There is a fundamental element of the Afghanistan tragedy which no one, among all the media pontificating on the subject, is discussing.
There are two neighboring countries which either exert, or could exert significant influence on Afghanistan. Pakistan is the obvious one, which has dominated, mostly for ill, the country over the past decades.
But no one is discussing Iran, which has a 600-mile border with Afghanistan and already offers refuge to 3-million Afghan refugees. While Iran is a majority Shia country, it has significant Sunni Arab minorities along its borders. For that reason, Iran has a vested interest in maintaining stability inside Afghanistan. An unstable, dysfunctional country bordering on its restive Sunni provinces bodes ill for Iran’s own security.
Which is why the US hostility toward Iran, in particular Trump’s assassination of IRG commander Qassem Soleimani, looms as yet another tragic lost opportunity in the history of our bilateral relations. The Iranian commander may have been many things we hated. But he was also an eminently pragmatic figure when it came to pursuing Iran’s strategic interests.
Despite a welcome message from incoming hardline Pres. Ebrahim Raisi, Iran must look with trepidation on the sweeping military victory of the Taliban. They are not just Islamist fundamentalists, but violent Jihadis who pour out their wrath not just on non-believers, but also on Muslims who deviate from the true path. Their Deobandi theology is associated with Sunni Islam, which would put it at odds with Iranian Shiism.
On the other hand, Iran has, especially recently, improved its relations with the Taliban. It hosted meetings with them in Tehran last winter. And it has offered a relatively warm reception to the new leaders of the country.
Over the decades, had the US pursued a gradual path of reconciliation with Iran which offered a pragmatic approach, including containment rather than bloodshed when our interests diverged, Biden would not now be facing the massive debacle his withdrawal caused.
In planning for the US exit, he could have negotiated with his Iranian counterparts and encouraged them to exert their own stabilizing efforts inside the country. Soleimani would have been a perfect figure to play such a role.
Instead, we not only murdered him, we continue to be at loggerheads with an increasingly radical regime. Instead of finding common interest, the hardline conservatives who came to power see Biden’s decision as a victory over US imperialism. They see it as offering yet another opportunity to expand their influence at the expense of the US, rather than in coordination with it.
In this sense, the US exit is a tragedy of our own making. One which our own myopia and hubris brought upon ourselves. How many more years, if not decades, will it take before we knock some sense in our heads (or have reality do it for us) and forge a different path?
But now wth to do? There are many monster countries with monster religious ideologies and monster leaders. In fact, no dearth of monsters in Amerika. We can’t even police our own, much less the world’s. And we castrated the UN.
Now WTBH to do?
Embassies o Russia, China and Pakistan remain open in Kabul. The Pakistan Amb. at the UN, was not given an opportunity to address the Security Council on Afghanistan. At a press meeting he fulminated over the animosity of India and their 900K troops in occupied Kashmir. India played a negative role in the Afghan crisis.
Today, Secr. Antony Blinken spoke with People’s Republic of China State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi about developments in Afghanistan
America’s number one enemy!
Jeff Siddiqui says
“Okay, we made mistakes, but we are here now, what should we do now??” This is the endless, repetitious refrain of America…everywhere, all the time. Our arrogance, combined with our deliberate lack of good information and our ability to bulldoze through opposition, guarantees we will continue to make huge mistakes for which, millions of the world’s unw3ashed, must pay with their lives and limbs.
Pakistan may well be interfering in Afghan political scene but I don’t believe it has a good choice. A hostile India on one side and an Indian ally (Afghanistan) on the other will be able to squeeze Pakistan away from Kashmir and some other areas.
The picture is complex and dirty; almost entirely made so by American interferences.
Boss Biggis says
No. Afghanistan is not a debacle of our own making, it is a debacle of the Afghan peoples own making.
Despite a trillion dollars and twenty years of Western aid, Afghans remain ultra conservative, anti-democratic and judging by the Taliban, rather brutal.
Afghanistan’s last best chance ended in 1973 when ‘good King Zahir’ was deposed in a palace coup and the country went into a slow, fifty year downward spiral ever since.
That said, Afghanistan is no threat to Iran and little threat to Pakistan, because Afghans don’t export terror and have no designs on Iran. Quite the opposite in fact, as Persia has invaded Afghanistan several times in the past and had dominated Afghanistan for a thousand years, which explains why Dari, a Persian language, is still spoken by the Pashtu majority in Afghanistan.
But for Soleimani’s assassination, everything would be rosy in Afghanistan? I don’t think so.
