Nihlism in Afghanistan

A British military man who had served in both Afghanistan and Iraq gave me his views on whether we should get out of Afghanistan or not, his argument was this in a nut shell:

We can still win in Afghanistan, if we are given enough resources; if we withdraw it will be a disaster of global proportions  and will allow the Taliban and al-Qaeda back in.

But what exactly are the right resources? In the middle of a financial crisis do you think the general public in Britain, the US or any of the contributing countries are going to pour even more money in? Take the US on its own, as Steven Walt has pointed out:

The United States has spent more than $223 billion on the Afghan war since 2001, and it now costs roughly $65 billion annually. The actual bill will be significantly higher, however, as these figures omit the replacement cost of military equipment, veterans’ benefits and other war-related expenses. Most important, more than 850 US soldiers have already been killed and several thousand have been seriously wounded.

The army guy responded to my arguments saying that this is the cost of war and the public needs to accept this if they are going to send us out there. I agree and which is why we have to get out. Over a 1000 British and Americans have lost their lives fighting a war that has a beginning but no clear end/objective not to mention the thousands upon thousands of Afghan civilian casualties.  I would love to here a clear argument for the stage in which the Western allies are wanting to achieve in order for the “job” to be done. Would a state of stability like Pakistan do? Or are we aiming for Saudi? Lebanon? So until realism sets in the lack of an objective will set in and ambiguous harmful policies will reign.

So what about the final objective in Afghanistan from the army point of view, what does he think we are fighting for? A liberal democratic state? Certainly not he told me, to sum up an elongated argument that he gave: he basically wanted a stable centralised authoritarian state, with the complete eradication of the enemy (i.e. Taliban/al-Qaeda). This was of course a personal view but I think can be seen as representative of a large segment of the army who appreciate that the establishment of a liberal democracy in Afghanistan may be a little of the mark. This view I think points to an important point: the public is being sold the utopian idea that the Western forces are setting up a liberal democracy when actually maybe without even fully realising it the West is actively setting up a military state to ensure stability.

Rory Stewart sums up this reality up brilliantly:

US generals have spoken openly about wanting a combined Afghan army-police-security apparatus of 450,000 soldiers (in a country with a population half the size of Britain’s). Such a force would cost $2 or $3 billion a year to maintain; the annual revenue of the Afghan government is just $600 million. We criticise developing countries for spending 30 per cent of their budget on defence; we are encouraging Afghanistan to spend 500 per cent of its budget…We should not encourage the creation of an authoritarian military state. The security that resulted might suit our short-term security interests, but it will not serve the longer interests of Afghans. ..We should not assume that the only way to achieve security in a developing country is through the restriction of civil liberties, or that authoritarianism is a necessary phase in state-formation, or a precondition for rapid economic development, or a lesser evil in the fight against modern terrorism.

  1. sharbet said:

    I see your point here and I see why that makes sense, but if the US does pull out, what are the alternatives? Leave the region to fester and pose a threat to the rest of the world? The fact that the Taliban are engaged in battle must weaken them in carrying out terrorist attacks elsewhere. I doubt the Taliban will stop and be satisfied with controlling just Afghanistan. As the Pakistani experience in Swat showed, even when a peace deal was signed, they went ahead and broke the treaty and expanded their territory further. Basically, I think the US is doing the world a huge favour by staying.

  2. deensharp said:


    This is what I don’t understand why do you assume that anarchy will rule if the US pulls out? Why do you think the Taliban are expansionist? There is a vital difference between al-Qaeda and the Taliban; there are also vital differences between elements within the Taliban. Remember it is the official Afghan government policy to bring the Taliban back into society not to eradicate them…

    I am certain that the current US (Western) strategy will only make things worse, that their plan is not sustainable and if this is their “solution” I would rather see their failure! The alternative is to attack direct threats to Western security…al-Qaeda bases have been destroyed now and it is security at “home” that has stopped any more attacks…

    I think the US is needlessly killing Afghans, its own citizens and wasting a lot of resources.

  3. sharbet said:

    Thanks for your explanation Deen. I think that the reason why I believe the Taliban to be expansionist is because I am Pakistani and very much worried about what is going there right now.

    If you are trying to make a distinction between the Pakistani Taliban and the Afghan Taliban, you may be right. Maybe the Afghani Taliban don’t want to go anywhere, I don’t know how close the two are and how much support they get from each side. As for me, I do see them, for some reason, as one entity, and not just because of the porous border. In the case of Pakistan, the Taliban have been expanding there for a long time. In 2005, I remember a friend of mine from the Mehsud tribe telling me that the Taliban had been gaining ground in their region for years and the news has only reached the media a few years later. Then, they most certainly were coming from Afghanistan and the tribal leaders themselves were very wary of their power. More recently, a deal was made between the Taliban who had gained a stronghold in the region of Swat in Pakistan to put in place Sharia law. The Taliban broke the peace deal by expanding and taking over more territory (Buner) and the army had to be deployed in the region to ‘clear it up’ resulting in devastating consequences for the civilians. Here’s a really good article on Taliban expansionism in Pakistan. It was written in June 2008 but still so relevant now.

    And the reason why I think anarchy will rule is because the Taliban’s rule in Pakistan defines anarchy for me. (See the article linked above and plenty more stories on the Taliban in Pakistan.) Again, I know I may have applied that falsely to Afghanistan. Maybe you are right and the US isn’t doing Afghanistan a favour by staying, but it is doing a favour to Pakistan, while Pakistan fights its own Taliban. And for all the reasons that you can think of, making Pakistan Taliban-free is important to the US and the region.

  4. wilson said:

    The problem for the foreign politicians whos armies are in afghanistan and iraq is that they cannot be percieved as making mistakes.
    To be right they convince their populations through media spin that more of the same mistakes is in all their best interest. As their populations are living a life of comparative ease they do not see through the cloud of lies.

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