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A Few Words in Defence of Francis Fukuyama

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Thirty years ago, in the summer of 1989, the National Interest published the famous article “The End of History” that made the young American political scientist and philosopher Francis Fukuyama famous. Three years later, the article was expanded into a voluminous book that became a bestseller in the United States and was translated into dozens of foreign languages.

In Russia, or at least among Russian intellectuals, The End of History quickly became a symbol of the era, much like the crimson jackets of the first “New Russians,” liter bottles of the Dutch distilled spirit Royal and the electrifying Macarena. Fukuyama was cited, Fukuyama was quoted, but most often, Fukuyama was criticized. For the haughtiness of his liberalism. For his superficial and unprofessional view of history. For his free interpretations of Hegel. For being an apologist of the “unipolar world.” Hardly any other contemporary western scholar was such a popular punching bag for Russian social scientists. Echoes of this criticism are heard even today, 30 years later, although, over these decades, Fukuyama’s work has somewhat receded into the background, ceding its place to new equally stark and equally provocative works by other authors.

I have always found it hard to share the spirit of the many critics of The End of History, if only for the simple reason that I met the scholar long before he became the great Francis Fukuyama. Back then, he was Frank, a young RAND staffer studying the Soviet strategy in the “third world.” At the start of perestroika, I had the opportunity to be the leader, on the Soviet side, of a bilateral cooperation project involving young Soviet and American scholars, and Fukuyama was a collaborator on that project. He did not appear to me at that time to be either the most charismatic, or the most eloquent member of the American team. However, he also was not a stubborn dogmatist or a fanatical ideologue. In general, Frank preferred to listen, rather than to speak. It was difficult to reproach him for either intellectual arrogance or pointed disregard for other people’s opinions.

Of course, his sudden fame and his headlong breakthrough into the inner circle of the American intellectual elite could not but leave their mark on Fukuyama. Meeting him in Washington from time to time during the 1990s, I was saddened to see him becoming increasingly self-important. Sometimes, he sounded patronizing and bossy. Nonetheless, he was still interested in new ideas, always ready for a dialogue, capable of evolving and changing his views, of acknowledging his mistakes and errors: Fukuyama carried these features of his young self through the 1990s and into his older age.

When university academics attack Fukuyama, they do not always take into account the obvious point that every literary genre has its laws and specific features. The End of History of 1989 should be seen not as a fundamental academic work, but as an intellectual provocation, a political manifesto of sorts. The Manifesto of the Communist Party by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels should not be approached with the same yardstick as Marx’s Capital. When, 30 years later, we look back at Fukuyama article in the National Interest, it appears romantic, combative and naïve, but does Mikhail Gorbachev’s “new thinking” rhetoric of the same time look any less romantic and naïve? And which one of us was not a naïve romantic in 1989?

Viewing western-type liberal democracy as the final stage of humanity’s development and as the universally optimal socio-political form, Fukuyama arrives at the conclusion that for states with a “stable democracy,” history in its traditional interpretation – with its conflicts and wars, harsh rivalries and nationalism – had already ended by the last decade of the 20th century. And, together with history, traditional politics, philosophy, religion, and even the arts should also become things of the past. For instance, traditional domestic and foreign policies are increasingly replaced with politically neutral mechanisms for balancing the multidirectional interests of various social groups or states. Fukuyama sees fine-tuning state institutions and finding a balance of interests in “post-historical societies” as technical or even mathematical problems; in that respect, he is closer to Descartes’s rationalism than to Hegel’s dialectics.

For Fukuyama, the world where history continues is limited to the global periphery, to those countries and regions that still have to complete the process of their modernization. The periphery is still plunged into armed conflicts; this the place of bloody revolutions, clashes of irreconcilable ideologies and international coalitions that form and collapse. The “post-historical world” will for a long time run on a parallel course with the “historical world,” but since the former is much stronger, more efficient and more attractive than the latter, the global “core of liberalism” will inevitably continue to draw parts of the “traditionalist” periphery into it, thus bringing the end of history on global scale closer.

