The Voices of War

20. Dr. Mike Martin - Update On Unfolding Situation In Afghanistan

VOW 20 | Afghanistan Update

 

Today, I spoke with Dr. Mike Martin about the current situation in Afghanistan. As there is a lot of international interest in the unfolding crisis, I am releasing the episode slightly ahead of my regular publishing cycle and only two hours since recording.

You can hear Dr. Mike’s full bio in our previous episode linked below as well as through his own website, which is also linked below. In short, Dr. Mike has spent years studying Afghanistan, served there as a British Army Officer, did his PhD on British involvement in Helmand, is a fluent Pashto speaker and is the author of the book An Intimate War, considered by many Afghanistan experts as the most-authoritative book on the dynamics and true nature of conflict in this part of the world.

You can listen to our previous episode here, find out more about Mike’s work here, and follow his Twitter feed @ThreshedThought.

 

Some of the topics we covered include:

  • What has happened since the Doha agreement
  • Why the Taliban takeover happened so quickly
  • The domino effect and the franchises
  • The fall of Kandahar
  • Mike Martin’s book, Why We Fight
  • Pulling out and the Non-Combatant Evacuation Operation
  • Is China going to recognize the Taliban?
  • The humanitarian crisis going on in Afghanistan

 

Listen to the podcast here

 

Dr. Mike Martin – Update On Unfolding Situation In Afghanistan

This is an episode that seeks to update our audience on the situation in Afghanistan. That is the reason why I’m also publishing it as soon as it’s ready, which is slightly out of cycle of my normal publishing schedule. The events in Afghanistan are unfolding so fast that I thought it wise to put this episode out as soon as it was ready. Let’s go to Dr. Mike Martin.

I’ve asked Dr. Mike Martin to join me again on the show to discuss events in Afghanistan. Mike has spent years studying Afghanistan and did his PhD on British involvement in Helmand. He’s a fluent Pashto speaker and is the author of the book, An Intimate War, considered by many Afghanistan experts as the most authoritative book on the dynamics and true nature of conflict in this part of the world. Dr. Mike, thanks for joining me on the show again.

Thanks, Maz.

For context, we are recording this on a Sunday, the 15th of August, 2021. It is 6:45 in Kabul at the moment. We are hearing reports that Kabul is under serious threat. Over the past days, weeks, and even months, the situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated significantly. I’ve asked Mike to come on. Mike, before we delve into the current situation, maybe you can set the context for us and talk to us about what has happened since the Doha agreement, and even what the Doha agreement might be about.

Surely your audience will be aware that the US and its allies have been involved in a war in Afghanistan since 2001.

Although we can’t make assumptions, yes.

In February 2020, Trump had a lot of campaign promises, and he was quite big on fulfilling them, which was to end all these wars. The US signed an agreement with the Taliban representatives in Doha. It was called a peace deal at the time, but it wasn’t. It was an exit agreement. Effectively, the US was going to pull out. The Taliban promised that Afghanistan wouldn’t be used as a base of terrorism. They cut their links to AQ and all the rest of it. The Afghan government was completely cut out of this agreement, which is crazy. It was a longstanding precondition of the United States to any talks with the Taliban. Trump said, “Get rid of that.”

The US signed an agreement with Taliban representatives in Doha. It was called a peace deal at the time, but it wasn't. It was an exit agreement. Share on X

He had the Security Council approval though as well. The key players, Russia, Pakistan, and so on all supported it, but the Afghan government was not at all involved.

We might get into geopolitics later, like questions in China. There’s a huge regional play going on at the moment. Anyway, so they had this agreement. Also, in that agreement, the Taliban were meant to have a dialogue with the Afghan government, but that hasn’t happened. They fit in and start talking past each other. Also, the US was going to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners. A lot of these were held in Afghan government custody. The US had to pressure the Afghans to release them. It’s madness. It was done over a short period of time.

When the Russians decided to leave in 1986, they put Najibullah in. They spent three years telling Najibullah to broaden the base of his government, including more tribes for reconciliation, reach out to other ethnicities and regions, and pull together something that would last as long as the Russians put some money in and that did last. It lasted until 1992, so it lasted for three years. Now, the Ghani government, Ashraf Ghani, the former president of Afghanistan?

