What’s at stake in Afghanistan

Support for the war continues to slide in the US.

Support for the war in Afghanistan has ebbed to a new low in ABC News/Washington Post polls, with concerns over strategy and broad doubts about the reliability of the Afghan government leaving Americans sharply divided on where to go from here.

Just 44 percent now say the war in Afghanistan has been worth fighting, the fewest in a question dating to early 2007. Fifty-two percent instead say the war has not been worth it, up 13 points from its low last December – still well below Iraq levels, but majority negative nonetheless.

Steve Coll asks, what happens if we fail? Among other things,

The Nineties Afghan Civil War on Steroids: Even if the international community gave up on Afghanistan and withdrew, as it did from Somalia during the early nineties, it is inconceivable that the Taliban could triumph in the country completely and provide a regime (however perverse) of stability. About half of Afghanistan’s population is Pashtun, from which the Taliban draw their strength. Much of the country’s non-Pashtun population ardently opposes the Taliban. In the humiliating circumstances that would attend American failure, those in the West who now promote “counterterrorism,” “realist,” and “cost-effective” strategies in the region would probably endorse, in effect, a nineties redux—which would amount to a prescription for more Afghan civil war. A rump “legitimate” Afghan government dominated by ethnic Tajiks and Uzbeks would find arms and money from India, Iran, and perhaps Russia, Europe and the United States. This would likely produce a long-running civil war between northern, Tajik-dominated ethnic militias and the Pashtun-dominated Taliban. Tens of thousands of Afghans would likely perish in this conflict and from the pervasive poverty it would produce; many more Afghans would return as refugees to Pakistan, contributing to that country’s instability

Also, “momentum for a Taliban revolution in Pakistan”; “increased Islamist violence against India, increasing the likelihood of Indo-Pakistani war”; and “increased Al Qaeda ambitions against Britain and the United States”.

Clive Crook’s blog

This blog is no longer updated but it remains open as an archive.

I have been the FT's Washington columnist since April 2007. I moved from Britain to the US in 2005 to write for the Atlantic Monthly and the National Journal after 20 years working at the Economist, most recently as deputy editor. I write mainly about the intersection of politics and economics.

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