Let us not forget that “The End of History” was written when the global socialist system was collapsing before our eyes, when the global “East-West” split seemed to be disappearing into oblivion forever, when the “third wave of democratization” had peaked, when those tectonic social and economic shifts that would later be called “globalization” were being felt everywhere. Bards of the liberal triumph abounded in those times of trouble, but it was Francis Fukuyama who succeeded in giving this triumph a truly epic scale. His eschatological utopia directly challenged the Christian eschatology (the end of history as the Second Coming of Christ and the Kingdom of God on Earth) and the Communist eschatology (the end of history as the result of building a classless society and the atrophy of the state).

Apparently, it was the large scale of Fukuyama’s concept and the ultimate rigidity of his logical construct that made his views so popular with the Clinton administration, and with the George W. Bush administration in particular. As always, practice far outstripped theory, taking Fukuyama’s ideas to their logical conclusion. While Fukuyama wrote about global democratization, for politicians in Washington at the turn of the century, democratization was reduced to global Americanization, and the ideal world order consisted not in searching for mathematically calibrated balance of interests of “stable democracies,” but in perpetuating the notorious “unipolar moment” that emerged in the world following the self-destruction of the Soviet Union.

Admittedly, Fukuyama himself paid tribute to the political situation of the day. Even though he wrote about the necessarily long parallel co-existence of the “post-historical” and “historical” worlds, it did not preclude him from long supporting the interference of the United States in the affairs of the global periphery and, in particular, from calling for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq. However, it was the U.S. intervention in Iraq that caused Fukuyama to undertake a very serious revision of his political stance. By 2004, he had cut his ties with his old friends in the George W. Bush administration and even decided to stop cooperating with the conservative National Interest journal that had opened the door to global fame and intellectual influence for him.

As often happens with bestselling authors, the works of the “mature” Fukuyama were less popular than The End of History. They are not marked by his erstwhile radicalism and firm conviction of his own self-righteousness. The “mature” Fukuyama is more restrained in his assessments and more cautious in his conclusions than the “young” Fukuyama. And still, he makes worthwhile reading, at least in order to trace the tell-tale evolution of one of the most notable and consistent proponents of the political philosophy of liberalism.

For instance, while Fukuyama previously viewed the state as a hindrance to socioeconomic development than a means towards it, now he stresses the importance of strong and effective governmental institutions. While previously he defined the interaction between “post-historical” and “historical” worlds solely as a process of the former gradually subsuming the latter, now he insists on the need to analyze the internal development factors of “traditionalist” societies. While previously the outcome of the global confrontation between western democracy and eastern authoritarianism appeared obvious to him, today, given the growing rivalry between the United States and China, Fukuyama leaves the question of the model for the future human civilization open.

Let us, however, go back to The End of History. Re-reading various reviews of Francis Fukuyama’s first works (let us note in parentheses that, apparently, not all critics took the trouble of reading the source material), one involuntarily arrives at the conclusion that, in their desire to refute, score points against, or even pointedly “unmask” the famous American scholar, Fukuyama’s many opponents overlook the fundamental questions that you simply cannot help asking upon reading Fukuyama’s works. There were no convincing answers to those questions 30 years ago, nor are there any today.

Of course, like all utopian thinkers before him, Fukuyama makes a mistake when he talks about the impending “end of history.” History did not end in 1989, nor has it ended in 2019. It will continue for as long as humanity continues to exist with all its emotions, biases, ambitions, and bouts of madness. But what form will history take? Will we see it moving in circles, endlessly repeating the same cycles? And will the periods of antiquity, traditionalism, modernity, and post-modernity follow each like the seasons of the year? Or will history develop in a spiral? Are the many economic, sociocultural, and political shifts Fukuyama noted 30 years ago irreversible? And if history is a spiral and not a circle, what is the radical difference between the turns of that spiral that follow each other?

