Nightcap

  1. Do Korean “K-dramas” signal the weakening of America’s global cultural dominance? Ronald Dworkin, Law & Liberty
  2. The Taliban’s special units leading the fight against Islamic State Fazelminallah Qazizai, Newlines
  3. Being pro-choice Andrew J Cohen, Radical Classical Liberals
  4. The promise, and peril, of public-facing scholarship Paul Musgrave, Duck of Minerva

Nightcap

  1. Good piece on British imperial culture Ronjaunee Chatterjee, LARB
  2. How the Taliban won in Afghanistan Alec Worsnop, WOTR
  3. History’s glory, restored Spencer Klavan, Law & Liberty

Nightcap

  1. How the Afghanistan War really started Robert Wright, Nonzero
  2. The Fed’s exit strategy (in 2009) Robert Aro, Power & Market
  3. Austrian Economics for the lower classes Weiss & Nelson, L&L
  4. On liberalism’s peaceful global order Eric Schliesser, D&I

Nightcap

  1. Afghanistan is where ideologies go to die Sumantra Maitra, Critic
  2. Twilight of the Satyrs Charlotte Allen, Quillette
  3. The Chinese mirror Pierre Lemieux, EconLog
  4. The Tang dynasty died in Afghanistan, too Chan Kung, Diplomat

When liberal hegemons leave: Israel’s case for staying in the West Bank forever

The sight of the U.S.-trained and equipped Afghan army literally melting away over a matter of hours in the face of the Taliban assault would be bad enough; the scenes of Afghans falling hundreds of feet to their deaths as they tried to escape in the wheel wells of U.S. transport planes will endure for decades as a reminder of America’s shame.

[…] In the Israeli-Palestinian context, a number of unsurprising lines of argument have emerged. The most prevalent from the right is that this is the latest demonstration of the folly of withdrawing from territory, as it only leads to a security nightmare that will be exploited by fundamentalist terrorist groups. Afghanistan is seen as an incarnation of Israel’s experience in Gaza, where Israel withdrew and left the territory in the hands of the Palestinian Authority, only to have Hamas take over within two years and remain stubbornly resistant to being dislodged nearly fifteen years later. The Taliban’s success on the literal heels of departing American soldiers is viewed as a preview of coming attractions for Hamas’s allegedly inevitable takeover of the West Bank should Israel ever leave the territory.

There is much more from Michael Koplow at Ottomans & Zionists. Is the Israeli Right correct? The same type of disasters happened when the French and the British (and the Dutch) were forced out of their imperial possessions after World War II. The Americans, and their European predecessors, built “states: out of their colonies. These states helped locals who wanted to be helped, but these states were always weak and wholly dependent on the imperial capital for everything. Once imperial powers leave, the weaknesses of these “states” become apparent quickly. Thus, communists, Islamists, and other despotisms quickly arise in the wake of imperial exit. To make matters worse, these despotisms employ the weak “states” the imperial powers leave behind.

This is a pattern that has happened now for two centuries. This is a problem of modernity, of industrial humanity.

Here’s the thing. Here’s the libertarian alternative. It’s time to recognize that Western governance is pretty good, comparatively speaking, and helps people get out of poverty (intellectual as well as financial) if they want to. The “states” Western powers create are weak. I think the libertarian alternative should be to stop trying to make these “states” stronger, or give them more capacity as sovereigns, and instead incorporate these states into their own body politics via federation. This would address the areas where Western-created “states” are weak, such as in security/defense of sovereignty, or corruption, while also leaving open the effects that Western governance has had on these societies that have been experimented upon. All those Afghans wanting to flee has made an impression on me. I think federation is a good compromise between state sovereignty and individual freedom.

Nightcap

  1. International arbitration, 17th century style Eric Schliesser, Digressions & Impressions
  2. We are no longer a serious people Antonio Martínez, Pull Request
  3. Networked planetary governance Anne-Marie Slaughter (interview), Noema
  4. 5 O’Clockface Sharon Olds, Threepenny Review

Nightcap

  1. Why Angela Merkel has lasted so long Wolfgang Streeck, spiked!
  2. United States of Greater Austria Wikipedia
  3. Afghanistan and liberal hegemony Lawrence Freedman, New Statesman
  4. Diary of the guy who drove the Trojan Horse back from Troy James Folta, New Yorker

Nightcap

  1. Why is there no Rooseveltian school of foreign policy? Deudney & Ikenberry, Foreign Policy
  2. It’s time to drop the curtain on Japan’s colonial legacy Meindert Boersma, Lausan
  3. The ides of August (Afghanistan) Sarah Chayes (h/t Mark from Placerville)
  4. Rep. Barbara Lee on Afghanistan, 20 years later Abigail Tracy, Vanity Fair

Nightcap

  1. Art and exile in the Third Republic Hannah Stamler, the Nation
  2. Spending on infrastructure doesn’t always end well Richard White, Conversation
  3. Kabul and Chicago NEO, Nebraska Energy Observer
  4. The price of Tucker Carlson’s soul Andrew Sullivan, Weekly Dish

China and the Taliban

Introduction

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met with a nine-member delegation of the Taliban on July 28, 2021. The delegation was led by Abdul Ghani Baradar, who heads the Taliban’s political office in Doha. In July 2021, the Taliban had visited Russia and the Kremlin envoy for Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, had met with the delegation. Kabulov said that the Taliban had assured him that the territory of Afghanistan will not be used against Russia or any of its allies in Central Asia.

