Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Pessoptimist in Istanbul: Will Bin Laden Win?

Today I am in Istanbul in a hotel overlooking the Sea of Marmora. I am here for -- of all things -- a conference on the Durand Line. Of course it is about much more than the Line itself, demarcated by Sir Henry Mortimer Durand in 1893 as the limit of the dominion of the Amir of Afghanistan.

Today this line through a mountainous, arid, sparsely populated area is regarded by Pakistan, and most of the world, as the international border with Afghanistan, but Afghanistan has never formally recognized it as such. Above all, the people living around the line have never recognized it as a border. They were there before these states. They wonder who gave Durand or anyone in London, Kabul, Delhi, or Islamabad the right to divide them?

There is nowhere more different from the Durand Line than the Sea of Marmora. This morning I walked along the seafront, by a stone wall that once constituted the fortifications of the entry to the Golden Horn and the Strait of Bosporus. Yesterday from the terrace of my hotel, my colleagues and I saw an enormous container ship traveling from the Black Sea through the Strait and outward to the Mediterranean. Would it then cross the Suez canal and enter the Indian Ocean?
The ship was registered with the Maersk shipping line; I remembered seeing the same containers while driving from Kabul to Jalalabad in the spring of 2005 with Omar Zakhilwal, head of the Afghanistan Investment Support Agency. The main road from Kabul to Sarobi was closed for construction, so we had to take the old road, over the Lataband Pass, the same route taken by the Army of the Indus when it retreated under fire from Kabul to Jalalabad in 1841. The Army of the Indus, however, had long since mutated into the Armed Forces of Pakistan, and today most of the traffic was in the other direction. Truck after truck lumbered with full loads of Maersk containers headed for Kabul from the port of Karachi via Peshawar and Jalalabad, carrying, what? -- Ukrainian airplane parts shipped from Odessa (where my great-grandfather was born) through the Strait of Bosporus and on through the Sea of Marmora?

So much for the unchanging Afghan frontier. Amir Abdul Rahman Khan, during whose reign (1880-1901) the Durand Line was demarcated, decided against building roads through the country's passes, as the same roads that facilitated trade facilitated conquest as well. Afghanistan's isolation protected both his rule -- and the British Empire in India. Britain, which subsidized the Amir's
government and army to assure that it could control the territory on the frontier, forbade Kabul to welcome any foreign legation but one from Delhi. The Amir depicted his realm as a just Islamic order under his command: But to the British this isolated Afghanistan state with a subsidized army fulfilled the function of a buffer state: keeping Russia far from their Empire. The British and Russian governments demarcated the rest of the country's borders and formalized their agreement in the 1907 Anglo-Russian Convention on Persia, Afghanistan, and Tibet.

This Treaty was an part of the same process that Usama Bin Laden evoked in his warning to the United States on October 7, 2001. Seated not far from the Durand Line before an outcropping of the mountains of Afghanistan, whose name and history he did not mention, the Amir of al-Qa'ida informed his global audience:


What the United States tastes today is a very small thing compared to what we have tasted for tens of years. Our nation has been tasting this humiliation and contempt for more than 80 years.

What was he talking about? He was talking about the Treaty of Lausanne (1923), in which "THE BRITISH EMPIRE, FRANCE, ITALY, JAPAN, GREECE, ROUMANIA and the SERB-CROAT-SLOVENE STATE, of the one part,and TURKEY,of the other part" agreed to the demarcation of today's Republic of Turkey.
Lausanne followed on the Treaty of Versailles (1919), which separated most of the Ottoman Empire from Anatolia. Together these treaties abolished the Islamic caliphate, which had been claimed for centuries by the Ottoman Sultan and recognized by most Sunni Muslims. The Treaty of Lausanne stipulated:
No power or jurisdiction in political, legislative or administrative matters shall be exercised outside Turkish territory by the Turkish Government or authorities, for any reason whatsoever, over the nationals of a territory placed under the sovereignty or protectorate of the other Powers signatory of the present Treaty, or over the nationals of a territory detached from Turkey.
It is understood that the spiritual attributions of the Moslem religious authorities are in no way infringed.


The division of the Islamic umma, the Muslim community, into nation states by the European colonial powers the better to dominate them and nullify the temporal power of the Islamic caliphate is at the heart of Bin Laden's grievances against the contemporary world order. Destruction of the caliphate based in Istanbul prepared the ground, in his view, for the catastrophe of the Palestinians, sanctions and war against Iraq, and the "occupation of the Land of Muhammad" by "infidel troops."
Though Bin Laden mentioned neither Afghanistan nor Pakistan, al-Qaida respects the border dividing these two states no more than it does the State of Israel or the secular Republic of Turkey. All are equally products of aggression against the Muslims.

