I don’t know.
Eight years after the great western crusaders traveled half way around the world to start a war with a bunch of islamo-fascists, the war is still going on. While the Iraq war was always controversial, the Afgani war was generally much more popular. At the time I was in a small minority of libertarians and peaceniks in arguing against the war.
Looking at the growing mess now, my instinctive response is to say “we shouldn’t have gone in the first place”. But without a time machine I’m not being very helpful. So what should we do now?
The current situation is that the Taliban has a support base in the south-east of the country (where they have always been strong and have fairly strong local support), the Afghani government controls the centre (with the capital Kabul) and various government-associated warlords run the north (as it has been for centuries). But the Taliban (and a particularly nasty Taliban-linked warlord called Hekmatyar) are threatening to expand.
It’s not clear that this war is winable. First, there is no obvious “good” side within Afgani politics. The advantage of the non-Taliban side is that they are more interested in personal corruption and less interested in grand social planning. But even then, they have passed laws that sanctify rape. Second, one difficulty in defeating the Taliban is that they have significant support in some parts of the country (and this may be growing). Unless there is a successful “hearts and minds” campaign or a mass genocide, it’s difficult to see a solution.
As public support for the Afghani war slips away, the west is flicking between talk of a “surge” and talk of a withdrawal. Neither hold much hope. A surge won’t create better government, nor will it convince Taliban supporters to change sides. And withdrawal will probably result in escalated fighting and Taliban gains. Or we could just tread water, supporting a pro-rape corrupt government and seeing a steady trickle of deaths in a war without end. Of the above three options, that’s probably the best.
Here’s my alternative suggestion… jurisdictional competition.
Afghanistan should be split up into several countries. At least two, but maybe more. The pro-Taliban south-east should be given independence as Talibanistan, and then both sides should agree to a cease-fire. As part of the agreement, people must be free to move between the two (or more) jurisdictions.
The benefits of this are (1) an end to the war; (2) it allows the pro-rape, but relatively less fascist groups to retain most of the country; and (3) it allows people to chose between competing jurisdictions.
The last benefit is (in my opinion) significant. It allows people to better match their government with their preferences, and it provides a natural experiment in different forms of government. Over time, the better form of government (as subjectively determined by the people of Afghanistan) will win out. I have a strong suspicion that the jurisdiction that has more freedom will be more popular over time.
It’s not perfect. Talibanistan and Afghanistan will continue to be shit-holes for a long time to come, with little economic development and fascist governments. But there is no silver bullet, and at least this gets half of what we want now and a mechanism for future improvement.