Afghans have their own plans for their country and obviously don’t want any more foreigners coming there and telling them what’s best for them. BTW, Iran is hardly a model for good governance, although Iran has graciously given sanctuary to Afghan Shi’as who they use as fodder in Iran’s proxy armies.
This article is timely, but error-filled.
Petraeus answered your query … with US and Allied stealth departure: <em>.. 18,000 civilian contract maintenance technicians who were the key to maintaining the sophisticated U.S.-provided helicopters and planes that make up the bulk of the Afghan fleet.</em> In August the Pentagon flew B52 sorties in from Qatar to stop the advance of the Taliban. Lacking close air support the ANA disintegrated.
Richard Silverstein says
@ Boss: Your racism is showing. You think anything we spent in Afghanistan was meant to improve the lives of Afghans or promote good governance? Our projects there benefited defense contractors and Afghan warlords who siphoned off billions in contracts and outright graft. Nothing we did there helped ordinary Afghans or the overall welfare of the country (with a few minor exceptions).
Afghanistan has been invaded and occupied by western powers since 1839. What chance has it had to develop normally and independently? But you don’t know that because you’re ignorant of Afghanistan history.
“Afghans don’t export terror?” Did you forget 9/11. Who did the Taliban harbor? The architect of the attacks himself, Osama bin Laden.
Whatever may’ve happened centuries of millenia ago is irrelevant to the past 2 centuries in which wester nations invaded and occupied Afghanistan. Not Iran.
As for Soleimani, do not ever paraphrase my views or arguments. I never said things would be rosy. I said he could have been a conduit for stability in the aftermath of US withdrawal.
As for models of good governance, Israel is hardly a model either. But if I had a choice for what type of system would govern Afghanistan, I would prefer a semi-democratic country like Iran than a feudal one like the Taliban offer.
The comment is error-filled.
Oleg Kis says
[comment deleted: I do not permit 9/11 conspiracy mongering here. It’s not only off-topic, it’s just something I want nothing to do with.]
Ariel Shaz says
You make some amazing connections and assumptions.
They seem to be based on your free-spirited imagination.
None of what you wrote is based on facts, just guesses and wish lists.
Soleimani was involved in many blood-filled conflicts. Why have you decided to whitewash him while you blackwash others?
Richard Silverstein says
@ Ariel: I never said Soleimani was a Boy Scout. I never said I’d invite him for cocktails. I said he was a canny, pragmatic military leader who could have seen the benefit of Collaborating with the US to ensure a stable transition in Afghanistan.
nessim dayan says
Disagreement. Iran has given safeheavens for peace on its border and inside iran . but it does not have any deciding power inside Taliban.
Taliban is a purely pakistan monster outshoot. It was created at the time russia was mired there. It was described as russia’s vietnan. And it ended just as that back then and now again. Why because pakistan wants it this way. Period. Taliban is nothing more than a heroin based gang. Their unique power ambition is richness thru heroin . not russia nor china will ever have true gravitas over taliban any mischief will be based on money not policy. All possible methods of refrain will always be drone based.
Trump initiated the meltdown and it should be a headline day in day out now and forever
אלי גל says
“…Trump’s assassination of IRG commander Qassem Soleimani, looms as yet another tragic lost opportunity… he was also an eminently pragmatic figure when it came to pursuing Iran’s strategic interests…”
That may be true In retrospect. But at the time of the assassination no one had a crystal ball predicting the situation in Afghanistan a few decades later. On the other hand that man was not a Mother Teresa. Suffice it to mention his having been named as being involved in the terror bombing of the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires which killed dozens of innocent people, as was published in the largest Argentine newspaper, Clarin:
Richard Silverstein says
@ Eli Gal: No one needed a crystal ball to see that the murder of Soleimani made the region even more volatile and dangerous than it already was. Nor did one need a crystal ball to understand that a regional already prone to war would be even more likely to have greater ones with him eliminated.
Stay on topic. The topic was Soleimani’s potential role in Afghanistan, not a laundry list of terror attacks. Anyone can do that. I produce a laundry list of Begin or Shamir’s terror attacks and argue that they should never have become PM. What’s the purpose? Pure propaganda, at least on yr part. Stay on topic.
Martyr Qassem Soleimani met with leaders of Afghanistan in Panjshir valley and after martyrdom of Ahmad Shah Massoud in September 2001. He had a vital role in designing ground operations against Taliban in the liberation of Herat,