tv Dateline London BBC News August 23, 2021 3:30am-4:00am BST
but stressed his unwavering commitment to get us citizens out of afghanistan. he also said the taliban had been cooperating. the taliban itself has said that hundreds of its fighters are heading for the panjshir valley north of kabul, because local leaders had refused to hand it over peacefully. the region's powerful militia leaders say they're ready to talk as long as the taliban formed an inclusive, decentralised government. more than 20 people have been killed by flash floods in the us state of tennessee. rescue workers say dozens of people are still missing and hundred of homes have been evacutaed, after record—breaking rain sent floodwaters surging through the central region of the state. now on bbc news, dateline.
hello and welcome to the programme that brings together leading commentators in the uk with the correspondents who write, broadcast and blog for audiences back home from the dateline: london. just one topic for us this week — how 20 years of commitment to afghanistan dissolved in a matter of days and what the consequences may be for the people of afghanistan, its neighbours and the rest of the world. joining us are janet daley, columnist with the sunday telegraph, michael goldfarb, host of the podcast, the first rough draft of history, and with me in the studio, the guardian's china editor, vincent ni. welcome to all of you. it's good to have you with us. janet, let's begin with what this means, if we can, a little bit, for the uk. borisjohnson has been trying to develop an independent foreign policy.
we know it's been pretty clear that this was not a decision that the british particularly wanted to take at this moment. what does this and what's happening in afghanistan tell us about britain's influence in washington, its military capability and its ability to adopt a leadership role, do you think? well, it's not at all surprising that the foreign policies of the uk and us should be diverging, because they're the principal members of nato, and nato has been in an existential crisis ever since the cold war ended. it was devised, if we all remember, as an adversary to the soviet bloc and the communisty bloc, and when communism collapsed and there was no more soviet union to oppose, the obvious question is what is nato for? and within ten years of communism collapsing, we had 9/11 and the rise of islamist terrorism, and so nato became, basically, a counterterrorism outfit, and that was its impetus, that was its raison d'etre.
so that's why biden can say the reason that we were able to pull out of afghanistan, that we wanted to pull out of afghanistan, was that we felt we had solved the terrorism problem in afghanistan. we killed bin laden, we'd got rid of al-qaeda in afghanistan, so if we could get out, that's got nothing almost to do with the original conception of nato, which was to act not only as a military adversary, but as an ideological adversary to the soviet union. and now we seem to be in this peculiar vacuum where there is an entirely new global dynamic, and it's not ideological at all, it's really crudely nationalist. the motives of china and russia and iran now — it's not — that bloc that is developing that dynamic which will involve afghanistan very heavily, i fear — it's not the old ideological argument about how should people live.
you know, should we have a communist society or a capitalist society? it's much more to do with the emerging totalitarian empires, particularly china, which is really totalitarian capitalism. it's not really a communist society at all. and if nato is to survive, and if the kind of cooperation that we've seen between the uk and the us and other european allies is to survive, it's going to have to come to terms with this entirely new global political dynamic. michael, george robinson, who was nato�*s secretary general at the start of the century and who was the man who effectively convened the meeting that said, "we are going in because one country "has been threatened, a nato member, the us, "by the attacks on 9/11, so we're all threatened, "so we alljoin in". he said he thinks the decision by america now has undermined the organisation and raises real question marks about its credibility and alliance. given what janet was saying
there, we are now entering, are we not, a much more dangerous phase in which there isn't a straightforward division and where we can't guarantee or rely on the people we thought we could rely on? michael? oh, that was for me. forgive me. this is the problem with not being in the studio. we're gong to get you back as soon as the people in charge tell us we can have you back for covid reasons, but i hope it's going to be very soon. good, good, good. it's interesting you bring up george robertson. i mean, i think of george robertson as being someone from the glory days of the anglo—american duopoly, and the thing is, you know, during the blair administration, the things that i can remember back covering this in the early 19905 when the former yugoslavia was falling apart and bosnia was in agony.
