US withdrawal from Afghanistan and the EU Top Five challenges
Dr. S. Mohammad Isanedjad
NATO began its operations in Afghanistan at the last moment of the supremacy of the US monopoly system and the turning point of Western domination of the international system, and withdrew two decades later, in a period of weakness. Today, the EU finds itself in a dilemma of regional, security, political, and economic problems. The Covid-19 pandemic and its endless mutations have also complicated problems more than ever. In a period that the EU has dramatically lost one of its key members (UK), it is constantly being challenged by China and Russia.
The EU also joined The United States in a new game because of the need to focus on geopolitical rivalry with China in the Pacific and the containment of Russia in the Black Sea and Eastern Europe. Then, Washington left Afghanistan suddenly and at the worst possible time (warm season). Although the Biden-Harris administration believes that such costly presence in Afghanistan was no longer justified, they could have come out with a more responsible approach. At least, they can exit with a step-by-step program and postponed the power vacuum in Afghanistan to winter.
The White House, with its strategy of quickly pulling out of Afghanistan's never-ending war and focusing on China, seeks to balance its capabilities and commitments so that it can continue its superpower era. But this decision, paradoxically, could lead to China's supremacy through the scenario of greater Chinese influence in Afghanistan and even Central Asia and MENA. Also, it should not be forgotten that Afghanistan, in addition to its lithium and natural gas resources, is Beijing's gateway to the Middle East, thanks to the Wakhan Corridor. With these interpretations, Washington is imposing a chain of domino crises on the European Union. It must be fair to admit that although over the past two decades, US insistence on major and rapid steps in Afghanistan has backfired, it should not be forgotten that, above all, this failure goes back to the geostrategic changes in the world and secondarily the geopolitical features of Afghanistan. In fact, the United States and the European Union left Afghanistan in a completely different world than when they arrived.
Despite the EU's knowledge of these points, the rage that has engulfed EU and NATO member states is due to the rapid decline of Afghanistan's defense and security system as well as the inefficiency of Ashraf Ghani's government. A State system that the EU, along with the US and other NATO allies, had invested in for two decades. In fact, the EU's biggest criticism of the US is not the withdrawal from Afghanistan - which was inevitable for the new White House tenants - but the way it manages and controls the irresponsible withdrawal from Afghanistan. This reckless move by the Biden-Harris administration is reminiscent of the tragic withdrawal of the US corps from Vietnam (Fall of Saigon), and it fundamentally damages the West's political and moral credibility, while at the same time boosting the courage and confidence of its enemies.
A long list of challenges facing the EU in the coming months and years can be provided. Problems caused by the irresponsible withdrawal of the United States from Afghanistan. In this opinion, only five important items will be enough.
- Immigrant and Asylum Crisis
The re-establishment of the Islamic Emirate in Afghanistan was a surreal truth that once again proved Ibn Khaldun's theory. The return of the Taliban to power was as if an army from the depths of history has invaded our time and triumphantly mocked all human achievements. One consequence of such a so-called government would be the massive influx of Afghan refugees and migrants to other parts of the world (especially Europe's green paradise). It should be emphasized the Kabul Airport disaster during the past few days shows only a small part of this Catastrophe. It can be said that the first challenge that the EU will face from the new Afghanistan is the waves of migrants and asylum seekers. This crisis, while testing the responsibility and the level of belief of European countries in their mutual values. This criterion will face them with further and far more difficult challenges.
Probably the first step of the EU will be the strategy of providing humanitarian aid to the host countries (Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan) and negotiating with the countries on the way to Europe (Turkey and Russia). Of course, cooperation with Tehran will be difficult given the widespread sanctions against this country. And negotiations with Ankara and Moscow will not be as simple as before. Also, establishing mutual trust between Islamabad and Brussels is not so easy.
It is clear that if the EU fails in the first challenge, the ensuing crisis (terrorism and narcotics and socio-political crisis) will hit it harder.
- The crisis of the escalation of terrorism and fundamentalist ideas
By creating a power vacuum in Afghanistan, we will once again see the growth of fundamentalist ideas in this country. Recently, Gen. Mackenzie Jr., commander of The United States Central Command (Centcom), said he had not seen anything that would stop the Taliban from using al-Qaeda in Afghanistan to strengthen and reorganize the terrorist organization.[i] This time, in addition to the traditional proponents of these dangerous ideas, it is likely that two different groups will be interested in these extremist views: Afghan citizens, who are angry from the terrible withdrawal of the US, and those who saw the Taliban victory over the NATO.
Certainly, there is a big gap between the assumptions and standards of the Islamic Emirate and EU regarding the definition of fundamentalism and terrorism. This paradigm incompatibility could worsen Europeans' relations with Kabul's new rulers. Measures such as closing embassies and other diplomatic centers also make it more difficult to negotiate with the Taliban.
Even if good agreements can be reached with the Taliban, there will be a perception among Taliban supporters that their leaders have surrendered to the so-called Crusaders. And this will mean the fall of Taliban forces and the growth of more extremist groups such as the ISIS of Khorasan. This will also strengthen the position of extremist branches such as the Haqqani network within the Taliban.
