Overoptimistic calculations by western powers estimate that we are losing the war in Afghanistan. Far from it, we are losing the whole of Asia and, what is even worse, the credibility of the Alliance and the values it defends.
The excellent remarks by Valey Arya, in openDemocracy’s “Afghanistan: one conflict, three faces”, help us understand the depth and width of this war. Most analyses fail to see the whole picture and what it is at stake here. Not that the image is blurred or obscured, it is just that we do not dare look at all the implications. A mere glance at the map shows how Afghanistan seems to stretch itself so that it is in contact with so many troubled nations and regions, as if it delighted itself with problems.
Man has been making war in basically the same way for millennia. We have tried to disguise it with a coating of respectability and make it look “more human”. Where did we get the notion that “human” meant bloodless? Even worse, how could we ever think that we could “civilize” war? War is about winning or losing and there is no greater nonsense than a war between someone who has nothing to lose and he who has nothing to gain.
Most of Asia is sitting on the stands of the Afghan stadium watching this absurd game and sounding their vuvuzelas. NATO and the US are defeating themselves at a very low cost for competing powers.
Not even the business opportunity represented by the announcement of the trillion dollars worth of mineral riches in Afghan soil has increased interest in the country. Even McChrystal’s sacking had more media coverage.
Neighbours benefit from Afghanistan not using all of its water for lack of infrastructure but they gain little more than that. The rest of the “stans” to the north have to endure Islamic extremists sheltering there and opening new franchises in central Asia. Tension is also derived from the US presence at Manas Airport, with the Russians staying only a few dozen miles away at Kant and agreements built and broken on usage rights.
While the situation lasts, resources coming from the “stans” cannot travel south and they are stuck with Russia and China as their only markets or transit routes. The gas and oil pipelines projected to link Iran, China, Pakistan and India are on hold, to the delight of the other regional powers.
Pakistan fears that ethnic realignment will split the country in three. That would not only benefit India, but probably China also. Colonial borders negotiated under the British (the Durand Line, in this case) did not take into account realities on the ground and most of the wars fought by the western powers these last decades are the result of HMG’s policy back then.
Paul Rogers argues that NATO and the US are not seen as neutral although their citizens think of themselves as saviors of the universe, the white-hat cowboys of the movies. While they will continued to be as such for the foreseeable future, there is an increasing portion of the population who are no longer under the illusion.
There is nothing left to be gained in Afghanistan. Not at a reasonable price. NATO is staking its own credibility in a lose-or-lose game. In a previous article I wrote about the interest of Asian nations in getting rid of US presence in Asia. They will not push the coalition out of Afghanistan but rejoice in its failure and profit from the outcome.
The west has overstretched itself for years focusing on military power while the east was growing stronger. NATO is the strongest alliance on earth but can ill-afford to challenge Asia in Asia. No one can win that fight.
A fourth way out of Afghanistan might be possible. Ideally, it would include the Shanghai Cooperation Organization taking charge of the stabilization process with some Alliance forces ready to cleanse emerging terrorist havens. Ad-hoc Special Operations are preferable to a massive presence, leaving a very shallow logistical footprint while aid could be withdrawn in favour of trade.
We are bound to choose the lesser of two evils. The choice is either quitting or being defeated. And we need to keep in mind that there is far more at stake than Afghanistan itself. The strategic fate of the whole of central Asia, the keystone of what Halford Mackinder called the Heartland, is mostly dependent on what happens here.