How to leave Afghanistan, and soon

Well, that’s one view about the war in Afghanistan, by Anatol Lieven in the New York Review of Books:

The attempt by US-led NATO forces in 2001 and 2002 to create a strong Pashtun alternative to the Taliban from among former Mujahedin forces failed because so many had either disgraced themselves by their oppressive policies and extortion when they ruled Afghanistan after the Communists fell in 1992, or had joined the Taliban and were brushed off or even killed by US forces when they made peace overtures. The best of the Pashtun Mujahedin commanders, Abdul Haq, who later fought against the Taliban (and who is commemorated in… The Afghan Solution, a book by Lucy Morgan Edwards published last year by Pluto Press) was killed in a premature attempt to undermine the Taliban in October… 2001.

Most ordinary Pashtuns in Pakistan are not supporters of Islamist parties (though support for these parties in the Pashtun territories is stronger than in other areas of Pakistan) and certainly do not want the Afghan Taliban to rule over them. They do however naturally tend to side with Pashtuns against rival ethnicities in Afghanistan, and above all, are disastrously responsive to the line that the Afghan Taliban are conducting a national resistance struggle, or in Islamic parlance, a “defensive jihad.” Hence the overwhelming majority of Pakistani Pashtuns with whom I have spoken express strong opposition to any Pakistani military action against the Afghan Taliban (and very often to the Pakistani Taliban too, insofar as they are seen as allies of the legitimate struggle in… Afghanistan).

As far as I can see, the only way out of this ghastly mess is for the US first to promote a peace settlement between the different groups and ethnicities in Afghanistan, and then to cut the ground from the Taliban’s “war of resistance” propaganda by getting out… completely. The first requires a radical decentralization of power, since I just cannot imagine the Taliban and their old enemies from the former Northern Alliance, (representing other ethnicities and a few Pashtun warlords) sharing real power in a Kabul government. The second requires a recognition of just how much the presence and actions of the US forces themselves have contributed to Taliban support. If there was any doubt about that before the burning of the Korans and the massacre by Sergeant Robert Bales in Kandahar, there can be no doubt… now.

The killing of US and NATO soldiers by Afghan soldiers and police in response to these events also shows that the US needs to get out for the sake of its own servicemen. The plan to leave thousands of US military advisors deployed with the Afghan National Army after the withdrawal of ground forces in 2014 is intended to avoid the possibility of a collapse of the US-backed regime after the US army leaves, along the line of South Vietnam in 1975. The problem is that it risks repeating what happened in South Vietnam eleven years… earlier.

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