August 25, 2021
(Afghanistan, previously known as “Khorasan,” a name now attached to a sect of ISIS: “ISIS-K.”)
I’m standing by my belief stated here a few days ago–that President Biden’s exit will turn out to be a great American success story. So, the exit has been poorly executed, but (a) no prior President had the courage to face a likely exit disaster; and no one can credibly argue that any exit would avoid chaos. As of today, some 5,400 Americans have been evacuated plus some 120,000 Afghans just in these few days. Some have been retrieved from locations distant from Kabul. In addition, coalition forces have removed more. For example, British flights have evacuated 15,000. France, Spain, Italy and Germany have taken thousands more. This is a great success for the US and coalition partners. Reasonable parties couldn’t really imagine Trump could have done it better.
Kevin Barker writes for Politico on August 28 in his piece The Old Cliche About Afghanistan That Won’t Die, “Understanding the historical reality is critical to grasping why the US is unlikely to suffer serious long term effects from its long and wasteful occupation of Afghanistan–or from the bloody, bumbling withdrawal.” Barker lists the long history of many powers who came, fought, lost, and departed with their own chaotic exits, without lasting effect on those powers. The US is just another in this list. Perhaps there will be others.
The dark side, promoted by Fox news and Conservative hawks: Historically, in provinces they controlled, the Taliban has been known to ban TV, movies, music, and has stopped girls from school after age 10. Punishments have been painful and often fatal for those accused of crimes. Stoning was one such punishment. There is fear the Taliban will harbor al-Qaeda and ISIS-K.
The equally likely plus side: The BBC asks, August 18, Taliban are back–what next for Afghanistan? The stated reason for our entry 20 years ago was to root out al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden. Now, the Taliban, terrorists only against their own US supported Afghan government (never accused of terrorism against the US), ends up in control of their country, feeling they have finally rescued their native country from colonial domination (and its practices). The future might surprise many.
Mullah Baradar, one of the top members of the new Taliban government is quoted as saying, “We have achieved a victory that was not expected…now it is about how we serve and protect our people.”
This is the hope offered to all who fear the worst, and especially to those who think we should have stayed, or at least stayed longer. While the Taliban undoubtedly feel this was and now is their country, and they have the right to rule it, they certainly understand three very critical elements of the struggle ahead of them:
- They inherit a nation with a significant population of better educated citizens, and a working economy in Kandahar, Kunduz, and other larger cities. While still third world, the main cities are in far better economic shape than the more distant Taliban provinces where some of the seemingly barbaric practices had been occurring.
- They must be aware that without international help going forward, removal of sanctions, etc., they have little chance to retain the economic gains, much less to advance the country forward.
- They promise not to harbor terrorists, and that they will honor women’s rights.
This reality is more than a faint liberal dream. It has a good likelihood to move in this direction: gradual lessening of punitive practices, gradual acceptance of women in the workplace, going out without male escort, gradual expansion of permission for girls to continue schooling. Sincere efforts to help coalition partners root out unwelcome terrorist gaining entry.
It is not expected that such a possible transition will be swift or that it will be without challenges from Sharia hardliners. It will not be without some bloodshed. And, while we have narrowed the number of Americans who want out to 350, some will likely be left behind on August 31, depending on Pentagon strategies to continue to evacuate them. And tens of thousands of SIV holders, and others claiming refugee status are surely left behind, with similar dependence.
We’ll all be watching or working across coming week and months to enable as many of these as possible to leave. Even those who subscribe to my positive outlook (hope?) for this ravaged country, might want to sit it out elsewhere while the turbulent transition takes place, likely to require several years.
The Taliban will need to fill all government vacancies resulting from the departures. They will have to reign in their own extremists. They will have to learn how to protect their citizens from extremists within the Taliban and from foreign terrorists seeking a haven. Essentially, they will have to build an entire organization—from the ground up.
It will be messy, but there are good grounds for the future of this country. Let’s try to support this hope from the Taliban:
“We have achieved a victory that was not expected…now it is about how we serve and protect our people.”