Fukuyama does, indeed, appear to have overestimated the expansionist potential of global liberal political systems. Yet, as far as one can see, in the 30 years that have passed since liberalism triumphed globally over communism, no comprehensive alternative to political liberalism that would be comparable to communism has appeared. The rising Islamic fundamentalism or the burgeoning national particularism can hardly be considered such alternatives. China is apparently not ready to propose an export-oriented model of its political authoritarianism. While Russia is drifting farther and farther away from the West politically, it continues to declare its adherence to the basic values of western democracy and market economy. How many decades more do we need to wait to see a full-fledged alternative to liberalism? Or was Fukuyama correct and such alternative cannot be invented as a matter of principle, just like we cannot invent the perpetual motion machine?

Indeed, Fukuyama’s notion of the world’s black-and-white split into “historical” and “post-historical” appears naïve and unconvincing today. The dividing line between “history” and “post-history” does not run between states, it runs between individual social, political, religious, and other groups within each country. Put very simply, it is the division between those who somehow benefit from globalization and those who become its victims. Hence the deep split in the US society today. Hence the unprecedented polarization of political life in Europe. Hence the drama of Brexit. This is the source of many political problems that Russia faces today and that China will face, too, sooner or later. Yet, the fact that dividing lines do not run where Fukuyama saw them and the way he saw them does not remove the problem of the split itself. Moreover, it is the close intertwining, interpenetration, and inseparability of the “historical” and “post-historical” worlds that makes the task of searching for the algorithms of their co-existence far more difficult. Fukuyama gave just a very general outline of this task.

Indeed, Fukuyama was a romantic and an idealist: he believed in the liberal idea, in the “grand meanings” of history, in the possibility of ordering international relations on a rational basis. This conviction was the source of the optimism that is evident in his early works. Today, little is left of his faith in the almighty political liberalism and in the ultimate triumph of liberalism. Fukuyama’s grand meanings have been refuted, trampled into dust and ridiculed many times over. Yet, what have the critics put forth as an alternative concept of a stable and efficient world order? An ambiguous and poorly detailed concept of an archaic “multipolar world”? Apocalyptic pictures of an impending free-for-all, chaos, wars, and conflicts? Predicting future misfortunes and upheavals does not take great insight; minimal imagination suffices. However, finding a way of restoring global governance that is more realistic than the “end of history” requires grand-scale thinking and intellectual audacity that are at least comparable to the scale and daring of the young Fukuyama.

Incidentally, the full title of Francis Fukuyama’s book published in 1992 is The End of History and the Last Man. If the “end of history” can be interpreted as a direct reference to Hegel, then “the last man” is a term that Fukuyama clearly borrowed from Nietzsche. In his programmatic Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche depicts the antipode of his Übermensch as a being that has completely lost the will to power and willingness to take risks, a being that seeks only creature comforts, momentary pleasures, and security. Through Zarathustra, Nietzsche predicts a time when the society of “last men” will lose the differences between rulers and subjects, the strong and the weak, the outstanding and the mediocre. This is a society that has no flight or plight of spirit; it has no criminals, but it also has no heroes. The social fabric is growing progressively thinner, and society is rapidly fragmenting into individual human atoms. Conflicts are becoming a thing of the past, but creativity fades, too. Supra-personal goals fall into myths and legends, personal goals become the only important thing. The place of the human-creator is taken by the human-consumer.

Fukuyama turns to Nietzsche to outline one of the most fundamental problems of the “post-historical world.” He thinks that the coming of the “last man” may become a side effect of the “end of history,” and it will bring human civilization to decline and ruin. At the same time, however, Fukuyama makes multiple qualifications and reservations to the effect that the “post-historical society” can put various obstacles in the path of the “last man.”

But there is a paradox here. History has not ended, “post-historical” society has not triumphed in any country, but “the last man” has already appeared on our common horizon. He does not give a damn about whether history has ended or not: history has nothing whatsoever to do with him. He saunters along, as the “last man” should, without being in a hurry. He has nowhere to hurry, and no reason to: he has eternity in front of him. Yet, the slow, shuffling steps of the “last man” are heard ever more clearly in the West and in the East, in the North and in the South. He saunters around the planet as if he is its master, and as he walks, he surveys his new piece of real estate.

