer) and Blair (the sanctimonious moralizer), that performed prominently on the world stage in the first decade of this century, no longer has any serious connection to political power. Still, Blair manages to make occasional appearances in the news cycle, thanks principally to the inertia that so relentlessly drives the media’s choices.

    Now that the war the Bush and Blair team enthusiastically launched in 2001 has been officially lost, the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) was curious to hear what the former leader might have to say. Would Blair offer some insider perspective on an episode of history now judged to have been a vainglorious attempt to punish a spectacular criminal act by mounting a military campaign that turned out to be more spectacular, equally criminal, much more costly and far more self-destructive of the civilization that was presumably defending itself? Would he apologize for his own mistakes? Would he coldly analyze the political and ideological sources of those mistakes?

    The Media Embrace the Martyrdom of Afghan Women

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    Blair did admit that “maybe my generation of leaders were naive in thinking countries could be remade.” That was neither a confession nor an apology, especially as he immediately followed up by implicitly critiquing President Joe Biden’s precipitated withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, adding that “maybe the remaking needed to last longer.” He then used the now obligatory example of the plight of Afghan women to assert that “we mustn’t forget … that our values are still those which free people choose.”

    Instead of confessing and clarifying, the monologue he delivered resembled a self-parody of the reasoning that drove his error-ridden decision-making in 2001. “Islamism,” he proclaimed, “both the ideology and the violence, is a first order security threat… COVID-19 has taught us about deadly pathogens. Bio-terror possibilities may seem like the realm of science fiction, but we would be wise now to prepare for their potential use by non-state actors.” In short, once again, we need to be afraid, very afraid.

    Today’s Daily Devil’s Dictionary definition:

    Potential use:

    A term used by politicians to describe an unlikely event that usefully inspires fear in the public’s mind to justify aggressive efforts labeled “defense,” but which objectively appear to take the form of offensive assault against other nations and peoples

    Contextual Note

    In such moments, Blair can appear as if he is vying to become a stand-up comedian, a kind of one-man Monty Python, satirizing his nation’s historical institutions. Unfortunately, despite Blair’s notoriety, they are not in the same league. The Flying Circus boys came together initially as irreverent university wits, who targeted post-colonial British culture and the pompous establishment’s status quo. As the former living symbol of that pompous establishment, Blair’s comic ambition is fraught with insurmountable obstacles. Even when his discourse manages to sound as surreally unhinged as that of any of the characters invented by the Python, Blair will never break free from his former identity as the real-life representative of the establishment’s fake wisdom and pseudo-sanity.

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    In the later years of his reign as the young and glamorous prime minister, even before the devastating findings of the Chilcot report on the UK’s involvement in the Iraq War, many politically aware Brits were already tempted to change the spelling of his name from Blair to Bliar, to highlight his habit of solemnly lying his way into disastrous wars, alongside his buddy, President Bush. Together, those two men led an enterprise that some observers assess as a complex and long-enduring war crime.

    That both of those men should still be welcomed on the world stage, treated as sages and counted on to deliver wise commentary on current events should shock only those who are unaware of how today’s media works. It systematically honors those who have been the boldest in committing crimes, so long as such crimes are committed in the name of national security. That rationale has become so fundamental and so obsessively inculcated by those who exercise any form of political or economic power that committing extreme violence in the name of “national security” will always be lauded in the media as proof of a politician’s courage to go beyond the call of duty. 

    Historical Note

    Tony Blair’s comedy appears to be based on a simple premise. His onstage character assumes the stance of taking seriously the startling idea formulated in 1989 by Francis Fukuyama, as the Cold War was ending. According to the young political scientist, a golden age governed by the principles of Western liberalism was dawning. Fukuyama claimed that “we are witnessing… the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.”

    Fukuyama himself eventually abandoned that thesis or at least corrected our understanding of what he meant by it. Blair thinks we can return to 1992, a year in which the book, “The End of History and the Last Man” was published and the Soviet Union only existed in the past tense. In his secular preaching, Blair maintains the faith in the triumph of liberal values. “Recovering confidence in our values and in their universal application,” he affirmed, “is a necessary part of ensuring we stand up for them and are prepared to defend them.”

    Blair’s forward-looking aims at new battlegrounds. “Britain should work more closely with European countries on how best to develop capacity to tackle the threat in areas such as Africa’s Sahel region,” he said. This stands as a scintillating demonstration of how the neocolonialist mind works. It seeks a region of interest and then invents the threat. 

    Why is Blair singling out the Sahel? The answer should be obvious. It is the logic used by 19th-century European colonialist powers, who opportunistically looked for occasions to exploit the weakness of their rivals to dominate a particular part of the world. France is currently retreating from its futile engagement in the Sahel, an area it dominated to a large extent as a colonial power and in which it has been active as a neocolonial defender in the “global war on terror.”

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    Blair’s plan reads like a comic book version of traditional British imperialism. “We need some boots on the ground,” he said. “Naturally our preference is for the boots to be local, but that will not always be possible.” Let the natives die as we secure our rule. It is already laughable to suggest that Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s post-Brexit Britain might “work more closely with European countries” on its relations with the African continent.

    Blair is obviously thinking of a tandem with France, whose citizens have lost all patience with their nation’s inept military operation across the Sahel region. He imagines France and Britain together renewing the glory formerly achieved by the US-UK duo in the Middle East. Together they will ensure that the “remaking” lasts longer. France’s Jupiterian president, Emmanuel Macron, humiliated by the current pressure to withdraw troops, would clearly welcome the chance of participating in such an alliance, even if the French people are reticent.

