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Afghanistan Under the Taliban: It Won't Be Like Last Time

Ted Rall on

We've been in Afghanistan 20 years, Joe Biden's generals told him. All we need is a little more time. The president overruled them, ordering a complete withdrawal of American troops by Sept. 11.

Madiha Afzal and Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution articulate the opposition to Biden's decision to call it quits. Remove the U.S. occupation forces that have maintained stability, they worry, and civil war will soon follow, culminating in the overthrow of the U.S.-backed government in Kabul and the return of the Taliban. They think it will be the late 1990s all over again: women back under burqas, stonings, 14th-century Islam providing a safe haven for anti-Western terrorist groups like al-Qaida.

"(T)he most likely outcome of any quick troop exit this year is very ugly, including ethnic cleansing, mass slaughter, and the ultimate dismemberment of the country," Afzal and O'Hanlon write in USA Today. "No one can see the future, of course, but this type of outcome seems much more likely than any smooth transition to a new government run by a kinder, gentler, more moderate Taliban." They urge a slower long-term drawdown.

I think they're wrong.

I'm not clairvoyant. Yet I did foresee that the U.S. would follow the British and Soviet armies and meet defeat in the Hindu Kush: "We've lost this war, not because they're good or we're not, but because of who we are," I wrote from Afghanistan in December 2001, where I worked as an unembedded reporter for The Village Voice. "The American Empire can't spend the bodies or the time or the cash to fix this crazyass place, because in the final analysis, election-year W. was right -- we're not nation builders."

Unlike the Brookings authors, I'm more optimistic about Afghanistan without U.S. occupation forces than with them. First, whatever stability the U.S. and its allies have brought to Afghanistan is as artificial as the finger of the Dutch boy plugging the hole in the dike. The rural-based Taliban are like the sea, an inevitable force waiting to pour in. Whether or not we care for the end result, we can't forestall the inevitability of a people's self-determination at the cost of American and Afghan lives.

 

More importantly, the coalition presence has changed Afghanistan forever. When the Taliban ran most of the nation from 1996 to 2001, their draconian measures satisfied a desperate need for security in a place overridden with banditry, opium trafficking and addiction. Infrastructure was nonexistent: no phones, no electricity, no paved roads, no central monetary system. Afghans asked me to take their photos with my digital camera because no one owned a mirror; this was the first time in their lives they could see themselves.

Though security remains an issue, the coalition has built roads and highways throughout the country. We haven't built a nation. But we have installed stuff. Cellphone service is more reliable and affordable than in the U.S. Cities like Kabul, Mazar-i-Sharif and Herat are bursting at the seams with new construction. Access to the internet is widespread in urban areas. Mineral and oil reserves, previously untapped due to lack of capital investment, are beginning to come online thanks to China and other countries.

Two decades of occupation have changed culture in surprising ways. Herat, in the northwest near the borders with Turkmenistan and Iran, was dotted with pizzerias when I was there in 2010. Young men in Mazar brazenly ignored strictures against drinking and eating during the daytime during Ramadan. I saw a couple making out in a park in Kabul.

The Taliban -- or, more precisely, the neo-Taliban who have replaced the Taliban -- are more moderate because they operate in a modernized environment.

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Copyright 2021 Creators Syndicate, Inc.
 

 

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