Friends, we need to do something with this insolent claimant of our rightful abode!

From our partner RIAC

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Diplomacy

International Relations Amid the Pandemic

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We could rest assured that COVID-19 will be defeated, sooner rather than later. The excessive angst and fear we currently feel will gradually subside, while our science will find effective antidotes so that people could look back on the pandemic years as a ghastly dream.

At the same time, it is also clear that a post-pandemic world will be quite different to the world we knew before. The argument that the world needs a massive shake-up to move to the next stage of its development has been quite popular ever since the end of the Cold War. Some prophesied that this would come as a result of a profound economic crisis, while others argued that a large-scale war may well be on the cards. As often happens, though, what turned the world on its head came as if out of nowhere. Within a short span of just a few months, the COVID-19 pandemic shed a light on all the many contradictions and setbacks of our age. It went on to outline the trajectory for economic prosperity, scientific breakthroughs and technological advancements going forward, opening up new opportunities for self-realization and fulfilment. The question pertinent today is: Who will be able to best exploit the new reality and take advantage of the opportunities that are opening up? And how?

COVID-19 has also left its mark on the current architecture of international relations.

At the turn of the century, it was mired in crisis. The end of the Cold War towards the late 20th century effectively signaled the beginning of the transition from the bipolar world order established in the wake of the Second World War to a model that had yet to be created. A bitter struggle would unfold as to what the new world order had to be, with the issue still unsettled today. A number of states, as well as non-state actors, willing to take advantage of this uncertainty in global affairs and redistribute the spheres of influence in the world is what it ultimately boils down to. In a sense, such a scenario should have come as no surprise since the contradictions between the profound changes encompassing the public domain and the rigid model of international relations established in the mid-20th century by the powers victorious in the Second World War had continued to grow in recent decades.

The COVID-19 pandemic has proved to be a stern and unprecedented test of strength that has revealed the limits of the current architecture of international relations. Previous crises—be they financial turmoil, struggle against terrorism, regional conflicts or something else—were, in fact, temporary and rather limited in their implications, however severe they were. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected each and every country in the world, regardless of their political regimes and social conventions, economic prosperity and military might. The pandemic has exposed the fragility of the modern world as well as the growing risks and challenges; and if ignored, they could plunge the world into a descending spiral of self-destruction.

The pandemic continues, which means we are yet to draw a final conclusion on its consequences for the system of international relations. That being said, a number of tentative conclusions are already taking shape.

Point 1. Globalization, despite its obvious side effects, has already changed the face of our world, irreversibly making it truly interdependent. This has been said before; however, the opponents of globalization have tried—and continue to try—to downplay its consequences for modern society. As it happens, they would like to think of globalization as little more than an episode in international life. Although it has been going on for quite some time now, it is nevertheless incapable of changing the familiar landscape of the world. The pandemic has lifted the curtain on what the modern world truly looks like. Here, state borders are nothing more than an administrative and bureaucratic construct as they are powerless to prevent active communication among people, whether spiritual, scientific, informational or of any other kind. Likewise, official borders are not an obstacle to the modern security threats proliferating among states. The waves of COVID-19 have wreaked havoc on all countries. No nation has been able to escape this fate. The same will also happen time and again with other challenges unless we recognize this obvious reality to start thinking about how states should act amid the new circumstances.

Point 2. The international system withstood the initial onslaught in spite of the incessant fearmongers prophesying its impending collapse. Following a rather brief period of confusion and helplessness, the United Nations, the World Health Organization, the World Bank, G20 and other global and regional organizations got their act together (albeit some better than others), taking urgent action to contain the pandemic. This proves that the system of international relations that was constructed after the Second World War still functions, although it is far from perfect or devoid of shortcomings.

In a similar vein, the fight against the pandemic has demonstrated that many international structures are increasingly out of step with the modern reality, proving incapable of mobilizing quickly enough to make a difference in our ever-changing world. This, once again, pushes to the fore the issue of a reformed United Nations system (and other international institutions), while the issue is progressively getting even more urgent. Moving forward, the international community will likely have to face challenges no less dangerous than the current pandemic. We have to be prepared for this.

