Image © The US Army
This year’s upcoming Bonn Conference will mark a decisive shift from international engagement in Afghanistan to a policy focusing on withdrawal and, it is hoped, peace with the Taliban. The reason for the change is obvious: the West is tired of war. Public support for the NATO campaign in member states is rapidly declining; by 2010, only 37 percent of the British public and 40 percent of Americans supported the presence of their military forces in the country. The elite consensus in the West, which has hitherto been in favour of international engagement, has also become increasingly fragile. In Britain, it is likely that Liberal Democrat support for the war is conditional on withdrawal and pursuit of a peace deal. Meanwhile, according to leaked US diplomatic cables, the European Union president, Herman Van Rompuy, recently summed up the feelings of European elites by telling a US ambassador that ‘no one believes in Afghanistan any more’.
In the lead up to Bonn, it is quite clear – not least to the Taliban – that NATO countries are falling over themselves to get out of Afghanistan. We might be inclined to welcome this news, but a few words of caution are necessary. The first thing to point out is that the Taliban do not have the support of anywhere near the majority of Afghans. A recent survey by the Asia Foundation revealed that only 29 percent of the Afghan population have some level of sympathy with armed anti-government groups. Meanwhile, 73 percent of Afghans (an approval rating Western leaders could only dream of) are satisfied with the performance of the national government. For many who have been assuming that NATO forces are simply propping up an unpopular regime against a popular insurgency, this may come as a surprise. Read more of this post