Ahmed Rashid QuotesAhmed Rashid is a journalist and best-selling foreign policy author of several books about Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Central Asia.
The West would be well advised to change its approach towards failing states. At present, no major power can find the correct ways and means – and the numbers of failing states are increasing. This year we watched the collapse of Mali, a consequence of the Libyan civil war. The south of Libya and Mali, and Niger too, are well on the way to becoming a no-man’s land. After 9/11, George W. Bush and Tony Blair made the promise that they would not tolerate failed states because they could become a haven for terrorists. And today? The number increases.
You have a lot of suspicion from the neighbors of Afghanistan about U.S. intentions. Iran is already, to some extent, trying to undermine the U.S. in Afghanistan. Russia is now becoming increasingly nervous about a more permanent U.S. presence in Central Asia. And China is not keen that the U.S. should be so close to its borders over a long period of time. Certainly, if the U.S. is going to be there for a long time, it’s going to exacerbate regional tensions.
The Pashtuns feel discriminated against by the Americans because they supported the Taliban and the war is still going on in their region with continued U.S. bombing. They are also disgruntled at the overwhelming power of their ethnic rivals the Tajiks, who dominate the security forces in Kabul and control the key levers of political power. Although Karzai is a Pashtun also, many Pashtuns consider him a hostage to the Tajiks and Americans.
Some Pakistanis fought for the Taliban. Pakistani extremist groups provided infrastructural support to Al Qaeda. There was a coming and going of Al Qaeda militants and leaders between Afghanistan and Pakistan for several years. All that has really happened is that Al Qaeda has escaped from Afghanistan come into Pakistan, got in touch with their contacts and friends in these extremist groups, which then provided them with safe houses, cars, and not just in the border areas but also in the cities. Rooting out Al Qaeda in Pakistan now is where the main battle is being fought.
If Afghan soldiers continue to kill American soldiers as is happening these days, it can hardly be assumed that they will stay in Afghanistan in the long term. And what role are they to play? There will not be enough soldiers to ensure the security of the country. But will the US still be permitted to kill terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan with un-manned drones? That could worsen the situation in the neighboring states and they could view Afghanistan as a threat.
The biggest mistake Barack Obama could have made is to change quite a few things in his Afghanistan policy. He increased the number of troops and at the same time set the US withdrawal date to 2014. Now the United States has to ensure that Afghanistan does not immediately collapse after being left to itself in 2014.
In my view, the Western model of influencing the development of third world countries is doomed to failure. The West does not understand how to deal with states that no longer have any authority and are threatened by dissolution. Their efforts failed in Iraq as well as Afghanistan. They are simply not capable of promoting the indigenous economy. Many billions of dollars flooded into Afghanistan, but without any significant effect.
The fact that there are no longer large units of Al Qaeda running around means you don’t need B-52s. You need intelligence and special forces. And, most importantly, you need to resurrect Afghanistan from what is literally the graveyard of countries and transform it into a normal country, which the Afghans want.
The Soviets held to the tradition of colonialism. They raped the country and killed many people. But they also built dams, electrical power plants, streets, and technical schools. They were communists and had the same vision for Afghanistan that Stalin and Lenin had for the Soviet Union: Progress is communism plus electrification. And today? Today Kabul gets its electrical power from Uzbekistan, Herat from Iran and Jalalabad from Pakistan.