01 October 2006

NATO, the Cold War and Afghanistan

The current fiasco of scraping together NATO forces for Afghanistan brings to mind the Cold War.

Before the fall of the Soviet Union, NATO was on the front line to stop, as we were told at the time, the ever present possibility of conflict with the Warsaw Pact countries.

NATO was to be the bulwark against Soviet expansion and millions of Soviet troops.

Oh, how things have changed since the early 1990s.

NATO, instead of fighting millions of soldiers under the direction of the Kremlin, now faces a ragtag band of Taliban.

Of course, guerrilla actions can be unpredictable and hard to contain, but the probable thousands of Taliban fighters hardly compare with the millions of East European troops and the Red Army.

The undignified diplomatic shuffling and arm twisting which is going on now just to raise a few thousand troops for the NATO force in Afghanistan does not bode well for the future.

European nations seem more content when the threat is on the doorstep (has allegedly it was with the Warsaw Pact), but the ramifications of a rejuvenated Taliban retaking Afghanistan are too awful to consider, for the want of countries in the West fully engaging with the problems there.

The recent treaty signed by President Musharraf will, in all probability, give the Taliban a launch pad for attacks into Afghanistan from the lawless border region of Pakistan.

Combined with bumper crops of poppies it would seem that Afghanistan might regress.

Western countries have known for at least the past two years of the Taliban's resurgence and yet have not taken up the challenge, there is much talk of winning “the hearts and minds” but comparatively little real change on the ground.

So the four broad problems of Afghanistan, as I see them, are:

1. Western countries pitiful contribution to the rebuilding of Afghanistan
2. insufficient aid and military expertise
3. a method for dealing with the growth of poppies
4. how to make the border region of Pakistan inhospitable for the Taliban and Al Qaeda

The first two points should be comparatively easy to deal with if Western countries feel that the rebuilding of Afghanistan is in their vested interest and not just another annoyance.

The third point could possibly be dealt with by buying up the crop entirely and using it for medical purposes rather than allowing it to be processed into hard drugs. It seems unlikely that an eradication programme would be feasible or achievable in Afghanistan, so the alternative is to spend money to mopping them up and win the hearts and minds, that way.

The fourth point is very tricky, that border region is incredibly inhospitable and as the British found probably unconquerable. It may be that tribal loyalties in the region take precedence over money or perceived self-interest, military operations would seem futile and buying off parts of the border region may be more effective and in the long run cheaper than military incursions. Either way it is unclear as to how to deal with this problem.

So Western countries have several choices: engage with Afghanistan, pour money and resources into the region or allow Afghanistan to become, yet again, a mediaeval barbaric regime under the Taliban.

I think I know what is more preferable but do the politicians in the West?

1 comment:

Vigilante said...

It's wonderful that NATO countries come to the aid of us Yanks who were attacked by Osama bin Laden (((al Qaeda) the Taliban) Afghanistan). You cannot place too high a value on loyality. But can't one ask if there's not too high a price placed on this loyality, when we Yanks are not even going full-out on our shared the Afghanistan campaign; when we have instead unneccessarily pissed away our own military and economic assets down the toilet in Iraq? Why isn't this question even asked in England? In Canada? How much longer will our loyal NATO allies persevere in pulling our chestnuts out of the fire in Afghanistan while we have persisted in provoking and stoking our own fire in Iraq?