I feel like this is my good news post for the month.
In all seriousness, I find myself feeling much more optimistic on two of America’s larger foreign policy issues this week.
On the China side of the equation, America continues to make serious inroads with allies in the region. And local allies continue to strengthen up their own armies. (Such as tiny Singapore, which has less than 5 million people, proceeding with its purchase of F-35s. Great story on that at this link: How the F-35 could be a game-changer for Singapore. This would be as if America stationed additional top-tier aircraft permanently in the region.)
You can read those links above if you choose, and follow them into even deeper rabbit holes if you choose, but I think your conclusion will end up where mine is: China is increasingly finding itself in a less dominant position.
On the Afghanistan front, I’ve seen a number of things that make me feel better about the situation.
America is increasing its aid, providing airstrikes against the Taliban again. And Iran and Pakistan, neither of whom want a de-stabilized Afghanistan, seem to be coming to grips that an Afghan government that succeeds is the best, long-term result.
For Iran, such a thing will limit the number of refugees crossing its borders. (Iran already has approximately 3 million Afghan refugees living mostly undocumented inside its borders.) And as we speak, Iran is already fighting the Taliban with its proxies, sending armed fighters into Afghanistan.
From the PBS article:
The Iranian-backed Fatemiyoun Brigade is drawn from Shia Afghan refugees in Iran and also from members of the Hazara Shia minority inside Afghanistan. Hazaras currently make up 9 to 10% of Afghanistan’s total population of 38 million. Considered infidels by the Sunni Taliban and the target of deadly attacks since the 1990s, hundreds of thousands of Hazaras have fled to Iran, where the government has recruited them to the militia.
Fatemiyoun members are “mostly in their 20s and 30s … motivated mainly by economic deprivation and vulnerabilities due to their migrant status,” per the United States Institute of Peace (USIP). According to media and human rights reports, Iran offered these refugees and their families payment, citizenship and other legal protections in return for serving in the brigade, although some refugees “report[ed] being coerced into joining with threats of arrest and deportation,” according to a report from the Middle East Institute. Iran is also known to have armed Fatemiyoun fighters in Yemen and Syria.
Estimates put the number of Fatemiyoun troops Iran deployed to Syria, to fight ISIS on behalf of President Bashar al-Assad, as high as 20,000 or even 50,000. In Leaving Afghanistan, sources told FRONTLINE that Iran is now sending Fatemiyoun back to Afghanistan, with thousands already in the country.
This is occurring from the northwest. Quite similarly, the Taliban will see a weakening of their situation on its eastern flank.
For Pakistan, though it has helped arm, equip, and support the Taliban covertly for decades now, suddenly the country is worried the Taliban might become a serious problem if they gain control of all of Afghanistan.
As the Wall Street Journal put it: Pakistan, After Rooting for Afghanistan’s Taliban, Faces a Blowback.
India Today details the problem in its article:
Interestingly, Pakistan — that is believed to be deeply involved in the affairs of the Taliban in Afghanistan through Pakistan Army’s Inter-State Intelligence (ISI) — has its own share of problems with the Taliban’s rise.
Pakistan shares a long boundary with Afghanistan, and the rise of the Taliban aggravates fear and a sense of insecurity among non-Pashtun ethnic communities particularly in the border areas. It can lead to inter-tribal militia conflicts on the Pakistani side of the border.
Last time when the Taliban had seized Afghanistan, it had even targeted border areas in Pakistan’s Baluchistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces. Reports from Pakistan suggest that people, particularly in Baluchistan, are worried that they might again be deprived of their agricultural fields and be forced to move out.
The article ends by saying that the Taliban operating inside Pakistan is different from the Taliban that is fighting in Afghanistan.
The Taliban members inside Pakistan want to bring Pakistan under a harsher Sharia rule and have already fought the government of Pakistan in the past.
Pakistan already has Federally Administered Tribal Areas that it basically can’t control or govern. That’s more than 5 million religious extremists that Pakistan fears. The last thing Pakistan needs is Afghanistan to become something similar.
Finally, there is one other thing I recently read, which helps give me great hope.
I just don’t believe people will give up their freedom in Afghanistan. Maybe they would have twenty years ago, but the people of Afghanistan have changed.
As written in the post below…
Afghanistan has become:
a pluralistic civil society that values democracy, human rights and peace. Take for example the mediascape. Through new television, radio, Internet and social media platforms — as well as a burgeoning book industry — Afghans have found unprecedented avenues for political engagement and exchange. Depending on where they are in the country, Afghans can access anywhere from 30 to 100 free radio and television stations, a major change from life under the Taliban, which banned all independent media and tried to establish a monopoly for their Radio Shariah.
These outlets are a counterbalance to the government, warlords and foreign interests. They provide a vibrant public sphere hosting and nurturing important national debates about human rights, democracy, modernity and Islam. While Afghanistan remains dangerous for journalists and other media makers, this risk reflects the political importance of this new journalism. Reporters, activists and reformers have exerted considerable pressure on Afghan politicians, insisting on a kind of scrutiny to which Taliban leaders are unaccustomed. These outlets offer an opportunity to hold leaders accountable and make it much harder to stifle opposition than in the 1990s.
Further, Afghanistan has undergone a generational shift. Young Afghans born in the 1990s and early 2000s have grown up with different expectations. Thanks to exposure to this media, broader education and the promise of participatory politics, Afghan youths seek a voice in politics, even if they are not unanimous in their views on the future.
All of this has led me to go from worrying about the worst-case scenario in Afghanistan to feeling much more optimistic about it.
Afghans have seen their troops gunned down after they have surrendered. They remember how barbaric the Taliban used to be, when they forced men to keep beards, treated women like property, and executed (and dismembered) people in a soccer stadium.
It’s true that the Taliban are cutting off some of the cities, but I just don’t believe that long term, the Taliban will be as victorious as they imagine.
America doesn’t want that. Iran doesn’t want that. Pakistan doesn’t want that.
And in the end, the Afghan people don’t want that.
Okay, that’s it for this week’s good news post.
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Stan R. Mitchell
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