Sleepwalking into an Afghanistan Disaster

By Hal Colebatch

British Prime Minister David Cameron recently met Afghan President Hamid Karzai to inform him that Britain would be pulling out of the country in 2014. US President Barack Obama has made a similar commitment. Obviously no Western forces will remain in Afghanistan without them.

Given that the US will also be pulling out, it is a mystery why Australia continues to waste treasure and the lives of its best troops in a war whose futility has become obvious. If there were a real possibility of Afghanistan becoming a modern, democratic state, such sacrifices might be justifiable in realpolitik terms. (It was worth saving South Korea from becoming North Korea.) But that is not going to happen.

Western policymakers seem to be sleep-walking to disaster with no plans in the event of the near-inevitable Taliban return in force. The obvious raison d'etre for the Western military presence - punishment for September 11 - 9/11 - ended with the death of Osama bin Laden.

It is not easy to see how killing a few more Afghans with drone attacks will do anything to create or strengthen Western democratic institutions there. No doubt Vladimir Putin is laughing at the spectacle of the Western countries wasting their strained and cut-down military budgets. Under Left leaders in the US and Australia, and a Tory leader hardly further from the Left in Britain, Anglosphere countries have made deep cuts to their military budgets, making the war in Afghanistan a disproportionately heavy drain.

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The announcement of the British withdrawal date not only underlines the futility of the Western campaign, it looks like a piece of military idiocy. How difficult is it to grasp as a principle not to tell the enemy your plans?

As British ex-services chaplain Peter Mullen wrote recently: "Can you imagine Mr Churchill getting on the phone to Hitler at the back end of 1940 and saying: 'As you know, Adolf, we're going to surrender in 1943. In the meantime we will engage our troops in this useless campaign and I dare say many more of them will be slaughtered'?"

One of the classic moral requirements for a "just war" is that there be a reasonable chance of success. This is plainly not the case here, now that the withdrawal date has been announced. Without a miracle, the Taliban will come storming back before the last NATO plane takes off from Kabul airport. So what will happen to the Afghans who, in the Taliban's eyes, have been contaminated by Western ways?

The puppet president during the ill-fated Russian occupation was castrated before being hanged when the Russians were not around to protect him.

In a foretaste of what may be expected, Razia Jan, founder of a girls school outside Kabul, reportedly said recently: "They threw hand grenades in a girls school, and 100 girls were killed. Every day, you hear somebody's thrown acid at a girl's face ... or they poison their water."

According to the UN there were at least 185 documented attacks on schools and hospitals in Afghanistan last year. Most of the attacks were attributed to "groups opposed to girls' education" and to women engaging in occupations such as medicine or nursing.

If Western powers were interested in doing anything humane and constructive, they would be making plans to get professional women and schoolgirls out and arranging resettlement for them.

A Taliban victory in Afghanistan could finish off the beleaguered democratic institutions in the failing state of Pakistan as well.

India and China are unlikely to give refugees a warm welcome. Neither country wants more Muslims, Westernised or not.

Selecting the people to be given refugee status and evacuated, as well as finding countries willing to give them refuge, and even organising transport, will be a long and complex task, calling for a major international administrative effort, and an effort against the clock at that.

However, there is no evidence that anything is being done.

Hal Colebatch is an author, lecturer, journalist and lawyer.

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