Withdrawal And Then What?
The politics of a withdrawal from Afghanistan are firmly on the British political agenda, the recent comments by Gordon Brown’s office indicates that, even Nick Clegg is hedging his bets.
Combined with the removal of the United Nation’s western officials, the situation in Afghanistan is looking bleak, despite the urgency of the McChrystal’s request for extra troops the White House is dithering.
There is a distinct possibility that NATO forces and aid agencies could withdraw completely from Afghanistan within the next few years, or before, and despite what some “anti-imperialists” suggest such a course of action would not be a victory, as ultimately the Afghans will suffer a terrible fate.
I think it worthwhile pondering the possible outcomes of a precipitous withdraw of NATO troops.
These preliminary points should not need stating, however, I think they provide a wider context from which we can draw some conclusions.
- Firstly, the Taliban is engaged in a war of conquest, it wants to control Afghanistan at all costs, the whole country as it did years ago.
- Secondly, it will use any means to achieve that end, it would gladly kill thousands, if not tens of thousands, or more, that’s what the Taliban will do.
- Thirdly, the years of neglect and misgovernment have taken their toll and finally, that the joint NATO and Afghan forces are having a real difficulty subduing the Taliban.
All of these points are fairly obvious, but they point to wider problems, should NATO forces leave abruptly then the remaining Afghan forces would have serious difficulties overcoming the Taliban.
Again, if the combined resources of both Afghan and NATO forces can’t readily defeat the Taliban, at the moment, then the Afghan forces on their own probably would not be able to do it. What follows from that is very important, because as far as I can see there are two conceivable outcomes of a hasty withdrawal of NATO forces:
1. Civil war in Afghanistan.
2. A Taliban victory and conquest of the country.
Should a civil war occur in Afghanistan then potentially hundreds of thousands of Afghan civilians could be slaughtered, as neither side would pull any punches and use all and any available methods to subdue the other side.
Either with, or without, a civil war a Taliban victory is highly probable.
In victory they will show no mercy, in the past they have deliberately attacked other ethnic minorities in Afghanistan, etc. I am not sure that we need to dwell on what type of society that the Taliban would reconstitute, but 13th century medievalism would be their starting place. Women in Afghanistan would be repressed and made the chattel of men. Girls education would be banned. Most modern innovations, even chess and music, would be made illegal
Under the Taliban the cult of the gun and the bullet made the dominant ideology, all that and much more. Aid agencies would be banned, as they were before, from the country as foreign “interlopers”, the Afghan economy would atrophy and millions of potential refugee’s seek shelter in neighbouring states. Starvation will return to Afghanistan.
Once that has occurred Western states will find any number of reasons not to intervene, as blood drips down the streets and alleyways of villages in Afghanistan.
That is certainly probable, in light of a Taliban victory, and in the West we will hear such nauseating variants on the “they are savages, let them fight it out” theme or “we shouldn’t split a drop of British blood for those Afghans” etc
In such an eventuality, a typically Western mix of isolationism, xenophobia and realpolitik would be used to justify inaction and passivity in the face of a Taliban victory.
All of that, is certainly a possibility, and more probable than many in the West would readily admit. A Taliban victory and the consequences for the ordinary Afghans does not bear thinking about, the result will be untold amounts of bloodshed and parsimonious hand-wringing in the West.