The meeting between Yi and the Taliban delegation is the first high level public meeting after the Taliban has managed to gain control over a significant portion of Afghanistan’s territory, including Badakshan province, which shares a border with China’s western Xinjiang region (given the changing geopolitical dynamics, Beijing had of course opened its back channels earlier with the Taliban). It would be pertinent to point out that China has previously hosted Taliban delegations in 2015 (Urumqi, Xinjiang) and in 2019 (Beijing).

Significance of meeting

Wang Yi’s meeting with the Taliban delegation is significant for more than one reason; it comes days after Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi had undertaken a two-day visit to China (July 23-July 24, 2021) for a strategic dialogue. During this meeting, both sides had agreed to work jointly to address the security challenges posed by the situation in Afghanistan. Apart from supporting peace talks and reconciliation, China had also made it clear that action needed to be taken against terror groups, which pose a security threat to Beijing, and both Islamabad and Beijing need to work jointly in this direction. In a press release posted on the website of the Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi said:

We will work together to combat terrorism and push all major forces in Afghanistan to draw a clear line against terrorism, firmly combat the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) and other terrorist forces, and resolutely stop Afghanistan from becoming a hotbed of terrorism.

China believes that the recent terror attack in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK province), which had resulted in the killing of 13 individuals (including 9 Chinese nationals) in a bus explosion (engineers and staff working on the Dasu Project were in the bus), was a possible handiwork of the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM). Beijing also sent a delegation to Pakistan to be part of an enquiry being conducted by Islamabad into the attack.

Finally, the meeting between Wang Yi and the Taliban delegation took place at a time when US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken was in India, and during his discussions with the Indian side Afghanistan was high on the agenda. Blinken had expressed concern about the rise in atrocities committed by the Taliban, and also said that the Taliban could not gain legitimacy by such steps and ultimately:

There’s only one path. And that’s at the negotiating table to resolve the conflicts peacefully, and to have an Afghanistan emerge that is governed in a genuinely inclusive way, and that is representative of all its people.

Beijing’s recognition of Taliban’s importance

At the same time, Wang Yi was unequivocal in flagging the threat to China from ETIM, and asked the Taliban to ‘completely sever ties’ with the group. The Taliban, on its part, assured Wang Yi that Taliban will not allow anyone to use Afghan soil against China. Wang Yi’s meeting send outs a strong message that Beijing clearly recognizes the role of the Taliban in resolving the current situation. The Taliban had also assured China earlier that it would ensure the safety of Chinese investments. Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen had, in a media interview in July 2021, stated:

China is a friendly country and we welcome it for reconstruction and developing Afghanistan…if [the Chinese] have investments, of course we will ensure their safety.

Difference between China-Russia and the US

The US approach vis-à-vis Afghanistan has been different from that of Beijing. While flagging its concerns, Beijing, realizing the ground realities, has sent out a clear message that it is willing to do business with the Taliban; the statements of Blinken, on the other hand, indicate US hesitancy vis-à-vis the Taliban. What is extremely interesting, however, are Blinken’s remarks during his visit to India stating that China’s involvement in Afghanistan could be positive. Given the fact that numerous commentators have been arguing that China and the US need to find common ground and that a zero-sum approach will not benefit anyone, this is a very interesting remark and should be welcomed since all stakeholders will need to work jointly in order to find a solution.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the situation in Afghanistan is perpetually evolving and requires all stakeholders in the region and outside to adopt a nuanced approach. The priority in the short run is to navigate the turbulence. In the midst of strained ties between Washington and Beijing, the US Secretary of State’s remarks regarding Beijing’s role in Afghanistan need to be welcomed.

Will the US and Iran find common ground in Afghanistan?

Introduction

On July 7, 2021 Iran hosted talks between the Afghan Government and the Taliban (the Taliban delegation was led by Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai). The same day, the Taliban attacked the Badghis provincial capital Qalat-i-Naw (Badghis is one of thirty-four provinces in Afghanistan). Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif emphatically stated that the Afghan people should decide their own future, while also stating that there was a major threat to security. As of Friday, the Taliban claimed to have captured 85% of Afghanistan’s territory (it is tough to verify such claims however).