Point 3. As the role of international institutions in global affairs weakens, centrifugal tendencies gain momentum, with countries—for the most part, global leaders—starting to put their national interests first. The global information war surrounding various anti-COVID-19 vaccines is a prime example of this. Not only has it seriously upset successes in the fight against the pandemic, but it has also added a new dimension to mutual distrust and rivalry. The world has effectively fallen back to the “rules” of the Cold War era, when countries with different socio-political systems were desperate to prove their superiority, with little regard for common interests such as security and development.

Pursuing such a policy today is fraught with grave consequences for every nation, since new security threats care little for borders. The recent events in Afghanistan should serve as a lesson for us all, showing that any serious regional crisis, even in a most remote corner of the world, will inevitably have global implications. Therefore, we are all facing a stark choice: either unite against these new challenges or become hostage to the various extremists and adventurers.

Point 4. Some political leaders have been quick to use the challenges of the pandemic as a pretext to strengthen the role of the state at the expense of fundamental democratic principles and binding international obligations. This may be justified or even necessitated at a time of the most acute phases of a severe crisis, when all available resources need to be mobilized to repel the threat.

However, one gets the impression that some politicians are increasingly in the groove for these extended powers and would very much like to hold onto them, using the likelihood of new crises as a justification. This line of thinking could prove to be an insurmountable obstacle to a new model of international relations to be established in accordance with the modern reality, where states would be expected to pool their efforts in the interests of global security and development.

Point 5. As always happens in times of profound crises, the international community is looking to major powers and their leadership for guidance. The future course of history in all realms of life, naturally including international relations, will hinge on what these countries choose to do, deciding whether solidarity prevails over national egoism. President Putin’s initiative to hold a meeting of the heads of state of the permanent UN Security Council members could be a good starting point to foster understanding and seek new ways of moving forward. We cannot keep putting off a frank and thorough conversation about the future world order, as the costs of new delays could be too grave for everyone to handle.

From our partner RIAC

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Diplomacy

Relevance of the Soft Power in Modern World

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In modern days, the relevance of Soft Power has increased manifolds. At times, the COIVD-19 has hooked the whole human race; this concept has further come into the limelight. The term, Soft Power was coined by the American Scientist Joseph Nye. Soft Power is the ability of a country to get what it wants through attraction rather than coercion. By tapping the tool of Soft Power, a country can earn respect and elevate its global position. Hard Power cannot be exercised exceeding a territory, and if any country follows this suit, its image is tarnished globally. However, it is Soft Power that can boost the perception and create a niche of a nation. Soft Power is regarded as the essential factor of the overall strength of a country. It can increase the adhesion and the determination of the people in a realm to shape the foreign relations of any nation. Nye held that the Soft Power arsenal would include culture, political values, and foreign policy.

After the Cold War, many nations pumped billions of dollars into Soft Power initiatives, and the US mastered this concept. The US has sailed on the waters of Soft Power by harnessing the tool of media, politics, and economic aid. The US boasts globally recognized brands and companies, Hollywood, and its quest for democratic evangelization. Through movies, the US has disseminated its culture worldwide. American movies are viewed by a massive audience worldwide. The promotion of the US culture through films is a phenomenon (culture imperialism) where the US subtly wants to dominate the world by spreading its culture. Through Hollywood films, the US has an aspiration to influence the world by using Soft Power tools. Hollywood is considered as the pioneer of fashion, and people across the globe imitate and adopt things from Hollywood to their daily life. Such cultural export lure foreign nations to fantasize about the US as a pillar of Soft Power. Educational exchange programs, earthquake relief in Japan and Haiti, famine relief in Africa stand as the best example of the US initiatives of Soft Power. Now, the American political and cultural appeal is so extensive that the majority of international institutions reflect US interests. The US, however, witnessed a drop from 1st place to 6th on the Global Soft Power Index. This wane can be attributed to the attack on the US Capitol Hill sparked by former US President Donald Trump. In addition, his dubious decisions also hold responsibilities that curtailed the US soft power image, that is, particularly the US withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement.