I’ve been up for many hours because I’m trying to get a good friend out of Kabul as well. I’m trying to work all my contacts to do that. As you can imagine, on social media, everything has been rumours and craziness. I’ve been speaking to people all over the place. One of the rumours was that there was a helicopter that landed on the rooftop of the presidential palace. One assumes that Ghani is gone.

At this stage, that is a speculation, given the time. Throughout the day, we might even confirm that.

By the time this comes out, you’ll be able to get that. You can do it here. Where did we get to in that story? Sorry.

The context we’re trying to set was the Doha agreement and where that got us.

In comparison to Russia, what Ghani had never done was build a broad-based political settlement. It’s Afghanistan. If you’re the government or you want to rule Afghanistan, you need a broad-based political franchise, or you need a lot of military force or some combination of the two. Ghani’s background is he’s a World Bank academic. He wrote a book on Fixing Failed States.

VOW 20 | Afghanistan Update
FixIng Failed States: A Framework for Rebuilding a Fractured World

This is his whole worldview crumbling around him. He was a technocrat. You and I, when we’ve been deployed, we’ve done our post-conflict reconstruction. It’s this conflict by spreadsheet stuff. It is very technical in nature, the number of textbooks delivered, elections run, and all that stuff. There’s a box marked Inclusive Political Settlement, and you take it.

It’s a formula, if-then. It’s a neat formula.

The war is political. All war is political. This is a fundamental nature of it. What inclusive political settlement means in Afghanistan is talking to some people that you don’t agree with at all. There’s the internal piece about warlords and whatever. There’s the external or the regional piece, in which we’ll talk about Pakistan, Iran, Russia, Central Asia, China, and India. The US and its allies spent twenty years there. They didn’t build a broad political franchise inside the country because they viewed it as a technical conflict by spreadsheet exercise. They didn’t do much regional work either. Each of those ethnic groups in Afghanistan has got links, the Pashtuns in Pakistan, as well as the Uzbeks in Uzbekistan and Tajiks in Tajikistan, and so on and so forth.

That’s something we spoke about at length in our previous episode. We refer to it as the ecosystem. It’s a place that is alive. It’s anything but black and white. Broadly speaking, we didn’t understand the war. The war we thought we fought was not the war we fought. We’re seeing that now. That’s maybe a way to bring us into the more recent events because something that surprised many people is the speed and pace of the Taliban takeover. Is there a reason that you can put to that as to why it has even occurred? Why has it happened so quickly? The US withdrawal and so on, I’d imagine that would have to play a part.

The foundational stuff is what we’ve already discussed. They didn’t build a political settlement that was broad enough. In the North of the country, there are a series of major warlords. In the West, following this post-conflict reconstruction methodology, you disenfranchise armed actors that are outside of government and build institutions and all that stuff.

The reality is those guys provided the fighting force, or they could have provided the fighting force or the anchor of the government’s fighting force. Progressively, what we’ve seen as Biden came in February 2021, they did a review of Trump’s policy because that was saying that all US troops are going to be out by May. The US military expected Biden to come in and reverse it. Also, the Afghan government expected Biden to reverse it. They did no prep. The Afghan government started prepping in May or June. That was when the penny dropped.

For over a year, the Americans and the NATO training teams have been telling the Afghans, “We’re not holding every district. This is not happening. We need to give up the rural districts that are miles away. We can only supply them with air support. You are not going to hold them. We should pull back to something more sensible.” Obviously, all the main cities, all the provincial centres, and the ring roads. Hold the core of the country and let some of the more distant rural areas, which there are many in Afghanistan, go to the local and be controlled by the Taliban.

As long as the ring roads in the economic hubs are maintained.

You’ve got your MSRs, your customs posts, and all that. The US had been telling them that, or the native allies had been telling them that for a year, but they only started thinking about it in May. In April, when Biden said, “We are leaving,” he put the stamp on Trump’s decision and said, “However, we’re going to delay it until September.” It was a logistical thing because the US military hadn’t done enough to get out all their stuff because they thought Biden would reverse it.