It is no coincidence that al-Qaida, though led and conceived by Arabs, was founded in these borderlands. To Westerners it may appear that Bin Laden is now trapped in an isolated region. But this region, never fully integrated into the modern system of states, provides an appropriate seat for this transnational insurgency against that very system.

And as the itinerary of the containers shows, that region is no longer the isolated backwater it remains in the National Geographic mind. While in the days of Abdul Rahman Khan only British India was permitted a legation in Kabul, today the capital of the Mughal Emperor Babur is a major outpost of the UN, NATO, the US Central Command, and the European Union, with enormous embassies of every major country under construction. The people whom Amir Abdul Rahman Khan informed about his rule with an illustrated map are now more likely to have traveled abroad than Americans, if not usually as tourists, and listen to far more international news in several languages.

Their country, which used to rely on subsistence farming, has become a commercial single-crop economy. Opium poppy -- like sugar cane in Cuba, rubber in Liberia, or tea in Sri Lanka -- encroaches further every year on land used for subsistence farming and traditional horticulture. Traffickers and traders from all major markets reserve their share of the Afghan product through futures markets. Every family includes migrants in Karachi, Iran, or the states of the Persian Gulf. The remittances sent by these workers finance many new houses and shops, while the workers, separated for years at a time from family, tribe, and village, seek refuge and meaning in mosques frequented by global preachers. Cash, once rare, reaches the remotest villages through this global trade and the omnipresent hawala system, which links Afghans to global electronic banking networks through mobile phones and itinerant traders.

It is common enough to observe that globalization has transformed sovereignty, transferring functions of states to larger organizations like the European Union and shattering the weak institutions of others. It is less commonly realized that Bin Laden's vision of the caliphate constitutes a revolutionary response to globalization. The states drawn by imperial powers on the territory of the Islamic umma have excluded the Palestinians from nationhood and placed one of Islam's holiest places under Israeli control. The zone from where Bin Laden and his Egyptian deputy, Ayman al-Zawihiri now issue their pronouncements symbolizes how the same process of state making has divided and ill-served the Pashtuns.

The dialectic of terrorism and counter-terrorism has transformed the tribal areas. In 2003, when US pressure to search for the al-Qaida leadership led General Pervez Musharraf to send the Army of Pakistan (a direct descendant of the Army of the Indus) into the Momand Tribal Agency, elders awoke officials in Kabul with midnight calls -- Pakistan had invaded "Afghanistan." For in these elders' minds, while the Afghan state administration ended at the Durand Line, Afghanistan did not.

Islamabad's invocation of US pressure to fence and even mine that border has led elders to tell President Hamid Karzai that if he allows Pashtuns to be divided in this way, his name will be remembered with shame. The Afghan Army has responded by firing on the Pakistan Army, the same Pakistan Army that is fighting al-Qaida. The lives of the people need a soft border, but Washington's counter-terrorism needs a hard one.

In my Istanbul hotel room, as sea traffic traverses the Bosporus outside my window, al-Jazeera English broadcasts the news: the battle of the Red Mosque in Islamabad; demonstrations in Bajaur; the anniversary of the latest war in Lebanon; the ongoing massacres in Iraq and Sudan; more suicide bombers in Afghanistan. And on CNN and Bloomberg I see the growth of the US trade deficit, the fall of the dollar against other currencies, and the unstoppable growth of the US debt, as our government sells securities to China to cover the costs of the war in Iraq.

Amir Abdul Rahman Khan used the British subsidy to build his army; he used his army to build his revenues; he used his revenues to build a justice system; and the justice system enabled his people -- those he had not massacred or exiled -- to till their lands in peace. He died in his bed in 1901 bequeathing to his son both rulership and a surplus of 40 million rupees in the national treasury.

This Circle of Justice, first described in an Islamic text of the eighth century, has for centuries constituted the model of governance for the people of South and West Asia; today the Afghan Government uses it to describe the goals of its Afghanistan National Devleopment Strategy.

