The Biden administration is scandalously throwing in the towel on Afghanistan, announcing that after Aug. 31, U.S. airstrikes would no longer protect Afghan government forces from massed Taliban attacks. In response to this U.S. abdication of responsibility to an ally, Afghan troops are surrendering in the face of Taliban military advances on the ground, including in the country’s north. America’s abject retreat from Afghanistan is catastrophic for U.S. national security, because a win for the Taliban, is a win for China, Russia, and Iran, all of which will welcome the withdrawal of U.S. forces, and the collapse of the pro-U.S. Afghan government that follows.
The withdrawal has been gradual over the past decade, with the Obama and Trump administrations drawing down forces in the Central Asian crossroads to try and force the democratically-elected Afghan government to step up to the plate and defend its people. “This is going to be a test now of the will and leadership of the Afghan people, the Afghan security forces and the government of Afghanistan,” General Mark A. Milley said at a Pentagon news conference on July 21.
But Taliban, Pakistani, and Chinese corrupting influences have paralyzed the Afghan government and its military forces, who are often in collusion with the Taliban and opium producers, and refuse to fight for their democracy and the rule of law. This leads to tactical victory after tactical victory for the Taliban, which will ultimately lead to a strategic victory for China as it sees its primary global adversary, the United States and allies, retreat from its western border. America’s retreat will be a disaster for the Afghan people, and especially for the Persian (Dari) speakers of the Northwest, which is increasingly targeted by Taliban violence. Their cities are already under siege.
A total U.S. and allied withdrawal from Afghanistan will lead to the possible warlordization of the country, civil war, a spreading Taliban presence, ethnic cleansing, and loss of strategic U.S. military bases that are our only ones between Iran, China, and Russia.
Rather than entirely abandon Afghanistan to its violent, and likely pro-China fate in the future, we ought to partition the country and strategically withdraw towards the Northeast, where necessary. There, the Persian-speaking population supports democracy and freedom to a greater extent. Let the Taliban, who are primarily of the Pashtun ethnicity, have Kandahar if absolutely necessary, and perhaps some other of their opium poppy strongholds.
This limited, rather than total, withdrawal, achieves four objectives.
First, it avoids total defeat and the sacking of Kabul, which along with Taliban representatives at the U.N., will be seen as a sign of American abdication on an international scale, and tar U.S. foreign relations for decades to come with the image of military weakness. The same happened after the loss in Vietnam. We cannot allow that to happen again. Democracy must win the wars that democracy fights.
The second objective achieved, is that we keep the U.S. and allied military bases in Central Asia, which keeps China, Russia, and Iran off-balance in the region, and provides avenues of friendly Indian, Japanese, and allied influence in the North, at least.
Third, partition limits the space in which the Taliban can again shock the conscience of the world with their illiberal forms of governance. The Taliban will limit atrocities against their own Pashtun ethnicity, but not so much against Persian speakers of the Northeast, against whom they will seek a self-serving revenge for claimed traitorous collaboration with U.S. “occupation” forces. A smaller Taliban footprint in Afghanistan will still provide them with the space needed to shock global public opinion and revive international opposition to the Taliban and its illiberality. In 2001, the Taliban dynamited the massive 6th century Buddhas of Bamiyan. Expect more such outrages if the Taliban are allowed to swarm the Northeast, untrammeled by the threat of U.S. airstrikes.
Fourth, partition gives the Taliban land and cities to protect, if absolutely necessary, which makes them deterrable. No longer would the Taliban be entirely asymmetric in their orientation. If they hit us, we can hit them back. This is, unfortunately, the basis of deterrence and peace through strength in international relations.
Partitioning Afghanistan is not without its risks. Pakistan and China will decry the move, as Pakistan seeks to control all of Afghanistan through its proxies the Taliban. China will still seek to control the region, through its proxies, Pakistan and Iran. In the Northwest, Iran has influence among Persian speakers, and China influences Iran through its purchase of Iranian oil and other trade.
Partition would not prevent all ethnic violence, though less would occur than under the total civil war that could break out with complete U.S. and allied withdrawal. Some small Pashtun enclaves in the North, if unprotected, might be depopulated with refugees fleeing south. As well, some Persian speakers in the South would flee north, possibly amid internecine violence. Both sides should make every effort to protect their minorities, but in practice, this cannot be guaranteed, especially in any areas handed over to the Taliban. It can be even less guaranteed, if total civil war breaks out due to complete U.S. and allied withdrawal.
Sometimes, good fences make good neighbors. Partition is a fence that would divide Afghanistan, and to some extent protect its Persian-speaking population from the Taliban terrorists, whose fundamentalist fight includes a regrettable racist element against Persians. It’s not too late for a U.S. and allied course correction in Afghanistan. The Biden administration should give partition of the country serious consideration.
Anders Corr has a bachelor’s/master’s in political science from Yale University (2001) and a doctorate in government from Harvard University (2008). He’s a principal at Corr Analytics Inc., publisher of the Journal of Political Risk, and has conducted extensive research in North America, Europe, and Asia. He authored “The Concentration of Power” (forthcoming in 2021) and “No Trespassing,” and edited “Great Powers, Grand Strategies.”
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.