West's Afghan Hopes Collide with Reality

West's Afghan Hopes Collide with Reality

Mini Teaser: The outcome in Afghanistan won't resemble the vision of America and its allies, who wanted a strong, Western-aligned central government keeping the Taliban at bay. The goals should now be less ambitious.

by Author(s): Michael Hart

Other neighboring powers also have enduring interests. Russia has strong ethnic and political links with Uzbeks and Tajiks in Afghanistan. After 2014, any atavistic attraction of watching the West “bleed” in Afghanistan may be usurped by the impending geopolitical reality of the potential for southern Afghanistan to develop into a neo-Taliban state with the power to export jihadism into Central Asia. Russia is therefore likely to provide material and political support to Uzbeks and Tajiks. Turkey has both ambitions as a regional Eurasian power and strong links with Afghan Uzbeks and will provide support to them.

China will secure its economic interests, particularly minerals, such as the Aynak copper mine, and probably protect ethnic Uighurs in Badakhshan. Uzbekistan has an incipient insurgency of its own and therefore has little interest in seeing a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan on its southern border. Similarly, Tajikistan’s ethnic interest in northern Afghanistan is likely to translate into tangible support for Afghan Tajiks.

HISTORY SUGGESTS that Afghanistan ultimately always follows its own path, guided in arcane and often obscure ways by powerful competing forces of ethnicity, tribalism, religion, geography, regional feuds, a fervor of national protectiveness and unbending obstinacy. For centuries these forces have militated against a strong central government in Kabul and all manner of foreign incursion.

So will it be with the latest Western effort to fashion and direct the Afghan future. A measure of stability is possible following the decade-long Western involvement, if the Taliban can be confined to majority-Pashtun areas, if the non-Taliban North can resist Taliban incursion, if the influence of neighboring countries can help maintain an equilibrium of competing forces, and if Western nations—particularly America—exercise deft regional diplomacy combined with a measure of restraint commensurate with their ability to influence regional events.

After ten years of efforts to shape Afghan society in ways favorable to Western interests, the long-term societal and geopolitical consequences of Western engagement are very different from those envisaged in 2002.

Michael Hart is a Royal Air Force (RAF) officer who served in Afghanistan from 2008–09 and was director of defense studies for the RAF from 2010–11. The views expressed in the article are his alone and do not represent those of Her Majesty’s Government or the UK Ministry of Defence.

This article was derived entirely from open-source, unclassified material. The author is happy to provide his extensive original footnotes and bibliography upon request.


Image: Pullquote: History suggests that Afghanistan ultimately always follows its own path, guided in arcane and often obscure ways by powerful competing forces.Essay Types: Essay