At that point, the penny dropped with the Afghan government that they needed to do something. Also, that was the point. May is when the fighting season starts in Afghanistan. Even the timing of the deal tells you how little the US understood Afghanistan. They had the final withdrawal date in May, which is the beginning of the fighting season. Why wouldn’t you have the final withdrawal date at the end of October or mid-October, which is the end of the fighting season? The government got six months to bet in with a lower level of insurgent military activities. It’s so basic.

It makes you wonder.

The Talibs in Doha knew that Trump wanted out, full stop. He didn’t give monkeys about how that was achieved. That was clear. Zalmay Khalilzad is the guy who’s representing the US in these peace talks. He’s been involved in American policy in Afghanistan for decades, and he’s rubbish. He’s so mediocre. It’s the combination of incompetence and stupid campaign promises and all the rest of it.

VOW 20 | Afghanistan Update
Afghanistan Update: The Talibs in Doha knew that Trump wanted out, full stop. He didn’t give monkeys about how that was achieved.

 

Come May, the fighting season started. The Taliban started pushing into the North into that area where we spoke. This is of the warlords that Ghani had pushed away. He had much stronger support in some other areas in the Pashtun areas. Why start there? Let’s create some momentum. Broadly, once they’ve done that, then at a certain point, probably the beginning of July or mid-July or something like that, a series of customs posts were taken at the same time. Everyone said, “That’s going to stop the revenue to the government,” but that’s not how Afghanistan works.

Anyway, the Afghan government was relying on foreign aid, and it has some reserves. Ghani was a World Bank guy, so that’s all sorted out. Here’s the thing. What the customs posts represent is how the Kabul government binds peripheral tribes, clans, ethnicities, and interest groups into its system. It says in the manner of a Roman tax collector who could keep a percentage. A perfect example is the customs post in Kandahar province, where the Adozai clan of the Achakzai have managed that for the government for the last twenty years. They got rich doing it.

That ensures that the frontiers of the country are safe. They’re loyal to the government. They give a bit of money to the government. They get rich. It’s a political deal greased by customs revenue. There are under-reporting bribes and all the rest of it. Everyone gets nasty rich. What that also means is because they were the government and because they had the support of the West, the Adozai acted like little craps. It’s a 43-year civil war. Everyone in Afghanistan got some enemies. Their own guys got through the customs post without paying duties. Other people got tortured and shaken down. Their daughters got raped and all that stuff.

When the Taliban moved into Spin Boldak, they massacred the Adozai. Between 100 and 1,000 got massacred. What does that do? That makes it impossible for the government to re-establish it. Even if they could push out from Kandahar where the military force can retake Spin Boldak, that clan is broken. It can no longer bind the periphery to the centre.

They’ve lost that capital that they held as dubious as the deals were. It was still some nominal power balance at least, and now it is gone.

It started to fracture political deals all over Afghanistan.

In my understanding, the fear from those who were still tentatively siding with the government. I’ve seen your own posts and of many other people of how quickly sides turned. This is also another thing that we talked about in our previous episode as well. It’s the allegiances that we often misunderstand. It’s easy for us to say cowards and so on. They’ve turned. They’ve sided with the Taliban now, but it’s a far more complex beast when your life and the life of your entire clan are on the line. Is that what’s happening?

Anyone who’s alive in Afghanistan is a survivor. If you’re 50, you’ve changed sides your entire life. If you didn’t change sides, you got killed, or you got unlucky. It’s a bit like a seesaw or a psychological tipping point. The government and Taliban have these political franchises where they’re trying to do all these deals I’ve described to you over the custom place. There’s a checkpoint in that area, or they’re growing some drugs or whatever.

Anyone who's alive in Afghanistan is a survivor. Share on X

There’s all this political economy that’s holding these franchises together cleverly. I have not seen this coming. I’ve been stunned by what’s happened because I assumed that the government franchise was more stable than the Taliban franchise, but it appears that the Taliban franchise was much more stable. They managed to fracture, starting with the customs bases. It started a domino effect. The political deals that held apart the government’s political franchise, which delivers its military power, started to fracture.

