Home Page Election 2019 News Opinion Foreign Policy Politics Policy Legislation Lobbying Hill Life & People Hill Climbers Heard On The Hill Calendar Archives Classifieds
Hill Times Events Inside Ottawa Directory Hill Times Store Hill Times Careers The Wire Report The Lobby Monitor Parliament Now
Subscribe Free Trial Reuse & Permissions Advertising
Log In
Global

Afghanistan: ‘a decent interval’

By Gwynne Dyer      

There is movement towards peace in Afghanistan—or at least towards an end to the American military ordeal there, which has lasted for almost 18 years. The only losers in the settlement will be the Afghans, who have to live under Taliban rule again. But that was always going to happen in the end.

If the remaining 14,000 U.S. troops and their associated air power leave, it’s game over for President Ashraf Ghani’s ‘puppet’ government (as the Taliban call it). The U.S. implicitly recognizes this reality because it’s only American diplomats, not official Afghan government representatives, who are negotiating with the Taliban in Qatar. Photograph courtesy of Commons Wikimedia
Share a story
The story link will be added automatically.

LONDON, U.K.—There is movement towards peace in Afghanistan—or at least towards an end to the American military ordeal there, which has lasted for almost 18 years.

U.S. officials and representatives of the Taliban insurgents have held seven rounds of direct talks in the tiny Gulf state of Qatar since last October, and they are getting close to a deal. During a visit to Afghanistan last month, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the Trump administration hoped for “a peace deal before Sept. 1.”

This prospect is not getting much attention because everybody is worried that Trump is about to blunder his way into a new and much bigger war with next-door Iran, but it really could happen. American troops could all be gone from Afghanistan 18 months from now.

The real question is: how long after that will it be before the Taliban are back in power?

When a great power loses a war with a much weaker enemy in a very much poorer country, it can’t actually admit defeat. That’s just too humiliating. So the local victors often have to let the great-power loser save face by giving it a “decent interval” (in Henry Kissinger’s deathless phrase) after the great power’s troops pull out before they collect their winnings.

How long is a “decent interval”? Generally, it’s around three years. That’s how long North Vietnam waited after U.S. troops left South Vietnam (1972) before overrunning the South (1975). It’s how long it took after Russian troops left Afghanistan (1989) before their puppet government in Kabul was destroyed (1992)— although a civil war between rival Islamist groups prevented the Taliban from occupying the capital until four years later.

And it’s probably about how long the Taliban will have to wait after U.S. troops leave Afghanistan this time (say late 2020, just before the U.S. election), before they are formally back in power in Kabul (2023?).

 There’s still a lot of killing going on in Afghanistan—around 20 civilians killed or wounded on the average day, at least twice that number of government troops, and large numbers of Taliban too—but the Taliban have won.

Even with huge U.S. air support, the more-or-less elected government that the United States created in Kabul has lost control of one-third of Afghanistan since American and other Western troops pulled out of ground combat roles in 2014. Another third of the country is government-controlled by day, Taliban-run at night.

If the remaining 14,000 U.S. troops and their associated air power leave, it’s game over for President Ashraf Ghani’s “puppet” government (as the Taliban call it). The U.S. implicitly recognizes this reality because it’s only American diplomats, not official Afghan government representatives, who are negotiating with the Taliban in Qatar.

A few Afghan officials were allowed to be present at the last round of the Qatar peace talks “in a personal capacity,” but they weren’t negotiating anything. Ghani’s government will have to accept whatever deal the United States makes, knowing perfectly well that they are being abandoned. After that they will have no options left except to steal as much as they can, and then get out before the roof falls in.

And how will the White House justify selling out its Afghan allies and dependants to itself? Without any great difficulty, if the ‘Nixon Tapes’ are any guide.

 The key conversation between president Richard Nixon and his national security adviser, Henry Kissinger, in August 1972, when they were deciding to rat on South Vietnam, was recorded on the White House system and subsequently made public during the Watergate scandal.

Nixon: “Can we have a viable foreign policy if a year from now or two years from now, North Vietnam gobbles up South Vietnam? That’s the real question.”

 Kissinger: “(Yes), if it looks as if it’s the result of South Vietnamese incompetence. If we now sell out in such a way that, say, within a three- to four-month period, we have pushed (them) over the brink…it won’t help us all that much. 

“So we’ve got to find some formula that holds the thing together a year or two… after which—after a year, Mr. President, Vietnam will be a backwater. If we settle it, say, this October, by January ’74 no one will give a damn.” 

It worked for Nixon and Kissinger, and it can work for Trump and Pompeo, too. They may not be as clever or as cunning, but they are just as ruthless. The pull-out won’t come back to bite them politically, either, because the Taliban were never interested in attacking the United States. (That was al-Qaida.) 

The only losers in the settlement will be the Afghans, who have to live under Taliban rule again. But that was always going to happen in the end.

Gwynne Dyer’s new book is Growing Pains: The Future of Democracy (and Work).

The Hill Times

Politics This Morning

Get the latest news from The Hill Times

Politics This Morning


Your email has been added. An email has been sent to your address, please click the link inside of it to confirm your subscription.

Nearly 100 new MPs offer new face of Parliament, including 60 in flipped seats

In many ways the incoming Parliament looks quite similar to its predecessor, with 240 returning MPs, the same number of MPs who are Indigenous or a visible minority, and 10 more women.

Rise of advance voting raising questions about impact on, and of, campaigns: experts

Almost 4.8-million Canadians voted at advance polls this year, according to Elections Canada estimates, a roughly 30.6 per cent increase over 2015, accounting for roughly one-quarter of all ballots cast this election.

Watchdog’s proposed minority Parliament rules an affront to confidence convention, says legal expert

News|By Mike Lapointe
Democracy Watch says Governor General should speak with all party leaders before deciding who can try forming government, but Emmett Macfarlane says the confidence convention is the linchpin of the parliamentary system.

McKenna may be moved to new cabinet role after four years implementing Grits’ climate policies, say politicos

News|By Neil Moss
Catherine McKenna's 'tenure in environment would have prepared her well for any other kind of responsibility the prime minister may assign,' says former environment minister Jean Charest.

‘They went with what they knew’: Politicos react to Election 43

'If anybody should've won a majority, it should've been Trudeau. He didn't, and it's his to wear,' says CBC columnist Neil Macdonald of the Oct. 21 election results.

‘A clear mandate’: Trudeau wins second term, with voters handing Liberals a minority

News|By Beatrice Paez
Though not improbable, his victory was not inevitable. It brings an end to a nail-biting, gruelling 40-day slog that has exposed deepening rifts across the country.

McKenna wins re-election in Ottawa Centre, trumpets voters’ support for climate fight

News|By Neil Moss
'I’m so relieved,' Catherine McKenna said, about continuing with the Liberal climate change plan.

Election 2019 was a ‘campaign of fear,’ say pollsters

'There may well be a message to this to the main parties, that slagging each other will only take you so far,' says Greg Lyle.

Election 2019 campaign one of the most ‘uninspiring, disheartening, and dirtiest’ in 40 years, says Savoie

News|By Abbas Rana
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May says she has never seen an election where mudslinging overwhelmingly dominated the campaign, leaving little or no time for policy discussion.
Your group subscription includes premium access to Politics This Morning briefing.