October 03, 2009

The echos of Afghanistan

British politicians are fond of telling the public that fighting in Afghanistan prevents bombs going off at home. Considering that more than half the population wants the army out of Afghanistan, and there's an election coming, it's not a surprise that the people hoping to keep their jobs (who are the same people who decided to the send the troops there in the first place) like to stress the most obvious, stark justification. "The army stays in Afghanistan so you don't blown up on your way to work".

"Well, yeah.. ok," Londonstani's often thought; "but is this one of those situations where politicians and spin doctors decide that the public needs the most face-slap basic message to understand its own self interest?"

There's a bigger picture problem with getting out of Afghanistan too early and today the head of the army, Sir David Richards made it very clear:

"Failure would have a catalytic effect on militant Islam around the world and in the region because the message would be that al-Qaeda and the Taliban have defeated the US and the British and Nato, the most powerful alliance in the world. So why wouldn't that have an intoxicating effect on militants everywhere? The geo-strategic implications would be immense."

What does that mean exactly? Imagine extremists operating in a place far away from Afghanistan are struggling to convince their local audience that austerity and rejection will end corruption, increase justice and restore their pride. A place like, say, Nigeria. In the vast majority of instances, these groups are shunned not because of the intervention of others but because of their own excesses and unpopular practices.

What happens when the Taliban succeeds in making good al Qaeda's vow to defeat the remaining world superpower as they destroyed the Soviets (according to their own image projection)? A realistic projection resulting from the steriod injection of kudos such as outcome would produce will likely include a strengthening of groups in places like Nigeria, Somalia, Sudan, Indonesia, Pakistan as well as the emergence of groups in all sorts of unexpected places (like inner city London).

Result? Decades of small wars all over the globe, increased civilians deaths (in Western and Muslim countries) and therefore continued escalation, higher defence costs and disruption to global trade etc. So if you think Afghanistan is bad...