Why do you refer to it as a franchise? For context, can you clarify that? You refer to them rightly both as franchises. Maybe it’s a nuanced point that’s worth exploring.

Many of our audience will be in Western countries. They will see the government as an institution. That’s not what the government in Afghanistan is. It’s a collection of interest groups. It’s a political party. We have political parties in our governments, but imagine if the Foreign Office was controlled by Labour, the Home Ministry was controlled by the Conservatives, the Liberals had another one, and all the rest of it. You’ve got some revenue-sharing deals going on that together. They fractured that government franchise, and once it started to go, it started to go. On Friday, that was the first point where everyone was like, “This is real.”

Once Ghani realised in June, “This is serious,” he then went back to those warlords that he’d spent the last years alienating and said, “Would you like to be part of the government?” They were like, “Who are you again?” That took a lot to pull together. It’s nuts because some of these warlords are actual bonafide war criminals. What are we doing? What we are constructing to beat the Taliban are also war criminals. What kind of Game of Thrones are we involved in here?

I commend you on your humility in saying that you were surprised by some of these things. There were inklings of hope almost. There was galvanised resistance. There was at least sufficient information on the NSF Special Forces and so on.

It was floating an op-ed with various special media outlets that said there’s going to be a stalemate come the end of the fighting season. The government will hold the major cities. My argument was we got these two political franchises. Everyone says Doha, but there’s no point in that because the government and the Taliban can’t enforce any deal over their franchises, which is something we want to pick up on. How close is the Doha Talibs? How much control do they have over what’s going on the ground right now? That’s an important point we want to come back to.

We’ll come back to it or talk to it now, even because that’s a relevant point. Speak to that franchise of the Taliban part.

The Doha Talibs and the Quetta. There’s also the Haqqani network for the East. There’s the Helmandis, who are drug lords and so on and so forth. There are various bits of the Taliban that are built into this franchise, and personalities with tribal links, so on and so forth. I was saying, “The closer they get to government, the contradictions inherent in the franchise are going to become untenable.”

For example, the Doha Talibs said, “We’re going to ban drugs when we get into power,” and the Helmandis are a drug network. They became Talibs to help defend their drug network. The Doha lot said to China, “The Uyghurs are an internal problem for China.” The East Turkestan Independence Movement is the name of the organisation that is the Uyghur insurgent terrorists, freedom fighter group, or whatever.

They have operated in Afghanistan before. Probably quite a few of them are in Badakhshan, which is the Northeastern province that abuts China. How does that play out? The Doha Talibs were saying, “We’re not going to take Kabul by force.” We’ve clearly seen that this has come apart at this point. There are theories. The Doha Talibs don’t control the military guys on the ground. They’re from a different generation, the Doha Talibs. The Quetta Talibs were the guys from the original government back in 2000. They’re a completely different generation. A lot of the Talibs now weren’t alive on 9/11. A lot of the guys pulling the trigger weren’t alive on 9/11.

It’s a different war for them.

They might be older, but they grew up. Maybe they were born during the Taliban regime or something, or they grew up in Pakistan in a camp or something. They’re young and right now, they are flushed with victory. Their eyes will be popping out of their heads. They will be wanting to get into Kabul and recapture it. It’s crazy. Herat fell, and then Kandahar fell, which is stunning and mind-blowing. That happened all because of deals. Ismail Khan, this old Mujahideen leader for the Soviets, was getting his old militia together and giving the Taliban a kicking.

This is the thing. The government was represented by different types of military force in each province. There were maybe Jihadi leaders like Ismail Khan. There might have been other types of government-sponsored militias, maybe sponsored by the government intelligence service. There would’ve been police. There would’ve been Army, and there probably would’ve been Special Forces, maybe tactical commandos or whatever.