But in response to the challenge of Bin Laden, rather than building its army, the US has mobilized thousands of private contractors and exhausted its army in the fatal venture of Iraq. Rather than calling our people to fight and sacrifice, our government cut the taxes of those most able to afford to pay and financed its military ventures with subsidies, not from an imperial hegemon, but from financial markets that are far more arbitrary than Lord Curzon. To retain its monopoly on power in the face of failure, the ruling party has undermined the system of justice. We could have responded more wisely to Bin Laden's challenge, but we have drawn this circle of injustice around ourselves.

In 1919, Abdul Rahman's grandson, Amanullah Khan, made Afghanistan independent and renounced the British subsidy. Less than ten years later, he was overthrown. Amanullah had attempted a grand transformation for which he had no resources. His efforts to raise taxes and strengthen the state provoked a peasant uprising that brought a Tajik commander to power, ending the dynasty of Amir Abdul Rahman Khan. Soon Pashtun tribes from the same areas now hosting Bin Laden and Zawahiri descended on Kabul to loot it and install a new, much weakened king.

Neither Bin Laden nor the neo-Taliban of the tribal zone are Pashtun nationalists -- that ideology serves the interest of a state in Kabul and politicians in Peshawar and Quetta. But the ideology of the caliphate provides another vehicle for the grievances and ambitions of people whom the nation-state system always served poorly.

In Afghanistan and Pakistan, in Iraq, Palestine, and Lebanon, the "international community," acting unilaterally, bilaterally, and multilaterally, is trying to shore up, strengthen, and create states to provide peace and stability. Some, even many, people of those areas long to become full citizens of states that protect their rights and provide services. But for many others, it is harder to imagine that they might one day be citizens of an effective accountable nation-state than that they might be joined with their fellow Muslims in a renewed caliphate. Somewhere in the mountains of the land its inhabitants call Pakhtunkhwa, Bin Laden is waiting.

92 comments:

Tom said...

"Outstanding!!!"

What an great example of how history (the study of the past) enlightens presents events.

My compliments. My thanks.

Ron F said...

Very pleased to see Barnett Rubin finally dip his toes into the world of blogging, hopefully on a regular basis (hint, hint!).

Regarding Durand, the recently formed United National Front party (mostly non-Pashtun) states as a goal the "recognition of the Durand Line". This suggests that the Karzai regime does not currently recognize the Durand Line as the official Afghan/Pak border.

Is this the case?

Incidentally, I remember as a kid watching Maersk container ships from Tilbury port sail down the River Thames, as we sat on the bank fishing for eels. Some of those ships contained shoes manufactured in the factory where my father was export manager, with incoming ones containg raw materials from Africa and S.E. Asia. The damn things created huge waves in their wake, and lot's of soggy sandwiches.

John Koch said...

But how to govern Afghanistan or Pakistan today? Do any of the historic examples yield a clue?

The Caliphate is a legend on the order of Camelot, the Middle Kingdom, Tiwantinsuyo, or The Big Rock Candy Mountain. All functioned in a largely illiterate world where peasants had to chose between servitude and violent death. Nowadays, the alternatives include flight to the cities or another country. Drug money and wage remittances defy the traditional iron laws of subsistence. A few brigands or jihadists with automatic weapons or IEDs also have a far greater chance of defying central power than in days of old, when a few lords on horseback could keep the commoners in tow.

Islamist extremism was not a momentous phenomenon for centuries. Now it grabs attention because of expanded communication, frustration with gobalization, and the publicity power of acts of violence, whether they be war, bombings, or seizures. However, nothing suggests that any jihadist political movement could ever govern anything. Iran, or maybe Afghanistan under the Taliban, are the only concrete example. Saudi Arabia also gives clerics lots of sway. A sober look at these cases is surest refutation of any claims or goals of the fanatics.

Hedley Lamarr said...

The Caliphate is a legend on the order of Camelot, the Middle Kingdom, Tiwantinsuyo, or The Big Rock Candy Mountain.

An institution that lasted from 632 to 1923 is a legend?

I suppose that on that assumption the Ummayads, Abbasids, Fatimids and the Ottomans never existed.

Rohallah Haidari said...

Following the collapse of Ottoman empire, the Islamic world since has in no way acted in a single power bloc let alone overcoming its intenral difference hence Shia-Sunni fighting. With the massacres of thousands of Hazaras in Bamiyan, Kabul, Mazara in the north of AFghanistan purely on the basis their Shia belief in the hands of Wahabi puppets Taliban, Bin Laden envisioning a grand-Islamic Caliphate in the modern day world would seem a joke for both non Muslims and Muslims. As a moderate Muslim I would kindly ask Mr. Laden to apologies to the world to which he has caused grievence and trauma by his suciadal-Islam.

