Afghanistan is not ready to be abandoned

Leaving Afghanistan because of domestic political pressure would be deeply wrong, writes James Snell.

Leaving Afghanistan because of domestic political pressure would be deeply wrong, writes James Snell

As British troops leave Helmand Province in Afghanistan, prefacing eventual withdrawal from the country, the correct reaction might appear to be relief. After all, ‘our boys’, who fought, bled and died in the dust of South Asia, will soon be coming home.

However, this view, while certainly understandable, is deeply short-sighted.

In reality, Afghanistan is not in a fit enough state to be effectively abandoned, and the worthiest projects of the counter-insurgency lie unfinished. Hamid Karzai, fulfilling his nationalist role perfectly, is likely to protest against the supposed ‘occupation’. He claims that he wants the rest of the world out of Afghanistan, despite the fact, well known to him, that his country may not survive that eventuality.

To their shame, isolationists of all political stripes – even, perhaps especially, in other countries – are prepared to believe him.

Despite Karzai’s publicly stated views, nations which currently have troops deployed to the country should not see this as their chance to break with Afghanistan. The intervention in 2001 did successfully overthrow theocracy – Christopher Hitchens, in response to the cliché, opined that “Afghanistan is being, if anything, bombed OUT of the Stone Age”. This was good, but meant that the onus shifted from regime change to nation building, something for which the West has a less assured record.

That job needs time, exactly the opposite of what is being proposed.

Who will win if the West prematurely pulls out of Afghanistan? The answer is a collection of people who shoot girls in the head for wanting to go to school. Malala Yousafzai, the revered campaigner for female education, was nearly murdered by the Pakistani Taliban in the Swat Valley in 2012. The allies of those thugs held power in Afghanistan before 2001, and they are poised to do so again.

This prospect should terrify anyone who truly values democracy, and the precarious freedom that Afghanistan has began to achieve.

For Afghanistan, this week’s presidential election – in which heroic citizens defied the very real threat of violence in order to reap the benefits of representative government – should demonstrate hope amid the chaos created by over a decade of conflict. Let us not forget that, in withdrawing from active combat in the country, the rest of the world is jeopardising that same democracy.

Because, despite the triumphant nature of headlines that suggested defiance of the Taliban, the election was not without problems. In rural areas, ones which do not fall under the control of a government whose influence barely stretches outside Kabul, it was a very different story. Intimidation ruled, and voter turnout dwindled into insignificance.

Other horror stories abound. Last week, two Associated Press journalists were shot, one of them fatally, in the East of the country. This, sadly, conforms to type in a country which already sees disturbingly frequent attacks on journalists.

If parts of Afghanistan are like this now, how can we expect the country to fare when all outside support is removed? The answer is that we can’t. There is no serious suggestion that all will be well in South Asia if Britain and her allies pack up and go, and yet that is what the public want our leaders to do.

This urge must be resisted. Regardless of what one thinks about the war (I was, and am, in favour) leaving Afghanistan because of domestic political pressure is deeply wrong. We should be in the business of nation building, as well as regime toppling. Withdrawing from Afghanistan can only make matters worse.

Horace Mann famously declared: “be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity”. I propose an augmentation of this maxim for the situation in Afghanistan.

Until we have made Afghanistan safe; for little girls to go to school unimpeded, for their parents to vote freely and fairly without intimidation, and for journalists to go about their work unharassed, we should be ashamed to leave.

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11 Responses to “Afghanistan is not ready to be abandoned”

  1. interested

    So you are in favour of continued military occupation then? Until when?

  2. cetude

    The Taliban are just going to take over again.

  3. James Snell

    … if we leave. Precisely my point.

  4. swatnan

    Most people would be quite happy tp leave Afghanistan to stew in its own mess and if it would simply go away. The people have really brought all this misery of the Taliban and Sharia Law on their own heads. The fact is the Islamists have always been there, long before even the Russians foolishly had their puppets in there. And then we put ou own puppet in there the corrupt Karsai, who was once greeted rapturously at tha Labour Party Conference. The fact is the Afghans are taking us all for a ride. In most Revolutions the People overturn Regimes. Its up to the people to do it, without any help from us.

  5. Louisa

    Forgive me if I am misinterpreting, but what benefit would we have for keeping a military presence? It hasn’t seemed to be effective in recent years, has it? (please do not take this as an attack — I sincerely wish to understand your view so I may respond to it as accurately as possible) There must be ways to aid Afghanistan besides keeping a military presence, because it seems that it isn’t working, at the very least to me. I know not keeping a military presence seems to set the US on edge, but I’m genuinely concerned. Aren’t there other ways? Have alternatives even been looked for or have we gone straight to this “white-savior” complex?

    Again, please do not misunderstand, I mean no disrespect to you or of your opinion. Thank you!

  6. James Snell

    Thank you for your comment.

    My overall ambition is not to need a military presence in Afghanistan.

    I want to see an Afghanistan which needs no foreign military bases in order to prop itself up. I want Afghanistan to be a free, independent nation, one in which laws are respected and terrorist organisations are combated by a strong Afghan government.

    But that goal will only come about once the country has been stabilised, once civil society has been successfully incubated through the current crisis. Unfortunately, this requires continued military action by outside powers: fighting for democracy against theocracy, and freedom against tyranny.

    The Afghan state is not yet strong enough to support itself. It is my fondest hope that, one day, it will be able to do so. But this ideal state of affairs can only occur once the country is settled, and that can only happen with the continued efforts of the international community.

  7. interested

    So you are in favour of an open-ended military occupation?
    Which regiment will you be joining when you sign up to do your bit?

  8. James Snell


  9. interested

    Quite right, didn’t think you’d actually want to get your own hands dirty, plenty of proles to do that for you eh

  10. interested

    “I want to see an Afghanistan which needs no foreign military bases in order to prop itself up. I want Afghanistan to be a free, independent nation, one in which laws are respected and terrorist organisations are combated by a strong Afghan government.”
    And I want to see a Maserati full of beer and strippers next to my Olympic sized pool…but sadly it’s only slightly more likely than your pipe dream.

  11. daweman

    Afghan President Mohammad Najibullah was able to keep his secular, mildly Stalinist state functioning for two years after the Russians (Soviets) were unable to continue their support. Despite massive aid to the Mujahideen from Pakistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Israel and the United States, they held on. Why? Because Afghans are not interested in theocracy. They have always preferred a liberal-Islam.

    The Taliban were and continue to be a creation of the Pakistani ISI, not the U.S., created after the Soviets left in order advance the interests of Islamists from Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. They can prevent the central government from controlling all the provinces but they will never be able to govern a single province themselves. More people voted in the Presidential election this week than ever worked for the Taliban in its entire history. Even the people of the Pakistani tribal ares prefer drones to Taliban.

    The NATOISAF efforts in Afghanistan are producing irreversible change: there are far greater number of young women in Afghanistan acquiring an education than there are heroin-addicted suicide bombers in the madrases of Pakistan. The democrats will win. The only question is why the people fighting fascism in Afghanistan today should face the enemy alone.

    When will it end? When every country in world enjoys free and fair elections, of course.

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