Despite the winter lull in Afghanistan, it is becoming increasingly evident that the US-led alliance operating there since the Taliban were overthrown in 2001 is on the brink of collapse. How did a ragtag group of ill-equipped militants manage to survive seven years of military occupation by the strongest military in modern times, backed by the strongest military alliance since the collapse of the Warsaw Pact?
From the outset, the NATO mission suffered from lack of a clear mandate. Was the long-term objective stabilization? Reconstruction? Development? Or war-making, as US forces, aided by special forces from other countries, hunted down al-Qaeda fighters and their Taliban hosts?
Midway in, contributing countries saw their mandate shift from what was ostensibly stabilization (Kabul being the only real success in that department) to counterinsurgency. All of a sudden, countries like Canada and Britain, which had deployed soldiers to support Provincial Reconstruction Teams, were venturing outside their main areas of operation and engaging in fierce battles with militants.
Though fairly successful in those encounters, coalition losses were most unwelcome back home. This was not, people argued, what those countries had sent their young men and women to do.
In the halcyon days following the collapse of the Taliban, there was hope that Afghanistan could be rehabilitated, buttressed by a strong belief that a failed state that had served as a Club Med for terrorists could be turned into a success story, the first chapter in the US' quest to pacify the world through democracy.
What the US and its allies are only now beginning to realize is that Afghanistan may not have what it takes to be rehabilitated -- at least not using the Western template. In the past seven years, billions of US dollars have been poured into the country, hundreds of alliance lives have been lost and countless more Afghans have been killed -- many neither terrorists nor militants. Poppy cultivation has continued apace and the militant losses are replenished by a seemingly bottomless pool of recruits. In short, the return on the investment has been paltry.
Without a clear strategy, well-defined benchmarks and real progress, NATO has turned to what it knows best and what it was intended for in the first place (albeit for a different time and place): waging war. But the populations back home have not supported this development, and the more kids are flown back home in body bags, the less inclined they will be to support war without end in a distant country that seems unable, or even unwilling, to fall back on its feet.
Seeing this and hearing countries such as Canada threaten to pull out if other countries do not step up to the plate, Washington now faces the real possibility that its missionary vision may fail. With Iraq still shaky and likely to require strong US investment for years to come, Washington's reputation would suffer a tremendous blow if Afghanistan slipped and once again became a failed state (some argue it already has). Doubly humiliating would be its inability to rally Western countries to its cause at a time when it can no longer afford to go it alone. Hence the "strongly worded" letter by US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates last week, asking more from NATO countries, to which some, such as Germany, took offense.
But regardless of whether NATO countries send more troops or equipment to Afghanistan, failure to radically change the course will only lead to further fractures in the alliance.
With patience, the Taliban could very well break the alliance's back.
Late last month, Beijing introduced changes to school curricula in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, requiring certain subjects to be taught in Mandarin rather than Mongolian. What is Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) seeking to gain from sending this message of pernicious intent? It is possible that he is attempting cultural genocide in Inner Mongolia, but does Xi also have the same plan for the democratic, independent nation of Mongolia? The controversy emerged with the announcement by the Inner Mongolia Education Bureau on Aug. 26 that first-grade elementary-school and junior-high students would in certain subjects start learning with Chinese-language textbooks, as
There are worrying signs that China is on the brink of a major food shortage, which might trigger a strategic contest over food security and push Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平), already under intense pressure, toward drastic measures, potentially spelling trouble for Taiwan and the rest of the world. China has encountered a perfect storm of disasters this year. On top of disruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic, torrential rains have caused catastrophic flooding in the Yangtze River basin, China’s largest agricultural region. Floodwaters are estimated to have already destroyed the crops on 6 million hectares of farmland. The situation has been
The restructuring of supply chains, particularly in the semiconductor industry, was an essential part of discussions last week between Taiwan and a US delegation led by US Undersecretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment Keith Krach. It took precedent over the highly anticipated subject of bilateral trade partnerships, and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC) founder Morris Chang’s (張忠謀) appearance on Friday at a dinner hosted by President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) for Krach was a subtle indicator of this. Chang was in photographs posted by Tsai on Facebook after the dinner, but no details about their discussions were disclosed. With
On Sept. 8, at the high-profile Ketagalan security forum, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) urged countries to deal with the China challenge. She said: “It is time for like-minded countries, and democratic friends in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond, to discuss a framework to generate sustained and concerted efforts to maintain a strategic order that deters unilateral aggressive actions.” The “Taiwan model” to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic provides an alternative to China’s authoritarian way of handling it. Taiwan’s response to the health crisis has made it evident that countries across the world have much to learn from Taiwan’s best practices and if