    For Blair, it isn’t about power and money, though he is clearly attracted to both, especially the latter, which he has shown a talent for accumulating. No, it’s about universal values, Blair’s own singularly enlightened values. That’s a language dear to the president of the French Republic, a nation that has tirelessly sought to exercise its “mission civilisatrice” across the globe for the last three centuries. Blair, the stand-up comedian, will “stand up for” those values and be “prepared to defend them.”

    “Be prepared” is the Boy Scouts’ motto. In the final act of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” the young prince of Denmark declared to his friend Horatio that “the readiness is all.” Unlike Blair, however, Hamlet wasn’t interested in magnifying real or imaginary threats to his well-being. Instead, he was affirming a certain equanimity and trust in his own capacities. No need to invest in his training before what turned out to be a rigged fencing match. Hamlet refused to let fear be his guide.

    From the beginning of Shakespeare’s play, Denmark was in a state of war, feverishly building its armaments to defend itself from a “hot and full” Norwegian prince, Fortinbras. But it was Denmark’s own criminal king who brought the country down, leaving bodies strewn across the stage just as the young Fortinbras is about to arrive, survey the damage and take control of the state.

    *[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news. Read more of The Daily Devil’s Dictionary on Fair Observer.]

    The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy. More

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    Is Operation Enduring Freedom Doomed to Endure Forever?

    Those were heady days in the US stock market. I would wake up by 5 am and watch CNBC before the stock market opened for trading at 6:30 am Pacific time. It was no different on the morning of September 11, 2001. Little did I know that catastrophic things were about to happen that would change the world.

    At 8:45 am Eastern time, an American Airlines flight had crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York City. Within minutes, CNBC stopped discussing stocks and started covering the incident, which, at that moment, no one knew if it was an anomalous accident or an attack of some kind.

    360° Context: How 9/11 and the War on Terror Shaped the World

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    Three minutes after 9 am Eastern, as I watched incredulously at the events unfolding, I saw a United Airlines passenger aircraft fly right into the south tower of the twin towers. In under an hour, the south tower collapsed, resulting in a massive cloud of dust and smoke. By now, there was no doubt that America was under attack.

     “We will remember the moment the news came, where we were and what we were doing,” said President George W. Bush in an address to Congress on September 20. Images from that Tuesday morning are still etched in my memory, happening, as it were, just nine days after my second child was born.

    In all, 2,996 people of 78 nationalities lost their lives in four coordinated attacks conducted by al-Qaeda using hijacked commercial, civilian airliners as their weapons, making 9/11 the second-biggest attack on American soil — second only to the genocidal assault on Native Americans committed by the nation’s immigrant settlers.

    Operation Enduring Freedom: America’s War on Terror

    Addressing the nation the following day, Bush called the attacks “more than acts of terror. They were acts of war.” He promised that “the United States of America will use all our resources to conquer this enemy.” The president went on to assure Americans that this “battle will take time and resolve, but make no mistake about it, we will win.”

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    Twenty years later, the US has left Afghanistan and Iraq in a chaotic mess. The question remains: Did the United States win the war on terror the Bush administration launched in 2001? This was a war that has cost more than $6.4 trillion and over 801,000 lives, according to Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University.

    In October 2001, the US-led coalition invaded Afghanistan and overthrew the Taliban government that had harbored al-Qaeda. Soon after, al-Qaeda militants had been driven into hiding. Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the 9/11 attack and leader of al-Qaeda, was killed 10 years later in a raid conducted by US forces in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

    In a shrewd move, Bush had left himself room to take down Iraq and its president, Saddam Hussein, using an overarching definition for the war on terror. In his address to Congress on September 20, Bush also stated: “Our war on terror begins with Al-Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated.”

    True to his words, in 2003, the United States and its allies invaded Iraq under the premise that it possessed weapons of mass destruction. Bush settled his score with Hussein, ensuring he was captured, shamed and subsequently executed in 2006.

    Despite reducing al-Qaeda to nothing and killing bin Laden, despite wrecking Iraq and having its leader executed, it is impossible to say that the US has won the war on terror. All that Washington has managed to do is to trade the Islamic State (IS) group that swept through Syria and Iraq in 2014 for al-Qaeda, giving a new identity to an old enemy. Following the US and NATO pullout from Afghanistan last month, the Taliban, whom America drove out of power in 2001, are back in the saddle. In fact, the Taliban’s recapture of Afghanistan has been so swift, so precise and so comprehensive that the international community is in a shock, questioning the timing and prudence of the withdrawal of troops.

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    Setting an expectation for how long the war or terror was likely to last, the secretary of defense under the Bush administration, Donald Rumsfeld, remarked in September 2001 that “it is not going to be over in five minutes or five months, it’ll take years.” Rumsfeld, who christened the campaign Operation Enduring Freedom, was prescient, as the war enters its third decade in a never-ending fight against terrorism.

    The Winners and Losers

    Ironically, Operation Enduring Freedom has only resulted in an enduring loss of American freedom, one step at a time. I still remember that I had walked up to the jet bridge and received my wife as she deplaned from a flight in 1991. Another time, when she was traveling to Boston from San Francisco, I was allowed to enter the aircraft and help her get settled with her luggage, along with our 1-year-old. It is inconceivable to be allowed to do such a thing today, and I would not be surprised if readers question the veracity of my personal experience. In many ways, al-Qaeda has succeeded in stripping Americans of the sense of freedom they have always enjoyed.

