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    We are just One World Now. From Afghanistan to Pakistan, from India to China – from climate change to Covid-19 – these are all lessons we should have learned from

    September 2021

    The Afghan civil war of the 1990’s gave birth to the Taliban. The Taliban played host to Osama Bin Laden who returned to the site of his 1980’s jihad against the Soviets. Bin Laden resented America’s military presence in Saudi Arabia. He orchestrated the terrorist attacks of 9/11 twenty years ago. Thousands in America were killed, so was he under the US President Obama. The US invaded Afghanistan after the terrorist attacks. The routed Taliban attempted to surrender in exchange of amnesty. They were rebuffed. Twenty more years of fighting ensued. Once again a foreign power and its Afghan government allies controlled Afghanistan’s cities. Once again jihadist-guerrillas controlled the countryside. Once again the guerrillas finally seized Kabul. And once again a foreign army is now boating a retreat.

    The question remains: What has been the point of it all?

    And what has been the point of the rest of it, the disasters that followed military intervention in Iraq and elsewhere across the region?

    “We came to defeat terrorism”, it is repeatedly said of the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. But surely terrorism has not been defeated, as last month suicide bombing at Kabul airport attests. And if it has not been defeated, if the best that can be done is for terrorism to be managed through a combination of political settlements and international pressure and working with local regimes and with neighboring countries and launching occasional narrowly targeted operations, then why were the wars of the past 20 years waged at all?

    Rather than ask these kinds of questions, we are told that the withdrawal from Afghanistan frees America to focus its military on China. China, not terrorism, is now the real threat. China in the view of the US must, at all costs, be stopped.

    I am for sure not a military expert. In Pakistan for example the population has long been told that India is the greatest challenge Pakistan faces. Not

    One World

    Illiteracy, not militancy, not climate change, not poverty, not youth unemployment, not healthcare, but India. India is no doubt a dangerous neighbor to Pakistan. But so is Pakistan to India as well. I nonetheless wish Pakistan as well as India had chosen its priorities differently.

    Meanwhile in India, now enlisted by the US as an ally against China, there are in my opinion signs of a transformation similar in many ways to that of America-allied Pakistan in the 1980s. In place of the Soviet threat there is the Chinese threat, in place of Zia’s Islamisation there is Modi’s Hindutra and once again minorities are victimized, journalists are intimidated, and the structures of democracy are yielding to an increasingly intolerant autocracy. Pakistan’s history of superpower-backed religious chauvinism should have served India as a cautionary tale. Instead, it seems to be serving as something of an inspiration.

    And so, as we the people of the world are encouraged to pivot from a cold war to a war on terror to a war against Chinese hegemony, I would suggest that we watch closely the calamitous debacle unfolding in Afghanistan and remain suitably skeptical.

    Other than China, what might in my opinion qualify as a worth challenge for the world to do its utmost to meet?

    The Covid-19 pandemic we are currently battling is an obvious candidate. Vaccines are an important part of the solution. We are struggling to vaccinate enough people outside of Europe, North America and China including the US. But what if these four centers of power had worked together? What if they had pooled resources in a plan to make more of the best vaccines more quickly, with a goal of dramatically expanding production facilities on every continent and vaccinating all the world’s adults by early next year? Certainly, the result would have been better than the alternative that actually occurred: national dose hoarding and bilateral vaccine diplomacy and endless sniping about relative vaccine quality and the introduction of geopolitical rivalry into what ought to have been a shared humanity-wide goal. Confronted by the most sudden and urgent global pandemic in living memory, an emerging new cold war has not helped us at all.

    Terrible though it has been, the Covid-19 crisis barely registers in scale and complexity when compared with the impending inconvenient truth of climate change. It is in my opinion already too late to avoid some of the damage: we can already see it all around us, in fires and floods and droughts and heatwaves. But we can still limit the damage from climate change to levels that need not cause the displacement of billions of human beings. It is in my opinion still possible to prevent the collapse of our planet’s main agricultural regions. But we do have to realize that we do not have time or resources to waste. And the notion that we will do what needs to be done, act on the scale required of us, while the US and China settle into an ever-deteriorating stand-off in the western Pacific seems to me implausible at best. More aircraft carries, hypersonic missiles, nuclear weapon silos-these are on the way, and they are decidedly not what humanity most requires.

    Make Peace-Not War

    The end of one war ought not to be a time to adjust our focus on the next war. The end of a war in my opinion ought to be a time to focus on peace.

    In Afghanistan, this means bringing coordinated international pressure on the Taliban to create as inclusive a government as possible and to protect the human rights of the Afghan population, especially woman and girls, victimized groups such as the Hazaras, and supporters of the previous western backed dispensation.

    The Afghan economy will be no doubt need assistance if it is not to collapse, as will Afghan refugees, particularly if more fighting swells their number, and the world will want assurances that Afghanistan will work to thwart groups who launch attacks on other countries.

    But we must in my opinion also consider what peace means beyond Afghanistan. We must, above all, seek to de-escalate the growing conflict between the US and China. This does not require us to assume that China is a benign actor in the world affairs. It does also not require us to assume that the US is either. Rather, it requires us to reckon with the consequences of endless conflict, to recognize that the benefits we are promised from military solutions rarely materialize and that the costs are often ruinously great.

    The distinction between foreign policy and domestic policy is in my opinion not a valid one. We are unlikely to be able both to fight endless wars and near-wars abroad and to reduce poverty and polarization at home in the western world. This applies to wealthy and poor country alike, to Europe and America and China just as much as it does to Pakistan and India. It is in my opinion not simply a matter of resources, though resources are limited for overcoming the vast challenges humanity faces. Rather, it is a matter of focus, of attention, of priority-indeed of culture.

    The task at hand is to recognize that there are too many of us now, simply too many human beings living on and affecting our planet, for anything other than a profound increase in our level of co-operation to offer acceptable outcomes for us as a species. After the debacle in Afghanistan, it should be our ambition to regard war itself with more suspicion, and to think more radically about the possibilities for peace.