The Afghan Special Forces and commandos were very effective. They fought everywhere they went effectively. What do you do if you’re the Talib? You aim at the weakest part of that coalition. Maybe you can get the police to defect or one of those militias that are allied, or maybe you can flip the Jihadi leader. They went in and fractured each. Before we knew it, Ismail Khan was a Talib now. This is a guy who fought the Talibs back in the day, got captured by them in ‘94 or ‘95, and tortured.

VOW 30 | Conflict Negotiation
Conflict Negotiation: You’re never going to have a perfect insight into what’s happening online and who’s exactly waging that war. People feel that they have a little more wiggle room and the ability to escape accountability. That makes mediation really hard.

 

Now he is a Talib, flying to Kabul to convince Atta Nur, one of the other Jihadi leaders in the North, to peel away from Dustom. Events are moving so fast that twenty hours after he got to Kabul, Dostum and Atta Nur, who’ve hated each other for years, had jumped in all the Black Hawks that the American government had given them and flown into Pakistan. Another coalition fractured up there. In Kandahar, it’s all negotiated across tribal lines. In Herat, the head of the provincial council was Alizai. The major Taliban commander was Alizai. There you go.

In Kandahar, I’m not clear what happened yet, but as soon as Kandahar City fell and the government withdrew to the Army base in the Kandahar airfield, Karzai flew out of Kabul down to Kandahar airfield. We don’t know this, but in fact, shortly after landing at Kandahar Airfield, he negotiated the surrender of those forces. Amnesty for surrender. He went back to Karz, which is his village, south of Kandahar City. Mark my words, Karzai is angling for a foreign minister position because they offered him a job back originally in the original government. He turned it down for some reason. We know his history since 2001.

It’s crazy. It’s important to stress the point there as well. When we say Kandahar fell, all these various other regional centres are falling. There’s perhaps a perception in our minds for those of us who are not on the ground that it’s combats, front lines, and victory.

In almost every case, the locally-allied militia switched sides. The Army commanders surrendered or switched sides. There were quite a lot of videos circulating of the Army troops saying, “We’re at this.” The ones that did fight were the commanders and special forces, but by the end, they were few and far between.

They would probably be somehow centralised to Kabul, I’d imagine. Are you expecting a battle for Kabul? Are we expecting a negotiation as well?

Up until I woke up, I assumed there would be a negotiation. The problem has been that Ghani refused to resign. Once the Taliban had 17 out of 34 provinces or whatever, or most of the major cities, it’s obvious. As soon as Kandahar fell, that’s it. The psychological tipping point had been reached, and everyone else was then looking for the deal. What’s the deal? Everyone can read that, or anyone who’s a politician can. Ghani’s a technocrat, so he’s living in a cloud-cookie land.

It’s funny reading his Twitter posts. His Twitter posts are almost laughable because he’s sending the message, “We will stand and resist.”

People are going to die pointlessly. The Taliban are going to be in charge of Kabul within the next 24 hours. There you go. There’s your prediction. On the outside, in the next 48 hours. It should not get to that. Ghani should resign after Kandahar fell to allow a transitional government, basically, a Taliban government with Karzai or something. Whatever the deal was, it didn’t matter. You’re not fighting for a city of four million people. That’s stupid.

You made the point. The bloodthirst of the young Talibs is a real consideration.

Ghani rebuffed them, “I’m not resigning.” That was the Taliban’s condition. They had lots of conditions, but that was a red line for them.

You’ve talked about this in your other book, Why We Fight, or maybe I’m paraphrasing, but the bloodthirsty moment does take over in victory. When you’ve got the enemy, whoever your enemy might be, withdrawing, surrendering, and so on and so forth, that’s when the bloodthirst kicks off. That’s what we’re seeing. There are multiple reports of atrocious things happening in various places, that have fallen, beheadings, torture, and mass execution.

VOW 20 | Afghanistan Update
Why We Fight

That’s Badal, which is revenge. The deal with Badal is that a lot of these people who’ve been in the government franchise have been lauding it over all the people who haven’t been in the government franchise. Now that the other guys got the upper hand, it’s payback time. Lots of scores are being settled. In settling these scores, the Taliban is setting up the next Badal cycle. Don’t think that once the Taliban takes over, Afghanistan is going to be at peace. Civil War continues.

