December 29, 2021

A High Wire Act In Afghanistan

"The proximate cause of the downward spiral is not the recurrent droughts, nor the Taliban’s predictable lack of skills for running a modern state, nor the inevitable shock that occurs when a war economy grinds to a halt. Those are significant factors, but the main reason for devastation is the West’s chokehold on the economy. Western politicians fear the criticism that might result from going easy on the Taliban, so they give two contradictory directions on Afghanistan: send aid to avoid calamity, but do not allow any material support for the new government. The results are bizarre. Western officials try to rebuild the banking sector while insisting that the Afghan central bank should remain blocked from the global financial system and deprived of its assets. Thousands of tons of food get delivered to starving people even as economic restrictions make people hungry. Western diplomats push the Taliban to allow girls’ education while their own governments cut off education funding." - Graeme Smith, 'Stop Starving Afghanistan: Why the West Should Release Its Economic Chokehold' Foreign Affairs, December 29, 2021.

Washington and its allies are trying to achieve the impossible in Afghanistan for a second time.

They want to punish the Taliban by applying sanctions and at the same time limit the suffering of the millions of people they rule over.

But sanctions only hurt the poor and vulnerable.

There is a balance to be struck between restraining the Taliban's behaviour and recognizing its illegal regime, but pushing Afghanistan into the black hole of economic isolation won't help achieve that balance.

And neither is relying on Pakistan.

But that is what Washington, NATO, and Europe are foolishly doing.

After handing Afghanistan to the wolves and walking away into the sunset of empire the Biden aministration turned to Pakistan to prevent a relapse of the events in the early 1990s when the country became embroiled in civil war.

The Taliban were sold as saviours then. 

When the state collapsed shortly after the Soviets left and every warlord with a gun believed he was boss the religious fanatics brought some sense of order. 

But as the tools of Pakistan they could never gain the popular legitimacy that is necessary to rule Afghanistan. They wrestled power away from the gangsters but they never had the people's will behind them. So when Washington attacked in 2001 they scattered back to their womb in Pakistan.

Over there they can be endlessly regenerated. NATO and the Afghan army never had a chance. They were fighting aimlessly and foolishly, professing to wage war against terrorism all the while confining the war to within Afghanistan's landlocked borders. 

But terrorism is a transnational phenomenon, and Pakistan has played a much more significant role than its masters in the West like to admit publicly.

Turning to Pakistan is an admission of a bankrupt Afghan policy that is based on the false assumption that Pakistan can control the terrorist groups it has sponsored. But, as we've seen in Pakistan itself, the Pakistani military is not up to the task of slaying the monsters it has created.

Pakistan is in more need of foreign aid than the Taliban regime. At least the Taliban and Afghanistan have the excuse of war and sanctions. What is Pakistan's excuse?

London knows its pet project in South Asia has always been a troubled child that needs permanent assistance. Pakistan is still stuck in the geopolitics of the 1950s, when India was its natural rival and the Cold War provided it with the opportunity to play its geographic card. 

It wants to stay in that time. It does not want to face the 21st century reality that India is its superior. Regardless of how hard Pakistan tries, no amount of nukes or Qurans can change that.

Washington could've nudged Pakistan's rulers onto the path of sanity but instead it has chosen to indulge them in their absurd fantasies of being a great Islamic power capable of shouldering the burdens in Afghanistan.

Washington knew eliminating Pakistan's sanctuaries was the key to victory in Afghanistan but didn't do anything about them.

An excerpt from, "Secret U.S. cable warned of Pakistani havens" by Greg Jaffe and Greg Miller, The Washington Post, February 24, 2012:

The U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan sent a top-secret cable to Washington last month warning that the persistence of enemy havens in Pakistan was placing the success of the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan in jeopardy, U.S. officials said.

The safe havens are only a small part of the problem.

Since the early 1970s Pakistan has sponsored terrorist networks and funded radical Islamic schools to turn young people, including desperate Afghan refugees, into brainwashed suicide bombers. 

Pakistan's generals had the blessing of Washington, but they didn't need to be prompted since they understood the value of terrorism better than most, having used it against India for decades.

Erdogan has copied this sick and evil strategy in Northern Syria. His regime is raising a generation of Syrian refugees to embrace their fate as cannon fodder for his Neo-Ottoman ambitions. 

Pakistan’s ideological origins began with the disintegration of the Ottoman empire a century ago so it would like nothing more than see its restoration because it would validate its world-view.

Both Turkey and Pakistan want to turn back the clock to the year 1500 even more than the Taliban.  

But the past is dead. And the Taliban do not have the intelligence to balance tradition and progress. It is a high wire act, and their fall is only a matter of time.