2 Dec 2014

Afghans fear history will be repeated as western involvement ends

As the historian AJP Taylor remarked: “The central lesson of history is that we do not learn the central lessons of history.”

ANA soldiers take part in a training exercise at a military base in Kabul

Remember the central lesson of Afghan history, that the country collapsed into violent disorder after the Soviet withdrawal?

Except it did not. That is the central myth of recent Afghan history.

The truth – and thus the bitter lesson for now – is that Afghanistan enjoyed three years of relative stability and prosperity after the Russian military convoys cranked up over the Salang Pass on their way home for good.

The bloody collapse only happened when Boris Yeltsin turned off the money as the USSR consigned itself to history.

Twenty-five years on, and many Afghans fear exactly the same will now happen as they make their way to the London conference this week.

British and Irish Agencies Afghanistan (BAAG) Director Jawed Nader said: “There is a clear picture of people feeling abandoned, vulnerable, underfunded. We risk leaving our colleagues in Afghanistan with a feeling of betrayal, that we are turning our back on them and leaving them exposed, both in terms of security and financially.”

Most western troops are out. Most western TV news crews have gone. Politicians no longer care. News editors no longer care.

Let’s just take the last few days: insurgents have tried to retake Camp Bastion, the former sprawling British base in southern Helmand province. The insurgents already now control much of the countryside there. They run much of the countryside across the whole of Afghanistan itself these days.

Read more: Taliban releases video of ‘operation inside Afghan airbase’

They have suicide-bombed various gatherings across the country; killed six, including a British embassy guard in the capital; mounted an RPG and gun assault on a foreign compound in the wealthy Wazir Akbar Khan district of Kabul.

A friend called yesterday from the capital. He says: “The Taliban have said they will kill me if I go on working for a western company. But what can I do? There are no jobs.”

Western money and investment is on the run, leaving monumental corruption in its wake as those in employ protect what they can still have and hold.

The vast Afghan army entirely bankrolled by the west – for now – in truth can hold only cities and main roads. Its losses are often double-digit percentages each month, along with the paramilitary Afghan police.

Too often unpaid, unloved and sitting ducks on their static VCPs (roadblocks) for insurgent ambush.

There is a ring of steel around Kabul. For months signs at the checkpoints actually say “Ring of Steel”. But as the autumn mud turns to frost-frozen iron in the high, dry and bitterly cold Kabuli winter, the attacks come to every district with ever greater frequency.

True, the uneasy new Ghani-Abdullah alliance of government has inspired confidence because the election finally happened at all. Power was – or rather, is still being – transferred. But it not is not happening peacefully, no matter how often various (mostly western) commentators peddle the convenient lie that it is. Still cabinet places remain unfilled, month after month after month.

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron, Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani and Prime Minister Abdullah Abdullah arrive for a news conference in Kabul

Both men have deep and obvious political differences. On both sides, supporters stand ready with men, guns and the ability to restart ethnic civil war which has never finally gone from this land.

In London next week expect more platitudes about continuing western support from European and US political leaders.

But in Kabul they will be sceptical of all this at best – as they worry about their money and how to get their wives and children out to Dubai, Delhi – anywhere but here.

Across swathes of the Afghan countryside they already know the game is over, and what security, law and order they may enjoy is at the dispensation of the armed insurgent warlords.

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