After the Soviet Union withdrew, the world’s interest in Afghanistan flagged. When the Najibullah government didn’t collapse, the international community did not have the wherewithal to deal with Afghanistan, plot its future, find sustainable leaders. World events quickly overshadowed Afghanistan. By the end of 1989, just months after the Soviet withdrawal, the Berlin Wall came crashing down, Reagan declared communism defeated, and the Soviet Union began to disintegrate. Afghanistan was yesterday’s war. The wider world had done the most dangerous of things. It had stuffed this tiny country with massive amounts of weapons, including the precious Stingers, had turned over the countryside to the volatile discordant mix of mujahedeen factions, and then had walked away. For the United States, the war it was really interested in had been won; the proxy war was of little interest. The mujahedeen were the victors, the Communists were the losers. It didn’t matter that the mujahedeen leaders had proved themselves to be murderous men who had signed and broken several accords. They vowed to put aside their territorial, ethnic, and religious divides, even traveling to Saudi Arabia to visit Mecca, Islam’s holiest site, to seal their promise. But they never kept their promises. And no one cared.
Najibullah was forced to negotiate his own removal, and the mujahedeen were eventually given Kabul, despite their bitter rivalries and bloodletting. The task of negotiating this was handed over to the United Nations. In April 1992, the United Nations fulfilled its mission and Najibullah agreed to step down, despite the fact that there was no coherent alternative government ready to replace him. No sustainable form of a mature government had been cobbled together. No one had even tried. The world had moved on without making even one attempt to find an alternative to the warfaring mujahedeen leaders. The United States wanted to give the spoils of its last Cold War battle to its mujahedeen allies and get out. The world had no interest in carefully assembling a unified government to rule Afghanistan, to rebuild and bring stability. That would have taken sustained involvement, and the forceful removal from the scene of some of the more vicious mujahedeen. Instead, the international community opted for a quick exit.
It was a ludicrous mistake to hand over Kabul to the mujahedeen. It set in motion the chaos that would eventually bring the Taliban to power. But the international community wasn’t looking to Afghanistan’s future. It wanted out.
And so Afghanistan was handed over to the fractious, feuding mix of tribal warlords, who had been elevated to the status of mujahedeen factional leaders to fight the Soviet Union. Their stature had been enhanced by the billions of dollars and weapons they had received from the United States and the rest of the world.
Daily Archives: 8 October 2005
The Times (of London) on 6 October carried a report by Richard Lloyd Parry and Robert Thomson on the ambiguous status of the Japanese military.
IF YOU encountered Tsutomu Mori as he travels to work in central Tokyo, you would never guess what he does for a living. Every day, hundreds of people like him in well-pressed suits and shiny shoes converge upon a well-guarded compound in the Ichigaya district.
Only there does he put on his olive uniform with its rows of medal ribbons and four stars. Safely concealed from public gaze, he emerges as General Mori, chief of staff of the Ground Self-Defence Force.
For 40 years he has risen up the ranks of one of the best-equipped military forces in the world. He meets his military counterparts from all over the globe (General Sir Mike Jackson was a recent visitor). But 60 years after the end of the Second World War, during which his father fought the British in Burma, he is constrained from wearing his uniform in public or from referring to his organisation as an army.
“It’s a delicate and complex question,” he told The Times. “For people like me it’s difficult to wear a uniform in a crowded train.” This is the continuing paradox of the Japanese military: despite being more active in the world than at any time since 1945, it remains close to an embarrassment for many of its countrymen.
That reminds me how embarrassed I was during the one day a week that we had to wear our uniforms to class during my only year of ROTC at the University of Richmond in 1967-68. (It would have been worse than embarrassing at a lot of other colleges, both then and now.) I ended up dropping ROTC for journalism class going into my sophomore year, but then dropped out of school altogether at midyear.
My only personal experience relevant to any “resurgent Japanese militarism” during my recent 2 months in Japan involved the combined recruiting office for all branches of the SDF on the outside ground floor of the busy Ashikaga Tobu line train station (60+ trains daily to and from Tokyo). The glass-fronted office was as big as the travel agency offices that can be found at any such train station. It had several large posters, like any travel office, but no racks of flyers and no visible customers. In fact, I never saw any activity whatsoever in that office, despite passing it several dozen times during normal business hours.
The way Japanese demographics are headed, the SDF is going to have to either recruit foreign legions or rely more heavily on robots in order to sustain itself, just as many Japanese factories are already doing.