Beijing is leaving no stone unturned to ace this area. China, rich in culture and traditional philosophy, boasts abundant sources of Soft Power. China is contemplating and exploring an innovative strategy in its rise in international politics. There have been notable elements in the Chinese diplomatic practice, including softer rhetoric, promotion of its culture abroad, economic diplomacy, and image building. Beijing, amid an ongoing pandemic, has extended vaccine help to 80 countries. Such initiative taken by China has elevated its worth globally during difficult times of the pandemic. According to the Global Soft Power index 2021, China stands in the 8th slot. China is an old civilization with a rich culture. China has stressed culture as a crucial source of Soft Power. In a bid to enhance its cultural dominance, Beijing has built many Confucius Institutes overseas. However, this has not been whole-heartedly embraced by the Chinese neighbors due to territorial disputes on the South China Sea. Moreover, International Order, dominated by the West, is wary of Beijing. China’s authoritarian political system is not welcomed in Western democracies. Therefore, China finds it hard to generate Soft Power in democracies. In recent times, Beijing has witnessed tremendous extension in its economy; thus, it focuses on harnessing economic tools to advance its Soft Power. Consequently, Beijing has driven its focus on geoeconomics to accelerate its Soft Power.

Unfortunately, Pakistan, in this sphere, finds itself in a very infirm position -securing 63rd position in the Global Soft Power Index. In comparison with Pakistan, India boasts a lot of Soft Power by achieving the 36th position in the Global Soft Power Index. Its movies, yoga, and classical and popular dance and music have uplifted the Indian soft image. In the promotion of the Indian Soft Power Image, Bollywood plays a leading role and it stretches beyond India. Bollywood has been projected as a great Soft Power tool for India. Bollywood stars are admired globally. For instance, Shahrukh Khan, known as Baadshah of Bollywood, has a fan following across the world. Through its Cinema, India has attracted the attention of the world. Indian movies have recognition in the world and helped India earn billions of dollars. However, the Modi government has curtailed the freedom of Bollywood. Filmmakers claim that their movies are victim of censorship. Moreover, the anti-Muslim narrative has triggered in India, which has tarnished the Indian image of secular country and eventually splashing the Indian Soft image. Protests of farmers, revocation of article 370 in Kashmir, and the controversial Citizen Amendment Act (CAA) have degraded the Indian Soft Power.

Pakistan is not in the tier of the countries acing the Soft Power notion. In Pakistan, expressions of Soft Power, like spiritualism, tourism, cinema, literature, cricket, and handicrafts, are untapped. Pakistan is on the list of those countries having immense tourism potential and its culture is its strength. Unfortunately, no concrete steps are taken to promote the Pakistani culture and tourism. The Pakistani movies are stuck in advancing Pakistan’s narrative worldwide due to lack of the interest of successive governments in this sphere. In addition, these movies lack suitable content, that’s why people prefer watching Bollywood or Hollywood movies. It is the job of the government to harness the expressions of Soft Power. Through movies and soap operas, we can disseminate our culture, push our narrative, and promote our tourism. Government-sponsored campaigns on electronic media can help greatly in this sphere. Apart from the role of government, this necessitates the involvement of all stakeholders, including artists, entrepreneurs, academics, policymakers, and civil society.

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Diplomacy

Planetary Drought of Leadership

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The Tokyo Olympic Games, just concluded, were a spectacular success and grateful thanks are owed to our Japanese hosts to make this event so, at a time when we were in the middle of a global pandemic. There were many doubts expressed beforehand by many people over the Games going ahead during the pandemic, but the precautionary measures put in place were well handled and not obtrusive. 

