Turmoil & Transformation in Afghanistan: A Sri Lankan Writer’s Assessment of the situation NOW

Lynn Ockersz, in The Island, 2 September 2021, where the title is  “Power and sovereignty issues come to the fore in Afghanistan”

“More and more strength to those women and other vulnerable groups that are mustering for their rights in Afghanistan right now.” This is likely to be the wish of progressives everywhere. The enormity of their courage could be gauged from the fact that they are in direct confrontation with the Taliban who are no champions of fundamental rights. Now more than ever before, women’s organizations the world over and international progressive opinion need to rally round these protesting sections in Afghanistan.

Such support is crucial in consideration of the fact that sovereignty-linked questions are coming to the fore in Afghanistan in the wake of the Taliban’s return to the country as rulers, thanks to the US’s scruples over withdrawing from Afghanistan regardless of the human costs it entailed. As pointed out in this column last week under the heading, “US-China Cold War intensifies in the wake of Taliban return”, countries are not obliged to scramble to accord recognition to the Taliban regime in view of the fact that it did not come to power through democratic processes.

This rule applies in particular to countries of the South and South West Asian regionsthat are claiming democratic credentials. This is in consideration of the fact that it is the countries of these regions that would be interacting most closely with the Taliban regime from now on. As said in last week’s column, those countries claiming to be democratic that do recognize the Taliban regime currently run the risk of exposing themselves as fake democracies.

However, the Taliban could gain some legitimacy by first forming an inclusive government and by thereafter going for a free and fair election, where the onus would be on the Taliban to prove that the majority of the Afghan people are supportive of it. In the absence of these basic requirements there is no way in which the militant organization could claim that it is the legitimate government of Afghanistan. Power to rule or sovereignty cannot flow from the barrel of a gun in the world of democracy. Accordingly, the Taliban lacks the sovereign right to rule right now.

In this connection, it was most intriguing to hear a Sri Lankan “expert” going on record as saying, among other things, that an effort by Sri Lanka to recognize the Taliban regime “could give a wrong signal to both the Tamil and Muslim communities in Sri Lanka as well as the international community”. No explanation has been given by the speaker as to what this “signal” is. Besides, it is both daft and dangerous to refer to communities in their totality in consideration of the fact it is only microscopic armed formations within the communities in question that have opted for armed militancy against the Lankan state.

As commonsense would dictate, the vast majority of the members of the relevant communities are living in peace with the rest of the Sri Lankan people. Such “experts” should restrain their tongues lest they aggravate Sri Lanka’s ethnic and religious tensions.

Meanwhile, the US withdrawal from Afghanistan has opened a power vacuum in South West Asia. The possibility is strong of China filling this vacuum before long but that could have India in particular worried. This accounts for India making diplomatic contact with some members of the Taliban leadership in Doha recently. India is compelled to strike some sort of working relationship with the Taliban on account of its need, among other reasons, to ensure that China does not warm up excessively towards the Taliban. As a principal state of the South and South West Asian regions, India is facing the challenge of staving off moves by another notable world power in the form of China to infiltrate the regions concerned.

Given its instability, Afghanistan would be exceptionally coveted by China since external economic assistance would be high on the Taliban’s foreign policy agenda. Such moves by China would compel India to redouble its efforts to go to Afghanistan’s assistance in the area of nation rebuilding in particular. Accordingly, India and China would be in a degree of intense competition to wield influence in Afghanistan in the days ahead.

US military incursion into the global South has, no doubt, been a principal trigger to intensified conflict and war in the hemisphere over the decades but such armed involvement has been only one principal trigger in the chronic instability of these invaded states. With regard to South and South West Asia in particular the observer is obliged to come to grips with the extremely slow pace of progressive political change in these countries. Specifically, democratic development has been notoriously snail-paced. It is these realities that should have the democratic world worried in relation to the Taliban return.