Roger Albin said...

Very good, but it is not precisely correct to present the Treaty of Lausanne as an integral part of the Versailles process. First of all, the Paris conferences produced a family of treaties aimed at settling the problems produced by WWI. The Versailles treaty dealt mainly with Germany, the Trianon treaty fixed the borders of Hungary, etc. The Paris conference treaty that dealt with the Ottoman Empire was the Treaty of Sevres. Under this treaty, Turkish Armenia and Kurdistan would have become independent states and Greece would have acquired part of Anatolia. The Turkish nationalists repudiated Sevres. The Treaty of Lausanne followed the successful defense of Anatolia against the Greek Army and should be regarded as a seperate process. Lausanne was a triumph for the Turkish nationalists, most of whom, like Ataturk, were secularists.

Anonymous said...

mr rubin i wonder if you realize what you wrote:

one man and his egyptian lieutenant accomplished what previously took nations with the aid of an army, trading companies and religious institutions to do.

now that is a legend that will survive as long as man walks on this earth.

you also imply that america should have exhorted its citizens to "fight and sacrifice".

fight whom and sacrifice what?

and for how long?

Anonymous said...

Lets really put things into perspective. UBL is using history in the same way any conservative would. 'Look back to the old days, werent they much better, people were nicer ....'.
Thats really about the limit of the relevence of history here.
We should remember that Bin Laden is an integral part of globaisation, or have people not watched Micheal Moores Fareinheit 9/11 recently. His family owns billions on the US and Global financial system. He is personally worth millions (probobly more).
We are not dealing with normal people. We are dealing with educated conservative men. Most of them wealthy, most are endeared with the conservatives love of the idea of a better past.

These men have preyed upon the ignorance of the Pushtoons with the US as the prime mover in the rise of neo-Salafist ideology.
We are witnessing a war between CONSERVATISMS. If only the US had accepted the communist victory in Afghanistan in the 1980's then Afghanistan might just be that land of education and equality that Bush claims he wants it to be.
Instead many conservatives of different religions banded together to destroy a nation, and now it has spilled over into Iraq. Now Iran is not even isolated anymore! Could US policy be more insane?

Stan Heginbotham said...

Many thanks for an excellent piece. The perspective on the Lausanne Treaty was especially helpful, as was the distinction between hard and soft boundaries along the Durand Line.

Anonymous said...

"the State of Israel or the secular Republic of Turkey. All are equally products of aggression against the Muslims"

Jews have some feeling for agression against their religion; while Jordan ruled Palestine they were forbidden to visit their one holy city of Jerusalem, among other discriminations.

The pious caliphate was based on conquest, repression and slavery, and its eventual defeat was facilitated by its own corruption and stagnation. If rebuilt, it would probably be as economically chaotic as Iran is today, sustained only by opium, oil, and near-enslaved foreign work force.

Barnett R. Rubin said...

Regarding the previous comment: anyone reading this should be able to distinguish my own views from my summaries of Bin Laden's.

Anonymous said...

After all that I am left with the burning question, what about those Maersk containers? What really was in them? Dog food or hot bombs?
Who owns Maersk? Bin Laden? I see Maersk containers rolling on railcars through Wichita often as I sit waiting in traffic for it to pass, wondering what's in those things? Baby shoes or hot bombs?
Should I be Afraid that the Caliphate is coming to Kansas in a Maersk container?

Anonymous said...

Maersk is easy to find online:

http://www.maersk.com/en

They are headquartered in Denmark, but I've seen the 7-point star on containers all over the highways of the USA.

Montag said...

In an article in "The Smithsonian Magazine" they said that Amir Abdul Rahman Khan sliced the faces off the two gigantic Buddha statues in 1900, due to Muslim fanaticism--the Taleban of course blew them up 100 years later. One can't help but suppose that his death soon afterwards, followed by the end of his dynasty with his Grandson, may have been a case of karma biting back.

Anonymous said...

Thanks to Professor Rubin for his brilliant post.

As to the Treaty of Sevres, it was certainly an integral part of the Versailles "peace process" (as today's cliche would have it.) The Treaty of Sevres was, however, ultimately unrealistic and as fragile as the porcelain for which Sevres is justly famed. The anti-Turkish diktat of Sevres shattered under the power of Turkish nationaiist arms. In retrospect, the Sevres arrangement had no prayer of success.

