Anatol Lieven is a Professor in the War Studies Department of King’s College London and a Senior Fellow of the New America Foundation in Washington, D.C. He is the author of Ukraine and Russia: A Fraternal Rivalry.
There is nothing inevitable about the future course of the conflict in Ukraine. It is absolutely essential for Western governments to focus on what they can do to avoid war, preserve democracy, and keep Ukraine united.
As the first heavy fighting began in eastern Ukraine in early May, there has been a growing sense that a larger confrontation, one that could involve Russia and the West, may be unavoidable. Such a perception is a terrible mistake. There is nothing inevitable about the future course of the conflict. It is absolutely essential for Western governments to focus on what they can do to avoid war, preserve democracy, and keep Ukraine united.
Daniel Markey takes the title and opening remarks of No Exit from Pakistan, his book on the US–Pakistani relationship, from Sartre’s Huis Clos, a work that contains the famous dictum “Hell is other people.” Hell, for many US policymakers, is having to work with Pakistan. As Markey writes, the degree …
In Afghanistan’s southern Pashtun province of Helmand, the sheer size and emptiness of the land and a pervasive Taliban presence has meant an inability of outside powers to control it. As US and British forces pull back, and the Afghan National Army abandons its outlying positions, the government is likely to shrink to spots on the landscape.
Afghan president Hamid Karzai is playing a game for very high stakes. After two five-year terms, he is required to step down and is angling for as much influence as he can over his successor. Now he has threatened not to sign a military basing agreement with the US until after the election—thereby putting at risk the willingness of the US and the West to remain engaged in Afghanistan at all.
Many Pakistanis view the Taliban (and Afghans in general) as greedy, treacherous, primitive, and fanatical savages. For the Taliban, the Pakistani state and military (and non-Pashtun Pakistanis in general) are decadent, corrupt, treacherous, brutal, and greedy oppressors. Each side regards the other as inherently unreliable. This of course also means that for all the help that they have given to the Afghan Taliban, the Pakistanis cannot simply force them to accept a peace settlement that they see as contrary to their values and interests.
Seen from Kabul, there are good reasons to fear that the US will negotiate some sort of face saving deal with the Taliban and quit Afghanistan entirely. According to unofficial statements from the White House reported in The New York Times, the option of complete withdrawal is one that President Obama is now actively considering. This is what the insurgents always aim at, and what in Algeria and Vietnam they eventually achieved, after immense bloodshed: splitting the foreign power from its local allies or proxies. And this is precisely what Karzai and his supporters fear most, accounting for the sometimes hysterical nature of their protests against negotiations with the Taliban.
A very strange idea has spread in the Western media concerning Afghanistan: that the US military is withdrawing from the country next year, and that the present Afghan war has therefore entered into an “endgame.” The use of these phrases reflects a degree of unconscious wishful thinking that amounts to collective self-delusion.
The war in Afghanistan has always been an Afghan civil war, as well as a war between the Taliban and Western forces. The fact is that a plurality of Afghans are rural Pashtuns. By tipping the military balance in favor of the non-Pashtun nationalities, the US and NATO intervention has motivated Pashtuns to fight against the western forces. The tragic reality is that the presence and actions of the US forces themselves have contributed to Taliban support. If there was any doubt about that before the burning of the Korans and the massacre by Sergeant Robert Bales in Kandahar, there can be no doubt now.
The United States and its allies today find themselves in a position in Afghanistan similar to that of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s, after Mikhail Gorbachev decided on military withdrawal by a fixed deadline. They are in a race against the clock to build up a regime and army that will survive their withdrawal, while either seeking a peace agreement with the leaders of the insurgent forces or splitting off their more moderate, pragmatic, and mercenary elements and making an agreement with them. The Soviets succeeded at least partially in some of these objectives, while failing utterly to achieve a peace settlement. To date, that is just about true of the West as well.