An interesting poser that surfaces at the moment is what formations of the powerful, such as the G7, would be doing in the days ahead with regard to developments in Afghanistan. For instance, would the grouping be attaching strings, such as the adherence to democratic principles by the Taliban, for the extension of economic assistance to Afghanistan. The G7 would need to hurry because, besides China, other notable powers, such as Russia, Iran and Pakistan, would be redoubling their efforts to bolster the Taliban regime. Accordingly, big power games in Afghanistan are unlikely to end in a hurry. As pointed out in this column on previous occasions, Afghanistan’s strategic location has been making her the cynosure of the eyes of the powerful over the decades. This interest cannot be expected to dim in the foreseeable future.

Equally interestingly, how would the foremost agencies of the UN be reacting to developments in Afghanistan? Would the Taliban be expected to tread the path of democracy as a condition for crucial UN development assistance? What would be the stance of the UN Security Council members to these events? Could they muster a united policy among themselves on Afghanistan? Would Afghanistan be allowed by them to drift in the direction of Myanmar?

These questions and more cry out for answers. The hope of most progressives is likely to be that the wellbeing of the Afghan people would be attached top most priority by all the relevant stakeholders. That is, the legitimate interests of the powerless majority in Afghanistan should be made to prevail over all else.


Fair Dinkum’s Assessment of Lynn Ockersz’s Essay, 3  September 2021

Some of the essay is okay but…. ……………..The writer makes the same mistake of treating Afghanistan as a place of geopolitical game playing with a US-China cold war or by suggesting India needs to step up its efforts to court the Taliban in order to counter China.  It’s this kind of geopolitical manoeuvring that has caused problems in Afghanistan since the US joined with the mujahideen to remove a leftist government supported by the Soviet Union,  only to replace it with a US backed government that went in the same direction as it began introducing the same policies as the leftist government did.  Neighbouring countries should not use Afghanistan as a place to contest geopolitical battles. History teaches us this only leads to disaster. Historically, India was closer to the Afghan National Government while Pakistan was closer to the Taliban.  So any attempt by India to wage a geopolitical battle in Afghanistan will be more likely resisted by Pakistan,  not China.
China is unlikely to invest in Afghanistan if the Taliban don’t rein in terrorist groups,  if the security situation doesn’t improve dramatically, and if the Taliban don’t form a genuine inclusive government.  China is not looking to invest in Afghanistan to wage some sort of geopolitical battle with India. Its motives are very different.
There is nothing to stop India engaging with the Taliban and developing interests there so long as it is not for geopolitical reasons; i.e. to counter China.
There have been hints coming out of the US and UK that their militaries might work closely with the Taliban to fight terrorist groups in Afghanistan. In this climate, Western countries could end up being friends with the Taliban if it suits a higher purpose, i.e. fighting terrorism.
The Taliban is not a legitimate government and it would be foolish to accept their claims that they have changed and will be inclusive.  That is not happening as the Taliban return to banning music, imposing an extreme interpretation of Islamic values; and denying women access to senior jobs.
Questions have to be asked about the former Afghanistan National Government, especially their 300,000 strong military and security forces that ran away without even trying to defend the country they claimed was worth fighting for.  Even the President fled. The Taliban forces only numbered 76,000.  What happened to the 300,000 Afghan National forces?  Where did they go?  Why didn’t they defend their country?
Biden has just announced the US is ending its policy on interfering into countries using the military to bring democracy by force. It’s a failed policy. They might resort to other means such as using aid money, diplomacy, and covert means to try and force Afghanistan and other less democratic nations to become more democratic. On the other hand, the powerful military and its related industries might not allow him to do it.
The idea that the West should impose democracy on West and Southwest African countries is flawed for the same reasons given above. Democracy – if it is to be implemented – needs to be tailored to local conditions rather than being based on US or Western models of democracy. The US counts Saudi Arabia as a close friend:  yet it is one of the most authoritarian governments on the planet, but the US have never sought to impose democracy there. So why West Africa should be a concern is baffling.
I don’t see how Sri Lanka’s recognising the Taliban government will impact on Muslim and Hindu groups in Sri Lanka.  Sri Lanka will very likely be cautious in its approach to Afghanistan, like other countries.
Governments need to examine whether Pakistan was involved in supporting the Taliban overthrow of Ghani’s government.
A NOTE: “Fair Dinkum” is based in the Antipodes and is a specialist in international relations with lingusitic skills that assist his work on China. As such he has to take precautions to protect his identity. 


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