the ability to marshal nato and the un into crisp action on european soil was really hard. it was like herding cats, to use a cliche. and now this is something slightly different. i would say that, you know... the reality of this adventure was that the us used nato and article 5 was invoked and all of that, but really it was mostly the us, a little of britain, and i can remember doing stories about how germany had been assigned to some part of afghanistan where there was likely to be absolutely no fighting because germany has very, very strong reservations about out—of—area action for historical reasons. those historical reasons ended 75 years ago, they may have to reconsider in the
rest of this century. so what you have to take on board with this is that nato is a multinational, multilateral organisation, but really, it's two or three major european powers and the united states. and on afghanistan, let's be very, very clear — the us spent roughly $2 trillion over the last 20 years in the afghanistan adventure. the united kingdom spent about upwards of 80 billion. now, if you do that ratio in a commercial situation, 80 billion to 2 trillion — you know, as a stockholder you are not going to get a seat on the board. nato was a convenient umbrella, but this has always been a united states venture, and frankly, watching some
of the scenes in parliament this week, i am amazed that so many people, particularly on the conservative backbenches, you know, forgot that basic fact. that when you put all that money and all those lives into an adventure, basically you are calling the shots. it doesn't matter whether you call yourself a nato adventurer or not, this is basically a united states adventure. vincent ni, let's talk a bit more about afghanistan itself. the question that many will ask, how quickly the government melted away, how quickly the military melted away. joe biden on friday evening in his address to the nation used the phrase, i think he said there were 300 afghan soldiers, 300,000, but actually, nobody actually thinks it was 300,000 because a lot of this was money that was corruptly diverted. however many soldiers there were, they all vanished very quickly.
why was the afghan government so apparently unloved in afghanistan? this is the question that everyone is asking. everyone is doing soul—searching about why this government collapsed so quickly after 20 years of being backed up by the united states. this is also the question that will come back to haunt joe biden in the years to come. i think when it comes to the running of the government, the afghan government doesn't really have a good reputation for being effective, being clean, and this week, there were pictures of the leader's nephew posing in dubai, these luxurious lifestyles. these are examples of how this government has failed. going back, talking about the uk and the us, i think this shouldn't come as a surprise. joe biden won the american presidency under the promise that his foreign policy will be benefiting american middle class.
so his calculation is if our troops are not directly benefiting the american middle class, why don't we just go out entirely? and there are no votes in the afghan war. absolutely. and also, he has to think about the legacy, he does not want to be that president associated with the perpetual war in afghanistan. let's talk about, continuing on the american theme if we may, michael. biden, in a sense, decided on friday, to hit back and hit back hard, so we had this thing about... that it can secure an airport hundreds of thousands of miles away and get people home. but that's still ongoing. we will see what securing the airport amounts to. whether that is the taliban choosing not to attack. and of the practicalities of that, he's clearly trying to use this as a demonstration of american power, and to some
extent that threat to the american homeland that came from afghanistan has gone. al-qaeda is a much diminished force, and actually if america looks at the places where terrorism could become a threat, there are other places, particularly the middle east and north africa. exactly. one of the most interesting things that is bubbling up from people who study terrorism and have been doing since, well, for 20 years, since 9/11, is to know today that there have been isis groups, isis criticising the taliban for not winning in afghanistan. no, they didn't win byjihad, it was handed to them on a plate by the united states, who simply withdrew, they didn't earn their victory, and there is a sense that, to the degree that isis has any presence in afghanistan, that is something that the taliban may have to deal
with in the future. what has happened in the last 20 years, al-qaeda was driven into the mountains between afghanistan and pakistan very quickly. it was a very quick military victory. people forget that. i don't think any historian even 500 years from now will say that if the george bush administration had not pursued the al-qaeda remnants into the caves and found osama bin laden and completed the mission in december of 2001 instead of starting to withdraw troops and starting to build up to invade iraq, the whole story that we are talking about tonight would've been very, very different. and while there has been all this focus and concentration on afghanistan and a lot of, you know, troops tied down and a lot of money tied down, the franchises of isis, al-qaeda have grown, metastasized. .. isis grew out of the iraq
occupation from people who were imprisoned by the americans in iraq. now they are across central africa. they are in the horn of africa. and you know, they are also, let's not forget, for the most part, they are no longer operating on american or european soil. so another thing for americans and europeans to forget. unfortunately, if you live in those countries, northern parts of nigeria, for example, you can't forget because they are a part of daily life. they are a danger to you every single day. you mentioned that, and it's a very good point. janet, on some of these broader questions that got caught up in the aftermath of the afghan invasion, there was an interesting quote from joe biden in which he said the idea that we are able to deal with the rights of women — this was when he was being interviewed earlier in the week — around the world, by military force,
is not rational. but without that military presence in afghanistan, does america have any potential leverage over the regime that will be left there? probably not. but american policy on this has been incoherent for a long time. when obama was first elected, he said iraq was the wrong war and afghanistan was the right war, so we will persevere with the war in afghanistan and pull out of iraq. janet has frozen. i will come back to you. vincent, let me ask you, does this play into china's hands at all? because china is just about a neighbour of afghanistan's. a little bit... it shares a very small border with afghanistan. i think if we come into this question with this mindset of a great power competition — america's loss is china's gain, then probably, yes, but i'm afraid the reality is much more complex.