    More than Americans, the biggest losers in this tragic war are Iraqis and Afghans, particularly the women. Afghan women, who had a brief respite from persecution under the Taliban’s strict Islamic laws and human rights abuses, are back to square one and justifiably terrified of their future under the new regime. The heart-wrenching scenes from Kabul airport of people trying to flee the country tell us about how Afghans view the quality of life under the Taliban and the uncertainty that the future holds. 

    To its east, the delicate balance of peace — if one could characterize the situation between India and Pakistan as peaceful — is likely to be put to the test as violence from Afghanistan spreads. To its north in Tajikistan, there isn’t much love lost between Tajiks and the Taliban. Tajikistan’s president, Emomali Rahmon, has refused to recognize the Taliban government, and Tajiks have promised to join anti-Taliban militia groups, paving the way for continued unrest and violence in Central Asia.

    If History Could be Rewritten

    In 2001, referring to Islamist terrorists, Bush asked the rhetorical question, “Why do they hate us?” He tried to answer it in a speech to Congress: “They hate what they see right here in this chamber: a democratically elected government. Their leaders are self-appointed. They hate our freedoms: our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.”

    Islamic fundamentalists couldn’t give two hoots about a form of government or a people’s way of life thousands of miles away. The real answer to Bush’s question lies deeply buried in US foreign policy. America’s steadfast support of Israel and its refusal to recognize the state of Palestine is the number one reason for it to become the target of groups like al-Qaeda and IS.

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    America’s ill-conceived response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 during the Cold War led to the creation of al-Qaeda. It was with US funds and support that the anti-Soviet mujahideen fought America’s proxy war with the Soviets. Without US interference, al-Qaeda may never have come into existence.

    During the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s, the US bolstered Saddam Hussein by backing his regime against the Iranians. When Hussein became too ambitious for America’s comfort and invaded Kuwait in 1990, George H.W. Bush engaged Iraq in the Persian Gulf War. The US motive at that time was primarily to protect its oil interests in Kuwait.

    The US created its own nemesis in Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden and spent $6 trillion to kill them. In the process, US leaders have reduced Iraq and Afghanistan to shambles and created a new monster in the Islamic State.

    Sadly, history can never be rewritten. The US has proved time and again that its involvement in the Middle East and Muslim world is aimed at advancing its own political interests. The only question that remains is: Can the US adopt a policy that would not aggravate the situation and, over time, deescalate it, without creating yet another Hussein or bin Laden? Without a radically different approach, Operation Enduring Freedom is doomed to endure forever, costing trillions of dollars each decade.

    The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy. More

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    The Media Embrace the Martyrdom of Afghan Women

    How long will it take to understand what “politics as usual” means in Afghanistan? Following the Taliban’s near-complete takeover of the country, there are no answers, much speculation and more questions emerging every day that goes by. A government has now been officially announced, but what it will actually do is unknown. The Taliban have claimed victory in the battle over the Panjshir Valley, but that may only be the first phase of a prolonged struggle.

    It may require more patience than the legacy media is capable of to understand what direction the Taliban’s policies will take. In the meantime, multiple interests, both inside and outside Afghanistan, will be seeking to influence its future orientations. In the short term, the media will continue to speculate on two levels. The first consists of seizing upon specific incidents deemed to demonstrate what the “real” intentions of the government will be. The second is to assume that the Taliban will simply repeat their policies that preceded the US-NATO invasion 20 years ago.

    After Afghanistan, How Probable Is Peace?

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    The safest prediction today consists of affirming that there will be a significant period of confusion. At its extreme, it could evolve, as General Milley seems to believe, into civil war. In all cases, the persistence of instability will lead to further uncertainty among the experts themselves about what might finally emerge over the next three to five years.

    The easiest solution for the media in the West is to highlight the issue of women’s rights or simply the Taliban’s treatment of women. It has consistently provided the issue at the core in the West’s propaganda campaign in favor of a permanent military campaign against the Taliban. Once US President Joe Biden made the decision to act definitively on putting an end to the US military presence in Afghanistan, it has emerged once again to encourage those who want the US to return to the battlefield.

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    Some non-mainstream commentators have pointed to the fact that, back in 1979, President Jimmy Carter’s administration initiated the CIA’s campaign to mobilize Muslim fundamentalism in opposition to Afghanistan’s elected socialist government. That government had enshrined women’s rights in its constitution, but due to its socialist leanings, it appeared too dangerously close to Russia’s influence for the comfort of the Beltway’s strategists.

    The clandestine operations were designed to destabilize that government. This had the effect of drawing the Soviets in to restabilize it. That prompted the CIA to accelerate its support for a mujahadeen revolt against the regime. This in turn laid the groundwork for the Taliban takeover in 1996. In the meantime, the Soviet Union had collapsed, which meant that the US could stop worrying about both Afghanistan and its women. This allowed the Clinton administration to concentrate instead on reestablishing order in Yugoslavia and keeping Saddam Hussein under control via devastating sanctions.

    Amidst the near absolute uncertainty that reigns today in Kabul, a small number of activist women, knowing how responsive Western media is likely to be, have dared to challenge the government. They are certainly right to make their voice heard in an effort to remind the new government of its promise to respect women’s rights. But does it really make sense to present it as a protest movement before there are any practices to protest against? Protesting against policies of the past could backfire on the women in the present. The Taliban may feel that “the lady doth protest too much.” What better way for the Taliban to brand them as hysterical and unworthy of playing a partnership role in governing?

    Western media is predictably tuned into this drama and reports every small detail. “Recent weeks have seen the Taliban send mixed signals about the place of women in Afghan society,” writes Al Jazeera’s Ali M. Latifi. After vowing a commitment “to the rights of women within the framework of Sharia [Islamic law],” the tune seemed to change. Later in the same month “the group’s spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said women who work with the government should stay at home until they can ensure their safety on the streets and in offices.”