I’m conscious of the time, Mike. I know that you’ve got other engagements and other things to follow up on, but we can’t not talk about the external stakeholders who are having an impact in Afghanistan. Australia was the first one to close our embassy. The Brits are out as well.

The Australians have announced a couple of battle groups to go on standby. It’s remarkably late.

We’re also sending some planes to get Australians out and so on and so forth. The US is doing the same. Brits are re-rolling some people and sending 300 or 600 troops.

We’re sending a para battle group of 600. The US is sending 5,000 US Marines.

That’s to facilitate the exodus of foreigners.

That’s to hold the airport because the European embassy is gone. The civilians are out of the American embassy already. There are some US military still left there, but they’ll be gone.

Therein lies the fact that the Anglo-West is lifting its hands off Afghanistan. There are other players in the region that will try to exercise their power and control. You’ve been quite public about some of those. Without a doubt, Pakistan and China, those two are key players. Maybe you can talk a little bit about those dynamics and what is at play. Who’s playing what, and what are we likely to see?

This is the end of America in that part of the world. In 2001, America was effectively able to unilaterally roll in, and then again in 2003 into Iraq. That’s over for sure. The three big powers, or the ones who’ve got the ability to cause trouble are China, Russia, and India. All the neighbouring countries, as we’ve discussed, have got their own ethnic.

They’ve got their fingers in that pie regardless.

There’s a big question around, who owns this? This comes back to the situation now. We’re trying to do a NEO, a Non-combatant Evacuation Operation, right now. The planes are taking off as we speak. The Taliban have already sprung the prison in Kabul, and they’re already out of the city. It’s a race against time. It’s been said by everyone, including China, that no one is going to recognise the Taliban government imposed by force. Who knows whether that would be worth the papers written tomorrow, in 10 minutes, or whatever.

Is there a danger that hostages could be taken? Probably not. Most people are out in the airport now, so maybe that hostage risk has receded. Whether there’s a clash or what happens to the US Embassy. All these things seem to speak about legitimacy. It seems to me the US is not going to recognise the Taliban government. Is China going to recognise the Taliban government? The Taliban government needs a sponsor, which seems to me, China is the obvious sponsor of that government because the US is not going to sponsor the Taliban government.

If you’re an American strategist, you can view that in 1 or 2 ways. One, you could view it as an American disaster. The other is you could view it as an American success. They’ve screwed up the optics. Handing off Afghanistan to China to make it China’s problem, you could argue it is an American success. The way they handled it had been atrocious. They misjudged the timing, the pace, and all the rest of it.

Handing off Afghanistan to China to make it China's problem, you could argue, is an American success. The way they handled it was atrocious. They misjudged the timing, the pace, and all the rest of it. Share on X

In other words, let China spend some trillions there. Is that what you mean? The US has spent $2 trillion.

There are all these problems with the Uyghurs, the militancy, and all the rest of it. China wants to do it as BRI through Afghanistan and through the Central Asian states. There are minerals it wants. It’s trying to do CPEC, which is the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which is a series of roses, rails, and stuff down to Gwadar in Pakistan.

It’s trying to get a bunch of access to the Indian Ocean, access the Mediterranean through Afghanistan and Iran. It’s got a whole bunch of dreams that require a hand in Afghanistan. We come to the role of Pakistan, which the US-Pakistani relationship has been difficult to say, at least since 2001. On the one hand, they’ve sheltered and supported the Taliban, but on the other hand, they’ve been America’s partner in the War on Terror in America. It’s crazy bizarre. This is what I mean by America didn’t sort out another regional stuff.

Cognitive dissonance at a strategic level. It’s mind-boggling.