china's very, very nervous about it. you know, china thinks afghanistan is a quagmire, and they look at history being afghanistan's neighbour for a long time. in the 19th century and the early 20th century, it was britain, and then 20th century it was soviet union. now, the 21st century, it's the united states. chinese state media are calling afghanistan the graveyard of empires. so you can see how china actually thinks of this issue. it's not necessarily america's loss and china's gain. that's interesting. afghanistan proved that the british empire as a concept, it could no longer project power in a way it did so comfortably and confidently for a couple of centuries or more. you can certainly say that about how humiliating it was, janet, for the soviet union after having to withdraw from afghanistan. it didn't last very long after that. it was the soviet union's vietnam. they got bogged down and it
cost them enormously in credibility. they had terrible consequences in terms of deaths of their own troops and very great difficulty in withdrawing. america's policy generally on intervention has been so inconsistent. as i was saying before you lost me, president obama's failure to intervene in syria had phenomenally damaging consequences. it damaged america's credibility in intervention. so i think without the presence of at least the possibility of a military intervention, america is nowhere in this game and the chinese hegemony, which is definitely on the march and has serious intentions, for the start of at least economic empire building, if not military empire building, it can go unchecked. michael, both president obama and therefore biden, who was in the obama
administration, and now joe biden, both seem to believe that the us needs to tilt towards asia pacific, not least because of its concerns about china's hegemony, as janet was saying. how will those countries it seeks to influence in the region, do you think, look at what has happened in afghanistan and the relatively abrupt departure of the americans? well, it's not relatively abrupt, and that's the first thing. and one hopes that the leaders of the asia pacific region countries don't spend all day on twitter, because that's no way to learn about the world. i wanted to pick up the two things that bothjanet and vincent were saying because in some ways they are related. one terrible thing about american intervention over the last 30 years is that it's become just a little bit too much like other forms
of american politics. in other words, we went to iraq and that was a bush administration thing, so now we are not going to stay there. that's obama. but we will stay in afghanistan because there is a very strong constituency within the democratic party for women's rights, and we would all endorse that, but is the military the way to bring those rights in perpetuity in a country like afghanistan, because women's rights are reduced in all manner of countries all over the world violently, so is the us going to send its armies everywhere to protect women and make sure young girls can get educated? they are not. what's interesting to me is i remember reading about one of the world's largest copper deposits is in afghanistan. it's just south of kabul. and the chinese, for 15 years, have been trying to organise a mine there, and when i first read about it, i remember
the article described, you know, chinese mining engineers going to visit deposits and passed american soldiers, and i thought, my god, we are paying all this money to provide the security for our biggest economic rivals to go and dig up one of the great deposits of copper, one of the most important raw materials on the face of the earth. now the chinese, if they want that copper... by the way, the mine has never been open, they are still negotiating with the last afghan government. china will now have to make its own way in afghanistan, and it's part of the road, and i think it will be very interesting to see. as janet was saying earlier, they are kind of a capitalist totalitarian state, and if their relations with countries in africa are anything to go by, they won't care about women's rights too much. theyjust want to be secure
digging up the copper. interesting, if people want to know more about that mine, we talked about it on this programme a few weeks ago. you will find it on previous editions of dateline on the bbc iplayer. we'll leave that women's rights issue. you can argue about whether the amricans helped to achieve something and then helped to undermine it. we talked about china, but what about russia and iran? iran is a islamic republic, but much more open for women. it's a different brand of islam — shia islam. presumably it's not comfortable with the way things are going in afghanistan, and russia has concerns, like the chinese, about its own muslim minorities. russia and iran are both very worried about security issues. as well as china. i'll go back to the copper mine later. russia will constantly be reminded of their own defeat in afghanistan decades ago.