    Today’s Daily Devil’s Dictionary definition:

    Mixed signals:

    A synonym for political discourse by every type of political regime

    Contextual Note

    How contradictory are the two positions that appear to be “mixed signals”? To justify the request that women return to their homes, the spokesman explained their concern that “our forces who are new and have not been yet trained very well may mistreat women … We don’t want our forces, God forbid, to harm or harass women.” 

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    Is this hypocrisy or brutal honesty? Until a government is formed and its policies put into practice, no one can tell. On the face of it, it should be taken seriously rather than dismissed as a dodge or a lie. Today, there is no stable authority that can effectively contain the fanatical and vengeful individuals within the Taliban movement, which has existed for the past 20 years as an insurgency thriving on resentment toward the foreign invaders.

    In a revealing article with the title, “The Taliban invited The Telegraph to tea,” Jennifer Aldrich quotes a young Taliban fighter who claims that the protesting “women are Westernised and they want a Western government and they are against Islamic law. In Islam there’s great respect for women. I wonder why they are protesting.”

    Was Kipling right when he proclaimed that “East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet”? Afghanistan is the latest illustration of another principle: that when the West actively seeks to meet the East — as it has been doing for centuries — it is generally armed with sophisticated technology and an exasperating lack of empathy or even curiosity about Eastern cultures. This is uniformly followed by a defeat or a humiliating retreat, with little learned along the way.

    Historical Note

    Why have the themes of Western feminism come to dominate the debate over Afghanistan’s future? Wars in the past were never fought over such narrow cultural goals. In retrospect, the Second World War has been framed around the idea that Western democracies were committed to rescuing the Jews from Hitler’s persecution. In reality, that motive played no significant role in the Allied decision to go to war with Germany.

    The case of the Civil War in the US is similar. The abolition of slavery was a consequence of the war. Slavery itself was not directly the issue that sparked the conflict. Had the South not sought to expand a slave-based economy westward, Abraham Lincoln, even though he may have personally disapproved of slavery, would have been happy to continue a peaceful co-existence with the South.

    The West is focusing on the plight of Afghan women for two reasons. First, it is a story that plays well in Western media. It sounds moral and virtuous. It flatters Westerners by highlighting the superiority of their civilization. But it also correlates with the need felt in the highest levels of government and business to keep the economy focused on defense and national security. It highlights stark cultural contrasts that can be presented as a threat to “our way of life.” What better justification for excessive military preparedness, including the capacity to conduct preemptive strikes and invade backward nations?

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    French President Emmanuel Macron has criticized the US withdrawal, committing to “standing with those who fight for freedom and women’s rights.” In one curious twist of logic, the argument has come back to bite him. As Libyan psychiatrist Ahmed Sewehli tweeted, “This place where women are ordered what to wear and if they don’t conform they can’t study or work and can even be arrested…is called France.”

    Of course, the last time women had Western-style rights in Afghanistan, written into the 1964 constitution, was under a government that the US worked to overthrow by stoking fundamentalism. British journalist Matt Kennard has published a confidential memo of the UK Embassy in Kabul in 1980 that reveals the true strategy of the Western powers. It encourages clandestine military support for the mujahadeen and even seeks to glamorize them in this observation: “The picture of Islamic freedom fighters is much more acceptable to world public opinion than that of stubborn reactionaries determined to maintain a system of feudal antiquity.”

    It has always been about optics, not about rights.

    *[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news. Read more of The Daily Devil’s Dictionary on Fair Observer.]

    The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy. More

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    How 9/11 and the War on Terror Shaped the World

    On September 11, 2001, 19 militants associated with the Islamist terrorist group al-Qaeda hijacked four planes and launched suicide attacks on iconic symbols of America, first striking the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York and then the Pentagon. It would be the deadliest act of terrorism on American soil, claiming nearly 3,000 lives.

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    The attacks not only shocked the world, but the images of planes crashing into the World Trade Center came to define a generation. In a speech on October 11, 2001, then-President George W. Bush spoke of “an attack on the heart and soul of the civilized world” and declared “war against all those who seek to export terror, and a war against those governments that support or shelter them.” This was the start of the global war on terror.

    The Story of the 9/11 Attacks and Retaliation

    Osama bin Laden, the Saudi leader of al-Qaeda, inspired the 9/11 attacks. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, a Pakistani Islamist terrorist and the nephew of the truck driver convicted for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, masterminded the operation. The 9/11 Commission Report described al-Qaeda as “sophisticated, patient, disciplined and lethal.” It held that the enemy rallied “broad support in the Arab and Muslim world.” The report concluded that al-Qaeda’s hostility to the US and its values was limitless.

    The report went on to say that the enemy aimed “to rid the world of religious and political pluralism, the plebiscite, and equal rights for women,” and observed that it made no distinction between military and civilian targets. The goal going forward was “to attack terrorists and prevent their ranks from swelling while at the same time protecting [the US] against future attacks.”

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    To prosecute the war on terror, the US built a worldwide coalition: 136 countries offered military assistance, and 46 multilateral organizations declared support. Washington began by launching a financial war on terror, freezing assets and disrupting fundraising pipelines. In the first 100 days, the Bush administration set aside $20 billion for homeland security.

    On October 7, 2001, the US inaugurated the war on terror with Operation Enduring Freedom. An international coalition that included Australia, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Japan, the UK and other countries, with the help of the Northern Alliance comprising various mujahedeen militias, overthrew the Taliban, which was sheltering al-Qaeda fighters, and took over Afghanistan.