It’s amazing how the Americans didn’t sort out the regional stuff. What’s the point in sending all those troops to Afghanistan, sending all that money if you’re not going to sort out the regional stuff? It’s a complete waste of money. As America disengaged from Afghanistan, it needed Pakistan less. Therefore, China stepped in. It’s doing the CPEC and all the rest of it, but the Chinese are already getting pissed off with the Pakistanis. There was a bomb attack by Pakistani militants on Chinese workers on the BRI project, a CPEC project, weeks ago. The Chinese then replaced the guy who was running up CPEC in Pakistan, a Pakistani. They told the Pakistani government, “You got to change that guy.”

I see what you mean now. Initially, it’s not apparent what you mean by this might be an advantage for the US in its contest with China. It is where empires are broken, Afghanistan, and there are a number of memes that are going around.

I’d like to point out that the British Empire wasn’t broken there.

Did it retain control long enough?

No, but the Brits achieved their strategic policy, which was to create a buffer zone against Russia to protect India. That was the aim of Britain’s strategic policy in the 1800s. They achieved that.

Maybe an important point then is, as you understand, what was the American strategy? It relates to that point because you hit the nail on the head there.

There was a strategic policy because the War on Terror wasn’t a geostrategic operation. It understood the world in terms of ideologies, but that’s not how the world works. It’s certainly not how the world works in terms of the places where some of these militants live, like Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, and Afghanistan, places of tribal. They have particular cultures and histories that you need to understand.

If you don’t understand them going in and going, you’re either a terrorist or you’re not. That was the level of intellect that went into the War on Terror. You’re not going to achieve your aims. It was nonsense. It was total intellectual bankrupt nonsense. I’ve been wrong about many things over the past couple of weeks, but I’ve been saying that for over a decade.

There are particular cultures and histories that you need to understand. If you don't understand them going in, you're either a terrorist or you're not. Share on X

You’ve certainly been proven right on that. To close that loop on China, if my memory serves right, China did have negotiations with the Talibs in Doha.

Baradar went over to China and was received by the Chinese Foreign Minister weeks ago.

That relationship is almost becoming formalised. You might be reading the tea leaves there by asking the question, “Is China going to recognise the Taliban? Is it in their interest to not necessarily go and make the same mistakes and try and force an issue as opposed to looking at interests alone?” If it’s in their interest to agree that the Taliban is the rightful owner or rightful ruler of Afghanistan, that might serve their interests perfectly fine.

It’s hard to say, isn’t it? Everyone remembers where they were at 9/11. For those who are involved in this or in any way interested in politics or history, one wonders if this will be remembered. The fall of Kabul to the Taliban will be remembered as the other bookmark. Everyone remembers where they were. Suez and Saigon, these places where huge geostrategic shifts have occurred. As we discussed, that’s not necessarily a good or a bad thing from a Western American perspective if we’re looking at it in real politic terms but certainly, it’s been handled disastrously.

Mike, maybe in closing, is there anything that we haven’t touched on that you think is important right now that’s relevant to this context?

There’s a huge humanitarian crisis going on in Afghanistan. Around 800,000 Afghans, on top of the 4 million, are already displaced from the previous 40 years of the war. I don’t know what I’m saying except to highlight that. I don’t know how it’ll go forward. I don’t know whether it depends on which governments recognise Afghanistan or whether humanitarian agencies will be able to get in there. We’re at the stage of dishing out rice and cooking oil over there.

Do you think that the humanitarian emergency is sufficiently well-recognised and echoing through the various halls of power around the world?

No. The various halls of power are trying to work out what is going on.

It happened so quickly.

Events have moved so fast, and what it means for their interests. Countries and citizens of Afghanistan are focused on getting them out. The regional countries have citizens as well, so they’re worried about that, but they’re also worried about everything else. India, along with the US and NATO, has invested heavily in Afghanistan over the last recent years partly as a hedge against Pakistan. India and Pakistan have played out their rivalry in Afghanistan over the last many years. India is a big loser.

That’s something that’s little understood.

To finish, I want to highlight the humanitarian disaster. If there are charities that are delivering basic foodstuffs in Afghanistan, and then slip them with a bit of cash.

It’s very real and sobering. Mike, thank you so much. We’ll be in touch. I’ll be closely following your post, as well as the thousands of others that are doing it. Thanks for your time. We’ll chat soon.

Thank you.

 

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