it's a very short period of time ago, actually, if you look at the long history of afghanistan. but, iran will be intersted in economic and security interests, because ultimately they traded quite heavily with afghanistan, but at the same time, iran will be very concerned about the influx of potential refugees. and the stans as well, turkmenistan and the others? absolutely. this was a hasty withdrawal by the united states and it will completely change the geopolitical landscape in the region and... maybe this is a time of monsters, but maybe this is also a time of the opportunity for countries to get things right. the economist magazine published an interesting article last week in which they said across asia, democracies are under strain. they mentioned a report by the institute at the university
of gothenburg, an annual survey of the strength of democracy, it said that india had gone from an elected democracy to an elected autocracy... i think of countries like myanmar and thailand suffering military coups. is there a longer term issue about the viability of what started out as a western model of multi—party democracy? i think yes. we are seeing the rise of authoritarianism. i think yes. we are seeing the rise of authoritarianism. countries are being more transactional rather than ideas driven. it is really difficult to say what the future holds for asia, in particular. it is hugely diverse, but what we are seeing now is another variable, it is like pandora's box being opened, and in afghanistan we don't know how this is going to play. they are very cautious, but we are talking about this essentially just one week after the us withdrawal
and history is much longer than that, so you'll have to wait and see how things evolve, but bringing it back to the copper mine issue, of course china knows its economic benefits, but if you look at the data before this withdrawal last year, according to china's commerce ministry, chinese investment, foreign direct investment in afghanistan, was only $4.4 million. to get a bit of background... the figures that were being quoted earlier, that michael mentioned. exactly. there is a bit of a myth about china's investment in afghanistan. in comparison, pakistan's foreign direct investment was 110 million us dollars, so you see the difference, despite the rhetoric. but i think this rhetoric will also be very useful for china because china wants something in return. after all, the corridor was bordered with this region in china, and beijing
has long been concerned about the islamic and uighur militants attacking chinese mainland and, you know, they certainly wouldn't want to, with the taliban, provide a shelter for them. let me go back to janet and michael. pakistan is an interesting example that vincent mentioned because you could say its relationship with the taliban has been ambiguous, to say the least, and that has had consequences for america, which has regarded pakistan as an important ally in the region. should it be rethinking that relationship? i think it should and i hope it does and i hope that journalists and historians get to work on trying to get to the core of the relationship between the taliban and pakistan. we have heard bits and pieces over more than 20 years, 25 years, 30 years to the creation of the mujahideen, when they were trying to get the russians out of afghanistan in the late 19805.
and it is an absolutely critical thing and i know... i don't know if we have time to talk about refugees, but many, many people will actually go into pakistan. they will never try to get to europe, it isjust too far. many afghans will try in western afghanistan to get across as they did before into iran and, you know, these two countries... i think it would bear the united states and european allies, whether through the eu or britain, going it alone, examining what diplomacy over the next decade should be with iran and pakistan. 30 seconds or so, janet, i'm afraid, your last thought. the reason the taliban - are making what everybody thinks are phony statements about how respectable - they are going to be is not just to appeal to america i
and nato, it is also to appeal to russia and china. - russia and china both have their problems l with islamic minorities - and the taliban are politically manipulative and sophisticated enough to know that _ and they are very useful to china and russia, - particularly china, _ with their supplies of lithium. i'm sorry to interrupt you, we've got some interference on your line, but we got your point. vincent, ten seconds, last thought. i think we have to look at the internal dynamics within the taliban route in afghanistan as well. the taliban might well fight their own domestic insurgents, notjust those who are sympathetic with the us, but also those more extreme. vincent ni, janet daley and michael goldfarb, thank you all for being with us, and joining us on dateline. we will be back at the same time next week. thank you. goodbye.
hello there. after the rather cloudy weather we had to contend with last week, this week does promise something just a little bit brighter. certainly it will be largely dry with some spells of warm sunshine. having said that, no heatwave on the way, temperatures will be nothing exceptional for the time of year, but the high pressure firmly building in and taking control of our weather. that is why it will be mainly dry and settled but the winds around high pressure flow in a clockwise direction so we will pull out air down from the north and not tapping into any of this heat across parts of southern europe. so as we head through monday, we will start off with a lot of mist and murkiness and a lot of cloud around, much will break up, though, to reveal some spells of sunshine. i think it will stay a little misty and murky on some western coasts and it will be another quite grey and gloomy day across shetland.
a small chance for a shower over high ground in western scotland, wales and the south—west but most places fine with light winds, some spells of sunshine so not feeling too bad. 21, 22, but maybe 2a degrees in parts of western scotland. now, as we head through monday evening, any showers that do crop up in the west will fade, it's going to be dry with clear spells but with areas of cloud but this area of cloud here may well work into parts of eastern england and perhaps into the midlands and then continue its journey westwards as we head through the day on tuesday. so it could cloud over a little bit across some parts of wales, maybe even with the odd spot of drizzle. some misty murky weather clinging to these northern and western coasts but, elsewhere, tuesday will bring further spells of sunshine. again, the highest temperatures likely to be across western scotland, parts of northern ireland as well. up to 2a, possibly 25 degrees. wednesday, a similar sort of day, the best of the sunshine in the west, more cloud filtering into eastern areas and also
this noticeable northerly wind starting to develop close to eastern coasts so that will knock the edge off the temperatures here. the highest temperatures once again out towards the west. subtle change as we head towards thursday, our area of high pressure is likely away northwards allowing this frontal system to work into the picture. not a lot of rain with that, but a lot of cloud into eastern areas and coupled with that strong northerly breeze, it is going to feel really quite cool for the eastern coast. not quite as cool further west, but even here temperatures are coming down a little as we head towards the end of the week.