Global upheaval is global unpredictability
23 August 2021
ADELAIDE - Martin Hadlow's comments, ‘Taliban had time, and are not so benign’, are both informed and pertinent.
There has been much hysterical commentary in the media about the sudden collapse of the Afghan government and of the USA's precipitous and badly planned withdrawal.
Certainly, US prestige has taken a serious hit as a consequence of the disaster: its attempt, along with NATO allies, to transplant democracy in Afghanistan has manifestly failed.
Unlike many people, perhaps most people, I do not see these events as reflecting a military failure.
It was always the case that the Pentagon knew they could not eradicate the Taliban by military means alone and the generals would certainly have told this to the politicians.
A necessary precondition for success was that the Afghans themselves were ready and willing to do the hard and dangerous fighting required to subdue them.
As it turns out, notwithstanding intensive training and the provision of huge amounts of resources, they weren't up to this task.
The main reason for this was not a lack of courage, knowledge or intelligence. Rather, it was because the Afghan government that they were expected to fight to protect and preserve was venal, corrupt and incompetent.
It never managed to win the proverbial hearts and minds of the people.
Also, I expect history will show that shadowy figures in places like Pakistan, Iran, Russia and even China made surreptitious contributions towards sustaining the Taliban.
While there are parallels that can be drawn with the chaotic ending of the Vietnam War, it is unwise to extrapolate too much from this.
As a fighting machine the US military remains without peer. It is immensely powerful.
However, the US political structure and system is a complete mess.
It is hopelessly divided on many issues (including, it seems, the nature of democracy itself) and it is struggling to cope with relentless demographic and other changes in its socio-economic structure.
This process is so fraught because it involves complex and difficult issues around matters like gender, identity, ethnicity, economics and that old favourite, religion.
While the world's authoritarian powers will draw comfort from this, they too should beware of the tides of history.
Authoritarian regimes have a very poor record surviving as viable political structures in the long term and, all too frequently, hubris and ambition has proved to be their underdoing.
The world is changing before our eyes but it would be a dangerous folly to assume that anyone can accurately foresee what might emerge from today's turmoil.
Chris Overland wrote: "While there are parallels that can be drawn with the chaotic ending of the Vietnam War, it is unwise to extrapolate too much from this.
"As a fighting machine the US military remains without peer. It is immensely powerful."
I think one of the biggest lessons from Vietnam that the USA (and Australia) did not learn well is that to combat a guerrilla force, you must fight a guerrilla war.
We have just seen a highly technological and overwhelming force approach go on for 20 years and still fail to win.
One of the keys to fighting a guerrilla war is to integrate with the society you are trying to protect. I wonder how many of the US and Australian forces in Afghanistan learnt to speak Pashtun or any other local dialect instead of relying on local interpreters, many of whom we can't extract.
Then again, how many kiaps or didimen or teachers learnt a local language in PNG? People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.
But very many of us, especially in the bush, learned Tok Pisin and Hiri (Police) Motu which provided a wonderful interface allowing us to work with, and befriend, Papua New Guineans - KJ
Posted by: Jim Moore | 26 August 2021 at 04:48 PM
Here are the thoughts of John Pilger:
Posted by: Bernard Corden | 25 August 2021 at 07:16 PM
Chris Overland wrote recently that "history shows unequivocally that the Western world was riven by religious disputation and violence for centuries" and mentioned the savage so called '30 Years War' that ravaged Europe in 17th century.
My highschool boy history always struck me as strange even in 1949. It covered the period 1750 (may have been 1 January) to 1910 (possibly 31 December) yet it was called Modern History for us kids despite ignoring the two recent wars of 1914-18 and 1939-45 while avoiding the last big Scottish struggle of 1745.
So I thought I'd gen-up on internet about that 17th century fight. An interesting read that made a change from Amazon prime movies.
One of memorable snippets I came away with was alleged to have been written by a Berlin reporter about the sacking of Prague in 1620 after the Battle of the White Mountain.
He wrote: “Those who have nothing, fear for their necks and all regret not taking up arms and fighting to the last man..."
To me that sums up the hordes of the young men of Afghanistan at Kabul airport that continues today while in some broadcasts we see street markets functioning and hundreds of taxi and other cars being driven around the streets of the city.
Are they poor at the bottom of the social pyramid or clever pragmatists or were most of the five million inhabitants of Kabul a 5th column or fellow-traveller Tali supporters happy to benefit from the West's largesse of over a trillion knowing that one day soon GIs really would go home leaving so many goodies on offer for the strongest or cleverest takers.
Or can I assume that Afghanistan is not really a nation but a conglomeration of many tribes and their clans just like PNG.
The latter socio-ethnic groups demand allegiance above all else against their neighbouring tribe and there is a little feeling of nationhood despite the efforts of the politicians.
To the average rural Lavongai Islander, Kavieng is his or her's normal farthest point of exploration from their huts. I soon became aware of this lack of concern for the dwellers in Waigani and the political manoeuvres such as votes of no confidence or party hopping.
After all food for the evening meal required every day's efforts in their subsistence lives. It was fun to grab a free cigarette or even a can of SP from the quinquennial parade of mostly strangers seeking their 'X' on the ballot paper after which life returned to the normal survival mode.
Thus for me tribalism raises a question what would the PNG army do if Indonesia or other nation decided to invaded the Sepik wanting their grubby hands on the Frieda resource?
Would Oro, New Ireland or New Britain soldiers fade away as happened with the Afghan Army especially if the elite in Waigani headed south to their luxury home in Australia?
After the blood and chaos it is said the biggest losers in the 30 Years War were the Germanic feudal tribes, principalities etc who would need another 200 years to become an independent nation in 1871.
Independence takes time to grow into a genuine social and emotional concept as I recall my grandfather informing me of being billeted not on a German family in Cologne in the 1919 British Army of Occupation but on a Prussian family.
I must end with one of my Grampy's World War I favourite songs which he would occasionally sing forty years after his war ended: "There's a long long road a-winding..."
What is the future for a stable Afghanistan? Sadly I stick my neck out to prophesy, “Not in this century!”
Posted by: arthur williams | 23 August 2021 at 10:08 PM
"The quickest way of ending a war is to lose it" - George Orwell
Posted by: Bernard Corden | 23 August 2021 at 12:38 PM