For anyone who had the opportunity to watch the Games via TV they must have been struck by the wonderful sportsmanship and friendship shown by the competitors of all nations taking part, whatever race and ethnicity. It prompted me to think and ask why the countries of the world cannot exercise some of the same degree of friendship when dealing with one another rather than push forward with agendas that are antagonistic. The world holds a number of dysfunctional states as well as oppressive dictatorships where the resident population is subjected to mental as well as physical torture. Belarus is a typical example, where the leader of the country stole the election to give himself yet another term, and quashes any dissent, with some paying the ultimate price. He has the arrogance to divert a commercial flight so that he can arrest someone who opposes him and then beats him up, before parading him in front of the cameras to say an apology, which everyone can see was forced out of him. 

The Middle East is a complex problem and has been for centuries, the home of some of the oldest civilisations and the divergent monotheistic religions, which add a complicating factor. It surprisingly has been relatively quiet for the last period. Until the next flare up.

Myanmar has also been quiet, or so it seems. The military patrols across the country, particularly in states that offer some resistance and tough guerrilla opposition. The military behave badly, continuing the practice of killing, rape and pillage if not total destruction of small communities which cannot offer any resistance. Corruption is thriving. The military government have ‘promised’ fresh elections next February, 6 months hence, but it is most unlikely that these will be ‘fair and free’. The troubled conditions will continue. It will be an issue of continuing concern for ASEAN and more widely. A recent visit for a documentary had to be carried out illegally in case the military had discovered that the local people had been welcoming and helpful. The repercussions would have been appalling.

The latest situation that has arisen is the Afghanistan blitz takeover by the Taliban, a medieval group promoting the fundamental sharia doctrine, which is out of date and treats women as ‘non-persons’. They have also harboured terrorists, one group pulling off the infamous 2001, 9/11 strike on the NY Twin Towers, which awakened the US to take strong retaliatory action in Afghanistan, and forcing the Taliban out for 20 years. Their 5-year, 1996-2001, rule of Afghanistan was brought to a close after the NY happening, when the US with Allied forces took charge and ousted them. 

But now the Taliban are back following a direct meeting with the then president Trump in 2017, no Afghan government present, and they saw him coming! Shades of North Korea. He said he would withdraw completely without proper assurances, leaving the country’s development less than half finished. President Joseph Biden completed the task of withdrawal, somewhat hasty, upsetting nearly all Americans in the process. The British were caught flat-footed and there is considerable anger expressed by MPs, not least because they realise that they no longer have the ability to resolve such issues themselves. They feel embarrassed and rightly so.

As one of the Afghan luminaries and most quoted intellectuals, prof. Djawed Sangdel, reminds us: “Afghanistan is a graveyard of empires. Even Alexander the Macedonian realised – 2,300 years ago – ‘it is easy to enter the country, but lethal when exiting it’. This especially if you do not respect domestic realities.” Indeed, the situation on the ground is chaotic.

The leader, Ashraf Ghani, of the weak ‘legal’ government has fled, not without rumours about bags full of cash, and that is one reason that the country has not progressed as well as it should, endemic corruption. Women, quite rightly, are fearful, as to what lies in store, as the Taliban’s record on treatment of them is brutal. They have promised to give emancipation within sharia law – which in their case was the combination of twisted and oversimplified Islamic teachings with the tribal nomadic pre-Islamic culture of the central Asian hights.

Looking at the country as a whole, one worries about its future; the Taliban have no track record of governing a country, particularly not one as complex as Afghanistan. They would have to greatly modify their approach to life, separate religion from state (affairs). However, there are credible doubts; once more the Northern Alliance will get together and the country will lapse into civil war. Will the Chinese see an opportunity and risk what others have failed to do? My heart goes out to the people of Afghanistan.

In reviewing the past few decades, it would seem that western led democracies, when they have engaged with a country, which is in trouble, have only entered it without full humanitarian understanding of the problems and not sought a proper sustainable solution. Inevitably it takes longer than one thinks, and there are not strong enough safeguards put in to avoid financial losses to development projects, sometimes major.

The UN has a major part to play, but one must ask if today’s remit is fit for purpose, or should they be reviewed, and the countries that make up the UN should look at and ask themselves if they are fair in what they give and expect, not just monetarily.

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