    The war on terror that began in Afghanistan soon took on a global focus. In 2003, the Bush administration invaded Iraq despite the lack of a UN mandate. Washington made the argument that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was developing weapons of mass destruction, represented a threat to world peace, and harbored and succored al-Qaeda and other Islamic jihadists. None of this proved to be true. Hussein’s regime fell as speedily as Mullah Omar’s Taliban.

    Victory, however, was short-lived. Soon, insurgency returned. In Afghanistan, suicide attacks quintupled from 27 in 2005 to 139 in 2006. Globally, the war on terror saw a “stunning” rise in jihadist activity, with just over 32,000 fighters split among 13 Islamist groups in 2001 burgeoning to 100,000 across 44 outfits in 2015. Terrorist attacks went up from an estimated 1,880 in 2001 to 14,806 in 2015, claiming 38,422 lives that year alone — a 397% increase on 2001.

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    Boosted by the US invasion of Iraq, al-Qaeda spawned affiliates across Asia, Africa and the Middle East, a decentralized structure that remained intact even after the US assassination of Osama bin Laden in 2011 dealt al-Qaeda a severe blow. One of its Iraqi offshoots morphed into what became the Islamic State (IS) group following the withdrawal of most US from Iraq under President Barack Obama in 2011.

    After declaring a caliphate in 2014, IS launched a global terrorist campaign that, within a year, conducted and inspired over 140 attacks in 29 countries beyond Syria and Iraq, according to one estimate. Islamic State acolytes went on to claim nearly 30,000 lives across the Middle East, Europe, the United States, Asia and Africa, controlling vast amounts of territory in Iraq and Syria, before suffering defeat by internationally-backed local forces in 2019.

    In Afghanistan, despite the war’s estimated trillion-dollar price tag, on August 15 the Taliban have taken control of the capital Kabul amid a chaotic US withdrawal, raising fears of al-Qaeda’s comeback. Last year, the Global Terrorism Index concluded that deaths from terrorism were still double the number recorded in 2001, with Afghanistan claiming a disproportionately large share of over 40% in 2019.

    Why Do 9/11 and the War on Terror Matter?

    While the failures and successes of the war on terror will remain subject to heated debate for years to come, what remains uncontested is the fact that the 9/11 attacks and the ensuing war on terror have forged the world we live in today.

    First, they have caused tremendous loss of blood and treasure. Brown University’s Costs of War project places an $8-trillion price tag on the US war on terror. It estimates that about 900,000 people “were killed as a direct result of war, whether by bombs, bullets or fire,” a number that does not include indirect deaths “caused by way of disease, displacement and loss of access to food or clean drinking water.”

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    Second, numerous countries, including liberal democracies such as the US and the UK, have eroded their own civil liberties and democratic institutions with the avowed goal of improving security. Boarding airplanes or entering public buildings now invariably involves elaborate security checks. Mass surveillance has become par for the course. The US continues to keep alleged terror suspects in indefinite detention without trial in Guantanamo Bay.

    Third, many analysts argue that the attacks and the response have coarsened the US. After World War II, Americans drew a line in the sand against torture. They put Germans and Japanese on trial for war crimes that included waterboarding. In the post-9/11 world, torture became part of the American toolkit. Airstrikes and drone strikes have caused high collateral casualties, killing a disputed number of innocents and losing the battle for the hearts and minds of local populations.

    These strikes raise significant issues of legality and the changing nature of warfare. There is a question as to the standing of “counterterrorism” operations in international and national law. However, such issues have garnered relatively little public attention. 

    Fourth, the 9/11 attacks and the ensuing war on terror have coincided with the spectacular rise of China. On December 11, 2001, the Middle Kingdom joined the World Trade Organization, which enabled the Chinese economy to grow at a speed and scale unprecedented in history. Analysts believe that distraction with the war on terror hindered the US response to the revolution occurring in global international relations and power dynamics. 

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    Under Barack Obama, the US initiated an explicit pivot to Asia policy that sought to shift focus from the war on terror and manage the rise of China. Under Donald Trump, Washington unleashed a trade war on Beijing and concluded a peace deal with the Taliban. Joe Biden has believed that, since the early days of the war on terror, US priorities have been too skewed toward terrorism and that Afghanistan is a secondary strategic issue, leading to a decision to withdraw troops to mark the 20th anniversary of 9/11.

    Biden has argued that the US has degraded al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and eliminated bin Laden. Despite worrying echoes of George W. Bush declaring the “mission accomplished” in Iraq in 2003, from now on, Biden wants the US to remain “narrowly focused on counterterrorism — not counterinsurgency or nation building.”

    While the terrorist threat still consumes US resources, Washington is now shifting its strategic attention and resources to China, Russia and Iran. The Biden administration has deemed these three authoritarian powers to be the biggest challenge for the postwar liberal and democratic order. The 20-year war on terror seems to be over — at least for now.

    The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy. More

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    After Afghanistan, How Probable Is Peace?

    As the world speculates about the future of Afghanistan, some key figures in the West — with a vested interest in how things evolve militarily — are today claiming to show the clairvoyance that has consistently failed them in the past. Many have criticized President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw from the battlefield. Even more have complained about how it was managed.

    Republicans feel duty-bound to denounce a policy that only Lynn Cheney objected to when the Republican President Donald Trump promoted it. One “highly decorated British Army officer” complained that “6,500 people died, including 3,000 deaths at Twin Towers, and we didn’t achieve a single thing.” Special Operations Staff Sergeant Trevor Coult went further, claiming that Biden “is a danger while he is president.”

