In the famous blockbuster, For Your Eyes Only (1981), James Bond uses Q to tinker with the new face recognition system to identify a crook after failing to capture him the first time. He gets a call from M, who admonishes him, “And 007, try not to muck it up again!”
Led by America, the West mucks it up again in Afghanistan. Nearly 130 years after the British established the Durand Line artificially dividing the Pashtun peoples of Afghanistan and Pakistan, and 32 years after the Soviet Union left Afghanistan in utter disgrace resulting in its ultimate downfall, it is now America's turn to fail. It is little wonder that this mountainous landmass has a well-earned nickname: The graveyard of empires.
America’s poorly planned and atrociously executed exit will likely set off repercussions all over the world for a long time.
Because, unlike prior countries that had occupied Afghanistan, America poured real money — nearly $2 trillion — to build a fledgling democracy, but gave it all away, including billions of dollars worth weapons to the Taliban.
Almost half of Afghanistan’s population is too young even to know who or what the Taliban is. In a flash, millions of Afghans will be subject to an extreme version of Sharia law as their national constitution. Hard-earned women’s rights to education and work will again become a thing of the past. Music will be banned from public places. Western-style art, culture, and fashion will become a distant memory.
The Afghan flag, which has gone through multiple design changes during the last 130 years, will change again to the Taliban Flag. The country will now be called the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, just like during the five-year Taliban rule before 9/11.
The majority of the 37 million Afghans will shrug their shoulders and get on with their lives, but the impending global refugee crisis is unthinkable during a pandemic. The Association of Wartime Allies estimates that 250,000 Afghans qualify for extraction because they helped western allies in the 20-year war. Already 50,000 refugees are being resettled in various American cities. Germany, the UK and other parts of Europe are about to face a refugee onslaught not seen since 2015. Turkey has closed its borders to Afghans fleeing via land across Iran.
Around Afghanistan, the security situation will change overnight. The always-porous Afghan-Pakistan border will become even more so. Imran Khan, who has had a soft corner for radical Islamic views, will have to turn even more radical or face a threat to his administration. This outcome directly threatens India as Pakistan’s ISI and hard-line military factions are freshly emboldened to encourage terrorist activity across the Line of Control.
India also gets nothing after nearly 20 years of supporting the West in Afghanistan. Worse, with its withdrawal, India has ceded influence to China, ready to work with a Taliban-led government. Bloomberg estimates that China is eyeing nearly $1 trillion in minerals and deposits hidden underneath Afghanistan’s rugged terrain.
China is already heavily invested in Pakistan, Iran, and the -Stan countries because of its One Belt One Road initiative and wants to consolidate its gains by filling the American void left behind. The geopolitical situation for India has turned from yellow to red in a matter of days at a time when India’s economy is struggling to recover, and the Delta variant continues to inflict harm.
During the last few years, it cost America nearly $900,000 for each soldier deployed to Afghanistan as it spent almost $7 billion each year. Still, at just 1 per cent of the Pentagon budget, Afghanistan was relatively stable, with Western-style institutions thriving. Nor were American soldiers in any mortal danger. There were no recorded American casualties for nearly 18 months. America operates much larger foreign military bases at far higher costs in Germany, Korea, Japan, and West Asia to extend protections in those regions.
Why America decided to pull out from Afghanistan, first under Trump, and now, so haphazardly under Biden, will be discussed for years to come. The last few weeks’ events will likely be as seminal as 9/11 that first triggered the American invasion of Afghanistan.
The writer is Managing Director, Rao Advisors LLC, Bedford, TX
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