The West Should Reconsider Total Afghan Exit

If the West is unhappy with Russia’s invasion of Crimea, it should reconsider a total exit strategy from Afghanistan to prevent another Ukraine-like scenario.

west-afghan-exitEarlier this month Russian forces stormed Crimea, a strategic peninsula which had been an integral part of Ukraine. On March 16, Crimeans voted to join Russia in a referendum that was supported by Russia and denounced as illegitimate by Western powers and Ukraine.

The rest of the world threatened to isolate and sanction Russia; however Moscow does not seem deterred and the Kremlin seems to be operating in the Soviet era.

In such a complicated scenario, what can the West do and what implications does this have for Western allies?

Here are two possible scenarios.

Another Cold War

It is not possible and perhaps unwise for the international community to get involved in another Cold War.  The first one was ugly, costly and violent in some countries such as Afghanistan.

The Cold War did result in the collapse of the Berlin Wall and perhaps in the economic hegemony of Western countries; however, it also sowed the seeds for radicalization in various countries that threatens the very core values of the West and democracy.

With the existence of an economically strong China and its improved relations with the Russians who are lax on North Korean, Iranian and Syrian issues, confronting the so-called Eastern bloc militarily would be unwise and perhaps destabilizing for world peace.

Here’s a better alternative.

West should improve common ground with Eastern bloc

The West and the Eastern bloc shares common concerns on weak states such as Afghanistan being prey to insurgency and radicalization.  They can not only pose threats to their own democratic governments; they also have become global issues causing fears of terrorism, illegal immigration, drug trafficking etc.

This is common ground where East agrees with the West. Therefore, both sides should work towards a policy that explores such common interests and use them to bridges gaps in interests between the so-called Western and a resurgent Eastern bloc.

East and West on Afghanistan

After being in Afghanistan for almost 12 years, the US-led coalition has threatened a “zero option” exit strategy from Afghanistan. This has been reiterated after Afghan President Hamid Karzai delayed signing the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the US for preconditions he thinks should be met before signing such a document.

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Congress responded with slashing 50 percent of its civilian aid to Afghanistan and a further cut-off in aid and support to the Afghan security institutions. This is premature and perhaps ill-advised.

Coming out of the Cold War as a divided country ruled by the Taliban, Afghan institutions are still weak. Democracy needs more time to mature. The Afghan economy needs more development aid and foreign investment to become self-reliant. We need to maintain achievements in education and women empowerment still needs investment and support.

As voiced in the historic consultative Loya Jirga in Kabul in Nov. 2013, most Afghans want closer relations with the world. Few want a return to the 1990s or even 1970s when Communists briefly ruled the country.

However, the “zero option” threat could push Afghanistan back to the 1990s or even earlier circumstances.

Such a scenario may provoke Russia and other regional players to reconsider its role in Afghanistan, where a considerable number of former Soviet Union loyalists still live. Whether the West wants such a situation or a Crimea type intervention is a question for Western capitals to answer.

Watching the developments in Crimea and analyzing recent Russian foreign policy moves, the West does not seem happy. Therefore, it needs to keep its patience in countries such as Afghanistan and work on common interest of building stronger states from within. Otherwise, the geopolitical loss and Cold War politics in countries like Afghanistan may be too costly for Western capitals including Washington to accept.

Moheb Arsalan J. is an Afghan analyst and commentator on governance, conflict, and socioeconomic development affairs. Moheb studied Economics in New York and Kabul University as a Fulbright scholar and holds a Masters in Governance and Public Policy from Willy Brandt School in Germany. He is based in Kabul and can be reached at arsalan.moheb@gmail.comRead other articles by Moheb.