    Numerous Democrats attached to the military-industrial funding machine have objected to the very idea of abandoning the costly struggle. Representative Jim Langevin, of Rhode Island, penned an op-ed in Foreign Policy portraying the decision as a betrayal of a moral commitment to “our Afghan allies of 20 years” and “to our military service members and their families … who gave the ultimate sacrifice.” And, of course, he couldn’t forget “the women and girls of Afghanistan who are now experiencing a devastating new reality.”

    Will the Taliban End Up Under the Influence?

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    He seemed less concerned when for 20 years the majority of Afghan women and girls experienced another form of devastating reality: receiving bombs delivered by surgical drones, seeing their doors kicked in by well-armed soldiers, listening to drones buzzing overhead and wondering where they might strike, failing to understand which local warlord in the pay of the CIA might protect them or aggress them, or simply watching unutterable chaos unfold day after day.

    AFP reports on the opinion General Mark Milley expressed in an interview with Fox News: Now that the US troops are no longer there to enforce the law and maintain order, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff predicts further chaos, worse than ever before. After questioning the ability of the Taliban, even before they have formed a government, “to consolidate power and establish effective governance,” Milley offers his assessment of what’s to come. “I think there’s at least a very good probability of a broader civil war,” he asserts.

    Making certain his audience will understand the degree of fear his warnings should inspire, he adds that it “will then in turn lead to conditions that could, in fact, lead to a reconstitution of Al-Qaeda or a growth of ISIS or other … terrorist groups.”

    Today’s Daily Devil’s Dictionary definition:

    Good probability:

    A dire likelihood to be ardently wished for by anyone associated with the military-industrial complex or dependent on it for current or future employment

    Contextual note

    Military officers, including generals, may hide the truth about reality on the ground. As the Afghanistan Papers revealed, that happened consistently for over two decades. But even when painting a rosy picture of success or an assessment of troop performance, a soldier’s choice of language leaves some room for the truth. That is why most governments usually prefer that the military not engage too directly with the media.

    General Milley made clear what he means when he described the chaos to come as “at least a very good probability.” Both of his chosen expressions — “at least” and “very good” — reveal less about reality on the ground and more about how he hopes to see the situation evolve, calling for preparedness and possibly new operations. He wants Fox’s audience to understand that this is only a pause in the mission of the US to help other nations achieve the serenity of the global superpower that will always be a model for the rest of the world and lead by its example.

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    A totally neutral and objective observer who happened to be equally convinced of the likelihood of a civil war in Afghanistan would have formulated it differently, most likely asserting something along the lines that “a strong possibility of a broader civil war cannot be discounted.” Proverbial wisdom tells us that “where there’s a will, there’s a way,” but the authorities of a nation defined by its military clout tend to improve on that by suggesting that “where there’s a will, there’s a way of framing it in such a manner as to convince people of the way we have decided must be followed.”

    General Milley is no warmonger. No reasonable person would compare him to the legendary Curtis Lemay who summed up his philosophy about conflict — in this case with Russia during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis — with these words: “We should go in and wipe ’em out today.”

    Fortunately, no senior officer in the military would be tempted to think or act that way now. In contrast with the Cold War mentality, one of the lessons of all recent wars is that the US military is less motivated by the idea of winning wars than simply instilling the idea in the average American taxpayer’s mind that the nation needs a powerful, well-funded, technologically advanced military establishment to comfort the belief in American exceptionalism.

    In his interview with Fox News, General Milley shows no inclination to criticize Biden’s decision. He defends the way the withdrawal was conducted, laying all the blame on the Afghan government and its troops while claiming that everything was conducted according to plan. He cites the “corruption in the government” and its lack of legitimacy, “a fundamental issue that stretches back 20 years.”

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    Concerning the collapse of the army and the police force, he makes a truly interesting remark: “We created and developed forces that looked like Western forces,” adding significantly that “maybe those forces were not designed appropriately for the type mission.” 

    General Milley follows up that last observation with what almost sounds like a resolution for action in the future: “That was something that needs to be looked at.” Many commentators have remarked that at the core of the 20-year fiasco lay a persistent form of cultural ignorance. By referring to this question as “something that needs to be looked at,” Milley appears to be placing it on some unequivocally remote back burner. In military parlance, “what needs to be looked at” is what will never be looked at unless someone at the highest level of authority suddenly wakes up to acknowledge the necessity.

    Historical Note 

    In short, an episode of history has just come to an end. In the coming weeks and months, reflection on it will be mired in wild speculation about what might have been done differently, accompanied by accusations of irresponsibility and failure of accountability. And if recent history is any guide, accountability will be successfully evaded, if only because holding one identifiable person accountable opens the floodgate to calling into question the entire system of which they were a part.

    In 2009, voters for Barack Obama expected to see some form of accountability for nearly everyone in the Bush administration, guilty of multiple sins that included war crimes, the criminal transfer of wealth to the 1% and the gutting of the middle-class economy. There were zero prosecutions and instead a message about looking forward rather than backward and letting bygones be bygones.   

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    There are many lessons to be learned from the debacle in Afghanistan and a need for accountability that extends backward to the Bush administration. But none of the lessons can compete with the only essential idea the leaders and actors of the military-industrial complex will continue to put forward in the months to come: that we must be ready to repeat the patterns of the past and respond to the inevitable emergence of the equivalent of al-Qaeda again. We must be afraid of the next wave of terrorism, and we must be ready to respond. The logic of 2021 is the same as the logic of 2001 — and will undoubtedly lead to similar scenarios.