Zarif also underscored the point that dialogue was the only option for finding a way out of the current imbroglio in Afghanistan:

…commitment to political solutions the best choice for Afghanistan’s leaders and political movements

Tehran, which shares a 945 kilometre border with Afghanistan, also hosts 3 million Afghan refugees and migrant workers, and has expressed its concern with regard to the growing turmoil in the country as a result of US withdrawal of troops.

Important symbolism

If one were to look beyond the Afghan-Iran bilateral relationship, as well as the fact that Tehran is likely to be impacted by events in Afghanistan, the meeting is an attempt by Iran to send out a message to Saudi Arabia (which for long has positioned itself as the key geopolitical player in the Middle East) and the US with regard to its geopolitical relevance.

Tehran’s ties with Riyadh have witnessed an upswing in recent months, with Saudi Arabia expressing its keenness to resolve bilateral issues. Senior officials from both countries met in Iraq in May. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in a media interview in April 2021, clearly batted in favour of better Saudi-Iran ties, while not denying that differences did exist between both sides. Talks were held between Saudi and Iranian officials in April and May in Baghdad and are likely to shift to Oman.

Iran-US ties

Iran’s ties with the US under the President-elect Ebrahim Raisi, a hardliner in comparison to outgoing president Hassan Rouhani, are likely to face more challenges (at least in the short run). The Biden administration had made attempts to rejoin the Iran Nuclear deal/Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), but it had limited time. (The US had signed in 2015, but the Trump Administration withdrew from the JCPOA in 2018.)

While the Iranian Presidential election was held in June, the Vienna negotiations (in which US participated indirectly) began only in April 2021. Some ice has been broken between Iran and the US, but no real outcome should be expected till August, when Raisi takes over. Iran’s announcement that it would begin producing enriched uranium metal has also drawn severe criticism from the E3 countries (France, Germany, and the UK) and could act as an impediment to the renewal of the JCPOA. It would also be pertinent to point out that, due to domestic pressures, it was very tough for both sides to move away from stated positions (while the US had said it would remove sanctions once Iran fully complies with the terms and conditions of the 2015 deal, Iran stated that it could only do so after US removed economic sanctions).

Need for US-Iran engagement on Afghanistan

Biden has shown pragmatism on a number of foreign policy issues. A strong example of this is how, in spite of his criticism of Russia, he has not refrained from engagement and finding common ground with Moscow. Similarly, realising Turkey’s importance in Afghanistan (Turkey had offered to safeguard Kabul Airport after the withdrawal of US troops), he has sought to improve ties with Istanbul. During a meeting between Biden and Turkish President Reccep Tayyip Erdogan, on the sidelines of the NATO Summit, a number of issues were discussed and both sides agreed that the meeting was positive. During the Summit, Turkey — a NATO member — made a commitment that it would keep its troops in the country, to safeguard Kabul Airport.

It is important that the US engages with Iran in a more pro-active manner (albeit indirectly), and not just on JCPOA but also Afghanistan; so far Biden has publicly spoken about the role of Russia but given the tensions with Tehran he has not really made a mention – though there has been a growing chorus by US allies for a back channel with Iran on Afghanistan. Given the fact that the US is engaging with Iran indirectly on JCPOA and other changes taking place, some engagement would already be going on but this needs to be substantial and more effective. On the other hand, Beijing, Moscow, and Tehran have been working to find a common strategy to counter the likely security challenges in Afghanistan.

Neither Tehran nor Washington can engage publicly, but it is important for Biden to open an effective back channel to Iran via US allies in the GCC, such as Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. Iran, in spite of moving closer to Beijing and Moscow in recent years as a result of Trump’s flawed Iran policy, would not like to send out a signal that it is blindly kowtowing to any external force, including China (the Iran-China 25 year agreement was viewed with suspicion in Iran by many including Former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who called it a suspicious deal), and a working relationship with Washington on the Afghanistan quagmire would only produce benefits.

In conclusion, the Biden Administration should give priority to the relationship with Iran seeing the changing political landscape. While due to domestic pressures and lobbies within the US, progress with regard to Washington getting back on board the JCPOA has been impeded, it is important that the US does not miss out on pro-active back channel diplomacy and engagement with Iran on Afghanistan.

Nightcap

  1. The imperial sociology of “the tribe” in Afghanistan Nivi Manchanda, Millennium
  2. Life in the capital city of pre-modern Japan John Butler, Asian Review of Books
  3. The Irish free trade crisis of 1779 Joel Herman, Age of Revolutions
  4. Insiders and outsiders in 17th century philosophy Eric Schliesser, Philosophical Reviews

Nightcap

  1. Capitalist naturalism? Julie Ward, LARB
  2. Are Iraq & Afghanistan sunk costs? Matt Welch, Reason
  3. Is the Durand Line “treacherous”?Cesaretti & Qazizai Newlines
  4. Why can’t we see grabby aliens? Robin Hanson, Overcoming Bias