To suggest that Lausanne was somehow "separate" from the Versailles settlement denies--as the Allies initially did--that Turkish nationalism was a factor that needed to be dealt with fairly in order to achieve a settlement of the international order amidst the chaos left by the "Great War."

Sean said...

This was an enjoyable account of the goals and history of some of the people in the Durand Line region. It is difficult for me to question this account since I don't really have any knowledge of this area, but I do have a question on your comment about the US funding the Iraq War with financial markets. Aside from the sale of T-bills on the open market is there any other way that this occurs? Were you strictly referring to bond and currency markets? It seemed that you were alluding to something more nefarious in this regard and, I am interested in the issue and so would be glad to read on the subject if you have anything to recommend.

Thanks for your time professor,

Sean

t said...

Thanks for some perspective professor, as a prior commenter said, this is a practical use for understanding the present through the prism of the past.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post. It explains the recent revelation that a raid that would have decimated the al Quaida leadership a few years ago was called off. The site would be considered Afghan by Kabul, but not by Pakistan.

A Pashtoon website claims the Durand agreement was only to last 100 years, but the text I found did not give such a time limit. However, it did specify annual payments to Afghanistan by the (British)government of India. Since those payments have been suspended since the British no longer rule India, and more than a hundred years have passed, The Pashtuns believe their region should be reunified.

The British created the Palestinian problem by displacing Arabs who had no deed for property that had been in their family for centuries. They cobbled Iraq together for access to the petroleum, (splitting up Kurdistan in the process.) They tricked the United States into deposing theelected President of Iran in order to regain control of the oil. And they set up the Pashtun no-mans-land that bin Ladin can hide in.

With friends like that, who needs enemies?

Aris said...

Few brief corrections. But first a parallel:
The much heralded Western democracy is based on conquest, repression and slavery, and its eventual defeat will be facilitated by its own corruption, disregard for the rule of law and militarization financed by foreign countries.

Now the corrections:

They tricked the United States into deposing the elected prime minister of Iran in order to regain control of the oil. And they set up the Pashtun no-mans-land that bin Ladin can hide in. (Not president.)

"The Caliphate is a legend on the order of Camelot, the Middle Kingdom, Tiwantinsuyo, or The Big Rock Candy Mountain."

No, it is not. The most important Caliphate was right after prophet's death. The first one was chosen because he was an elder and respected tribal leader. He was a mender but lacked vision and leadership. The second Khalif, the most important one, was a warrior whose conversion to Islam in the past had done much to persuade most Arabs of Hijaz to accept the religion. He was a shrewd and very capable leader. He selected leaders of his army based on their abilities rather than their faiths. And when some of the latter deviated from strict Islamic laws, he sent them a letter of admonition reminding them that they set examples for the God's warriors. The third was an academician. He was well versed in the languages and literature of his time. He was the person responsible for collecting and editing what passed as Prophet's delivery of messages he received through the angel Gabriel. The fourth Khalif, Ali, Prophet's son-in-law, the most devout and rigid Muslim who was also a warrior. Shi'i believe that he must have been the first Khalif and that the others were usurpers.

Then there were other caliphates: the most important one was the Abbasid Caliphate centered in Baghdad, the Fatamid Caliphate centered in Egypt, the Mo'avieh Caliphate centered in Beirut. By most account, Saudis, kingdom is a caliphate. But they decided--after consulting with the Brits, their overlord--to call it kingdom. Islam's political organization was very simple: a Caliph, the one following in Prophet's steps in defending and expanding Islam, and a number of Amirs (local rulers).

All Caliphates, except the first four, eventually disintegrated due to incessant wars, corruption, exploitation, brutality against their own people.--the inevitable eventuality facing any imperial power. The first four were honest, dedicated, and faithful, each in his own way.

eurofrank said...

From what Paddy Ashdown says here, the Nato forces aren't going to win. Paddy's experience from commanding a platoon of Marines in Ballymurphy in 1969 to High Representative in Bosonia gives him a lot of authority to comment.

http://politics.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,,2129595,00.html

We are failing in Afghanistan


The costs of losing this war far outweigh those of Iraq. We must urgently change the approach

Paddy Ashdown
Thursday July 19, 2007
The Guardian


In July 2006, Britain's highly respected commander of international forces in Afghanistan, General David Richards, issued a stark warning: "Afghanistan is a good and winnable war but, at the pace we are proceeding, we need to realise that we could actually fail here." A year on, as yesterday's defence committee report indicates, we are indeed beginning to fail in Afghanistan.
Failure is not yet inevitable. But it is now likely, and will remain likely until we increase resources and redress the disastrous failure of the international community to get its act together. The tragedy is that this is happening despite a high level of professionalism and a lot of raw courage among our soldiers. And it is happening despite some outstanding reconstruction successes outside the hot conflict areas of Helmand province.