    And why should the logic be different? Military budgets have never been higher, and every new Congress is ready to raise the stakes. Many of us who grew up during the Vietnam War assumed that, once it was over, nothing like that 10-year nightmare could ever occur again. Instead, we have just sat through the equivalent of a Hollywood remake that lasted twice as long.

    *[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news. Read more of The Daily Devil’s Dictionary on Fair Observer.]

    The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy. More

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    Will the Taliban End Up Under the Influence?

    Yahoo News Senior Editor Mike Bebernes asks the big question on everyone’s mind after the American debacle in Afghanistan: “Does the U.S. have any real leverage over the Taliban?” After summarizing the immediate political background of the topic, he compares the speculative answers of a variety of pundits.

    Bebernes distinguishes between what he calls optimists, who “say the U.S. has enormous leverage to hold the Taliban to their commitments,” and the pessimists, who apparently believe that the interests of the two countries have so little in common that it isn’t worth bothering about the concerns of such savage people. In other words, as Donnie Brasco would say, “Forget about it!”

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    The optimists typically cite the weakness of the Afghan economy and the problems the Taliban will face without US cooperation. Others think that a common concern with fanatical terrorist groups may create an opportunity for mutual understanding. Bebernes suggests that the Taliban government is likely to “seek support in combating its own terror threat from groups like [the Islamic State in Khorasan Province], which some experts believe will create another point of leverage for the U.S.”

    One of the pessimists appears to believe that, as in the Cold War, there may become what General Turgidson in “Dr. Strangelove” would have called a “leverage gap” between the US and Russia or China. “Other world powers could undercut America’s leverage.”

    Today’s Daily Devil’s Dictionary definition:

    Leverage:

    The measure of the power of a state with imperial ambitions over the life and death of populations beyond its borders

    Contextual Note

    The trauma Americans experienced after Saigon, nearly half a century ago, and Kabul today has provoked what might be called the first “leverage crisis” in US history. For more than two centuries, the United States has carved out, largely unimpeded, its areas of influence in various parts of the world. Areas of influence eventually evolved into “spheres of influence.”

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    Following World War II, American strategists realized they could conquer, economically if not politically, the great sphere itself, the earthly globe. The globalization of what was originally the US version of Europe’s capitalist economy, along with a reinforced ideology thanks to thinkers from the University of Chicago, led every strategist within Washington’s Beltway to assume that the globe itself could become America’s hegemonic domain.

    Exercising geopolitical and economic hegemony required two things: physical presence — provided essentially by multinational firms and American military bases — and a toolbox of influence, which could take the form alternatively of overt and covert military action or economic sanctions. Ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the US State Department has wielded those tools with a sense of ever-increasing impunity as it proceeded to intimidate both its allies and nations that refused to acknowledge their tributary status with regard to US influence. For the past four decades, the US has relied on either warfare — invasion, occupation and bombing campaigns, unlimited in time and scope — or increasingly severe economic sanctions to reaffirm what was officially formulated as influence, but exercised with a spirit of hegemonic control.

    The debacle in Afghanistan reveals a deeper trouble at the core of strategic decision-making in Washington. The new emphasis on the concept of leverage can be read as an admission that the toolbox to manage a sphere of influence has lost much of its efficacy. For decades, the idea of applying and reinforcing influence dominated Washington’s strategic thinking. It is now being replaced by the much more fragile idea of exercising leverage. Both the State Department and the media pundits appear puzzled about what that might mean.

    The concept of leverage comes from the field of mechanics. It describes the function of a lever. “Levers convert a small force applied over a long distance to a large force applied over a small distance.” Twenty years of yet another futile, expensive and demonstrably stupid war appears to have taught Washington that it no longer has the control over distance that it formerly believed it had. Its wasteful actions have also diminished its force.

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    Making leverage work in mechanics requires some careful analysis, preparation and effective execution. These are efforts the strategists, planners and decision-makers, convinced of the indomitable force of their influence, have consistently failed to carry out in a competent way. Could it be too late for them to learn the art of leverage? Or is the very fact that they are now obliged to think in terms of leverage rather than influence so humiliating an experience that they will fail to engage?

    This may be the occasion for US President Joe Biden to leverage the vaunted “power of our example” rather than the “example of our power” that he so regularly mentions in his speeches. That would require some real geopolitical creativity. And does he really believe that the US could live up to that standard? Few commentators have remarked that Biden, true to his own tradition, plagiarized that line from Evan Augustine Peterson III, J.D., who originally used it in 2005 to condemn the Iraq war that Biden had so forcefully promoted as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

    Historical Note

    In 1823, President James Monroe promulgated the Monroe Doctrine that continues to this day to dominate US relations with the entire American continent. It became a permanent feature of the mindset of US strategists, who without a trace of tragic irony routinely consider Latin America in its entirety, right down to the Tierra del Fuego, as Washington’s “backyard.” Peter Hakim, a senior fellow of the Inter-American Dialogue, in a Foreign Affairs in 2007 article with the title, “Is Washington Losing Latin America?” dared to express the feelings not only of the US political class, but also those of the USA’s neighbors. “Perhaps what most troubles Latin Americans is the sense that Washington just does not take the region seriously and still considers it to be its own backyard,” he wrote.

    In 1823, Latin America’s population consisted of three broad socio-cultural and ethnic components: indigenous people who occupied most of the mountainous interior; descendants of Iberian Europeans (Spanish and Portuguese) who, following their 15th and 16th-century conquests, dominated the political and economic structures; and imported African slaves (primarily in Brazil). All three were as distant from the dominant Anglo-Saxon culture of the US as anyone could imagine. These were the populations President Monroe wanted to “protect” from hostile action by European powers. 