- Sending a message of weakness to militant groups
One of the side effects of the Taliban's victory will be to send a message of weakness to other fundamentalists, terrorists, and militant groups. They will ask themselves: If the Taliban were able to reach the ruling of Afghanistan with twenty years of patience and resistance, why do not we do it? This issue could be further complicated by the international recognition of the Taliban government. Most likely, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan will be recognized soon and widely. And Kabul will become a source of inspiration for all major and minor opponents of the West, something comparable to Moscow after the victory of the Bolsheviks.
It is also clear that this message of weakness will be heard by the Mafia, bigoted gangs, and opposition dissidents within Europe.
- Drug crisis
Afghanistan is a landlocked country. And despite having significant capacities such as mineral mines and other natural resources, it does not have the technical and managerial ability to exploit them on a commercial scale. This, in addition to cutting off foreign aid, paves the way for large-scale drug production in this country. The main destination of these opiates is prosperous European countries. And despite the efforts of Iran, Turkey, and other countries around Afghanistan, unfortunately, a significant portion of them will enter the large European market.
- Strengthening the far-right parties
The previous four were problems of foreign origin, but the fifth challenge concerns inside of European countries, a particular challenge with internal origin. The first decades of the new millennium can be considered the era of the return of far-right parties to power in Europe. Undoubtedly, the growing difficulties of accepting a new wave of immigrants and asylum seekers in countries with negative population growth rates that have distanced themselves from the Keynesian economy for decades could lead to social, political, and security crises. Challenges that its adverse effects will be seen in the change of voting pattern. And in the event of intensification, it could even offset the positive effects of the arrival of young and cheap immigrant labor on the economy.
Since 2015 and the emergence of a new round of the asylum crisis, far-right parties in Europe have flourished. The leaders of these parties see immigration as a potential threat to the national sovereignty of their countries. Since then, with the arrival of Muslim and African immigrants, such parties have grown exponentially in Europe. In Britain, far-right figures such as Nigel Farage played a key role in the success of the Brexit movement and the UK leaving the EU. Also, The Alternative for Germany (AFD), a far-right party, entered the German parliament as the first party of its kind in nearly seven decades. Besides, in Italy, the far-right Lega Nord party (LEGA) can be in the coalition government. In France, the National Rally party, led by Marine Le Pen, defeated all traditional parties and competed for the last presidential election with Emmanuel Macron. Also, she has a good chance of winning the 2022 presidential election. In Central Europe, far-right parties seized power in Poland and Hungary. And in Sweden, too, far-right parties have been able to improve their position.
It should be noted that due to the geographical position (f. e. Italy - Hungary) and economic and social attractions (f. e. Germany - France), some European countries are more involved in the immigrant and Refugee problems than others. So the growth of far-right parties there is more likely.
Unfortunately, the persistence of the Covid-19 pandemic has led to the rise of anti-vaccination socio-political movements and advocates of conspiracy theories in Europe. These demagogic groups, which believe in pseudo-science, have brought some people with themselves, and in their protests against the government's plans against Covid-19, they are effectively contributing to the growth of far-right parties.
The migration crisis is like the tip of an iceberg, and other EU challenges will emerge over time. Challenges that may initially have a foreign origin, but gradually will emerge from the inland.
Before any new action in Afghanistan, one must learn from the bitter experiences that led to failure in this country. The first reason for failure is the lack of proper understanding of the geographical, historical, and social characteristics of this country. Without an understanding of this country's characteristics, completing the nation-building process is not feasible. In addition to the US defeat, the bitter experiences of the British and Soviet empires in Afghanistan support this claim.
The South Korea we see today is the fruit of more than seven decades of US effort, investment, and military support; So Afghanistan could not be expected to stabilize in two decades.
Taliban have an undeniable social base in Afghanistan (especially in southern provinces). Now, if its dominance in this country is dangerous for the EU, Brussels should try to contain the group (through incentives and, if necessary, punishment) instead of trying in vain to wage a ground war and fruitless efforts to eliminating the Taliban. This is possible through the continuation of talks with the Islamic Emirate. Subject to the recognition and granting of financial aid to the Islamic Emirate in exchange for the adoption and implementation of small and step-by-step reforms, we can see short and tardy progress in Afghanistan over time. These steps are sustainable and consistent with the soul of this society.
Perhaps the most important issue for the irresponsible withdrawal of the United States is the change in the attitude of the European allies towards it. Now, as generations change, the memory of American soldiers' sacrifices in World War II and US support during the Cold War is forgotten, the irresponsible US withdrawal from Afghanistan and the imposition of a series of small and large problems on Europe will pave the way for a political rift on the Atlantic. This is represented in the tweet of Slovenia’s right-wing Prime Minister, Janez Janša. He described the deadly chaos in Afghanistan and the handover of modern weapons to the Taliban as the “greatest defeat for NATO in history.”[ii]
Failing to assist Afghan citizens who are at risk due to cooperation with European countries is a decisive test. Failing on this test, in addition to the tragic human consequences in Afghanistan, will cause irreparable damage to the political legitimacy of the leaders of these countries and the credibility of their political discourse. Such a "great defeat" will not be compensated by any "small victory".