Article continues

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I recently had a rather heated conversation with a government minister who assured me that we were winning in Afghanistan because "we were killing more Taliban". But success is not measured in dead Taliban. It's measured in how many more water supplies are being reconnected; how many more people now have the benefit of the rule of law and good governance; how many have the prospect of a job; and, above all, whether we are winning or losing the battle for public opinion, which is central to successful reconstruction.
The polls measuring domestic opinion show falling support for the international presence. The decline has been relatively small, but once this slide begins it can move fast and be difficult to turn around. Modern war is fought among the people, and so is post-conflict reconstruction. The battle for public opinion is the crucial battle: if you lose it, you lose full stop. We have to turn this around very rapidly if we are not to have another, and more painful, failure on our hands after Iraq.

A number of factors have placed us in this perilous situation. We have been left with too few resources - above all, as yesterday's report underlines, too few soldiers' boots on the ground. A balkanisation of strategy has muddled our focus - the British are obsessed with Helmand, but arguably Kandahar and Kabul are the crucial areas. Sharply deteriorating relations between President Karzai's government and that of President Musharaff have hardly helped. But the paramount reason for our failing grip lies with ourselves.

In the task of post-conflict reconstruction, the international community's tendency to repeat what fails is quite bewildering. The fundamental principles are a coherent strategy, unity of voice, and coordinated international action. All three are almost totally lacking in Afghanistan.

One can normally at least rely on the military to understand the importance of unity of command. But in Afghanistan, even this is absent. The US military are not exclusively under the command of Nato's mission in Afghanistan, and frequently conduct operations that run counter to the Nato force's basic doctrine of minimising civilian deaths. Worse, US special forces and CIA operations are run not from the theatre but from Washington. This is exactly the fractured command structure that led to the US disaster in Somalia.

On civilian reconstruction, the situation is worse still. There is no effective coordination. Individual nations' obsession with their own bilateral plans produce duplication, waste and confusion. Our partners in the Afghan government are baffled by the stream of contradictory instructions and the absence of an international partner with a clear view of what must be done. The hapless UN special representative in Kabul, Tom Koenigs, who might have the task of coordinating international effort, has neither the power nor the support from major capitals to do so.

The poppy eradication programme provides a graphic illustration. There are 15 international and local organisations working on it. Britain has the nominal duty of coordinating their actions but has failed to do so. The result? Some £200m spent on the programme - and the last two poppy harvests have been the biggest in Afghanistan's history. I am not at all sure that our strategy on eradication is right. But if we have one, we ought to be able to do better than this. We are putting 1/25th the amount of soldiers and 1/50th the amount of aid per head of population into Afghanistan than we put into Bosnia and Kosovo. That is less in terms of resources than has ever been put into a successful post-conflict stabilisation and reconstruction effort. Does this mean we are bound to fail? Probably not. But "probably not" becomes "definitely yes" if, on top of a starvation of resources, we also fail to organise what we have to best effect.

The costs of failure in Afghanistan are much more dangerous than Iraq. Failure would mean a hugely increased risk of instability in Pakistan, with dangerous implications for the security of the region - and for the internal security of Britain. One result could be the beginning of a wider conflict that would start with war-lordism but end with a Sunni-Shia civil war on a regional scale. And then there is the effect on Nato. One highly respected UK general has told me that he believes failure in Afghanistan could do the same damage to the Atlantic alliance as the UN's failures in Bosnia did to that organisation. What we could be looking at is not just damage to the Atlantic relationship but perhaps eventually even to the US security guarantee for Europe.

Britain has identified Afghanistan as one of its major foreign affairs priorities. We have one of our brightest ambassadors and one of our biggest embassies there. This is right. Perhaps no western country has a greater stake in succeeding in Afghanistan than we do. Perhaps therefore no person has a greater interest in seeing that we turn things around in time to avert failure than our new foreign secretary, David Miliband.

· Paddy Ashdown was high representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina from 2002 until January 2006
ashdownp@parliament.uk

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