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    Through its own expansion justified in the name of “manifest destiny,” the US had demonstrated how it would deal with indigenous Americans. Primarily through genocidal warfare. It demonstrated its attitude toward Africans, deemed useful purely for economic exploitation as slaves. As for the Spanish and Portuguese-speaking populations who created the culture that prevailed across all the coastal regions of Latin America, they belonged at best to the category of second-class Europeans. The fact that the majority were mestizos (mixed-race) defined them irrevocably as third-class. At least they could thank their hybrid status for being spared the fate of the true indigenous, who could at any moment, even in recent times, be subjected to genocidal treatment.

    In 1904, President Theodore Roosevelt refined the Monroe Doctrine by adding the Roosevelt Corollary. It “stated that in cases of flagrant and chronic wrongdoing by a Latin American country, the United States could intervene in that country’s internal affairs.” If during the 19th the Monroe Doctrine functioned mainly as a barrier to European incursion, by the beginning of the 20th century, the US had come to understand the value for its burgeoning capitalist economy of controlling what came to become a continental sphere of influence. Controlling meant having the power to organize the economy of the countries under its influence.

    Following the Second World War and the collapse of nearly all the vestiges of European colonization, the US discovered that the entire globe could potentially become its sphere of influence. Some have called the period of the Cold War the Pax Americana, simply because the standoff with the Soviet Union never became a hot war between the two massively armed superpowers. But throughout the period there were proxy wars, clandestine operations and regime change campaigns galore that meant the heat was never really turned down.

    What a comedown it must be today to have to debate how to exercise leverage.

    *[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news. Read more of The Daily Devil’s Dictionary on Fair Observer.]

    The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy. More

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    Can the Taliban Guarantee Security for Afghanistan’s Neighbors?

    The Taliban’s second takeover since 1996 is taking place in a regional context that poses challenges for the regime but also opens up new opportunities. Twenty-five years ago, the Taliban took over a country largely destroyed by civil war; today, they find a reasonably functioning state.

    At that time, the Taliban regime was recognized internationally by only three states: Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan. Iran, Russia and India, on the other hand, supported the armed resistance by the Northern Alliance.

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    Even after 2001, Afghanistan remained the scene of regional disputes. While Pakistan backed the Taliban, India became a strategic partner of the Afghan government. The common enmity against the US even made cooperation between Iran and the Taliban possible, despite their ideological differences.

    Security Guarantees

    The stability of the new Taliban regime will depend on the extent to which it succeeds in avoiding renewed international isolation and proxy wars in Afghanistan. Central to this, both in relation to the Western states and to Afghanistan’s neighbors, is the question of security guarantees from the Taliban in return for political recognition and economic support.

    Not only the US and other Western states but also Afghanistan’s regional neighbors have called on the Taliban to take action against terrorist groups that supported the Taliban’s conquest from their safe havens across the country in early summer. The Western community of states has its sights set on groups such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP).

    Russia and the Central Asian republics fear a direct spillover of Islamist militancy onto their territory, whether by the ISKP or by extremist groups such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan or Jamaat Ansarullah, which recruits mainly from Tajiks or Chechen fighters.

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    China’s security interests in Afghanistan are also directed against the ISKP and against militant Uighur groups such as the East Turkestan Islamic Movement. Pakistan, considered the Taliban’s closest ally, is demanding that the new leadership in Kabul take action against the Pakistani Taliban of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, which carries out attacks in Pakistan from Afghanistan. For its part, Shia-majority Iran has turned its attention to groups like the Sunni ISKP-affiliated Jundullah, which operates out of Afghanistan.

    In order to stabilize their rule, the Taliban must thus find ways to credibly limit the radius of action of foreign militant groups in Afghanistan, to the extent that they take into account the security concerns of the respective neighboring states. This appears easiest with regard to the ISKP, considered a threat by the neighbors as well as the Western states. However, since the Taliban and the ISKP are enemies, further fighting between the two groups is to be expected.

    It could be even more difficult for the Taliban to dissociate themselves from other militant groups such as the Haqqani Network, which is considered the military backbone of the Taliban and has close ties to al-Qaeda. Other Islamist groups are linked by different loyalties to individual factions within the Afghan Taliban.

    Security Benefits

    Consequently, the enforcement of security will probably not happen peacefully and is likely to become the starting point for renewed violence in Afghanistan. Nevertheless, the Taliban could benefit in several ways if they do achieve it.

    First, they will gain political recognition from neighboring states, which will increase their international legitimacy. Second, this may contribute to the country’s economic development. Afghanistan is central to a number of large-scale economic projects that would facilitate trade and transfer of energy between Central and South Asia and could also benefit the Taliban. Pakistan is interested in implementing these projects, as are Uzbekistan and China. Beijing could also increase economic cooperation with Afghanistan in the medium term as part of its Belt and Road Initiative.

    Third, the Taliban would benefit militarily from such cooperation as it would minimize the risk that an armed opposition like the Northern Alliance in the 1990s would again receive support from neighboring states.

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    At the same time, the different geopolitical environment and the Western states’ geostrategic rivalries with Russia and China now offer the Taliban more options for cooperation. The US and Europe will make their future relations with the new regime conditional on concessions on security issues, human rights and the participation of women.

    In contrast, neighbors such as China, Russia, the Central Asian states, Iran and Pakistan, while also emphasizing their security interests vis-à-vis the Taliban, will place less emphasis on human rights issues. This constellation is likely to significantly limit the West’s ability to influence Afghanistan’s future political and social development.

    *[This article was originally published by the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), which advises the German government and Bundestag on all questions related to foreign and security policy.]

    The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy. More