The morning after a hurricane hit the East Coast and a flash flood killed 21 people in Tennessee, the headlines in the NYT, Washington Post and the WSJ described the upheaval in Afghanistan — the U.S. pulled out, expanding the safe zones around the perimeter of Kabul airport, as the US Secretary of Defense announced that: “We cannot afford to either not defend that airfield, or not have an airfield that secure, where we have hundreds or thousands of civilians that can access the airfield at will and put our forces at risk.” And then, terrorists killed American soldiers and civilians, the airlift is over, and some Americans are still stranded, as that country faces a possible new civil war and financial disaster as the opium trade increases.
NATO’s foreign ministers had warned the Taliban that they would not tolerate Afghanistan to once again, as it did twenty years before to become a safe haven and breeding ground for terrorism. The foreign ministers noted that it had denied the terrorists a staging area for terrorists’ attacks, and it was prepared to once again invest in its vital role. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg did not rule out the use of military strikes to support their position. “We have the capabilities to strike terrorist groups…” within Afghanistan. Then the bombings and deaths come at the hands of ISIS. And the killing of civilians moved to a new high rate. Is a civil war brewing? More than likely that and more, when the Taliban and the tribes that roam the Country come to the inevitable realization that the Taliban do not have the basic “tools” to govern the country, notwithstanding the influx of funds with the increase opium trade. That said, two days after Thanksgiving, the Washington Post affirmed what I had written one week before, that the Taliban attacks against the terrorist group have expanded its “shadowy war” against the Islamic State branch in Afghanistan. The Talban have deployed an additional thousands more fighters to its eastern province in an increasingly violent area. The operation becomes a critical test of the government’s ability to govern after what was a clearly botched U.S. troop withdrawal. And the answer is that it is not. Notwithstanding its perceived success in the ongoing action against ISIS, the government’s ability to feed its population and sustain a working economy is failing. Afghanistan’s economy and social services are further collapsing as I write this sentence, with Afghans throughout the country already suffering acute malnutrition. The fear is that children will die in the coming months as winter sets in, and a call has reached the international community for aid.
Then, as I paused waiting further developments, other areas have become increasingly volatile and a danger both directly and indirectly to our national security. In the midst of this, and not totally unrelated, the Iranian Ayatollah Alireza Ebadi announced that: The Jews Are the Biggest Problem for Islam and Humanity – They Control The World. How will that threat play out with their growing rush toward being an international nuclear weapon player? Turkey, a strategically located country, and as I have written in the past with its President Erdogan’s moving closer to military ties with the Kremlin, saw the country sliding into economic turmoil. The current crises have its population seeking bread and meat subsidies and fleeing for what would be a better life in Europe.
The claims of territorial rights have escalated in intensity and have become dangerous flashpoints: Hong Kong is lost. The small businesses I know there are holding onto their international trade with their fingertips and their voices are becoming dimmer.
Taiwan’s independence and those nation-states that depend upon and claim territorial and navigation rights to the South China Sea and adjacent seaways for international and local commercial transportation, mineral rights exploration and fishing hold our attention. Add India vs China and India vs Pakistan. On October 12th India and China announced that a high level military meeting between the two sides failed to ease the standoff to their boarder dispute that has left 20 Indian and Chinese troops dead.
The United States, notwithstanding strongly claiming that vast areas of the South China sea and adjacent significant maritime areas as international water has, in the past decades, made a series of tactical and strategic – military decisions that have placed us second to China who now possesses the world’s largest navy. And by any measurement – size does matter and raises significant questions of the nature of future hostilities.
Could China invade Taiwan now? As China bangs the drums of war, and although it sent in excess of 56 fighter jets over Taiwan’s beleaguered air defense systems, the answer is clear: at this moment their naval advantage is not sufficient to risk that aggressive move. In any invasion of that magnitude it would severely disrupt China’s present economic growth at home and its dependence on world opinion to support that growth. China and China watchers think in terms of 5-6 years for hostilities (however that word is defined) to commence, but were rattled when it was announced that China tested a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile 3 months ago that circled the earth and landed close to its target, demonstrating an advanced space capability. Parenthetically, Putin had already boasted of achieving hypersonic missile capability, but without the Beijing’s range.
Will there be a hostile “reunification” of the wayward province–Taiwan–or as some believe, a peaceful absorption by Beijing. Taiwan’s president Tsai Ing-wen has confirmed that U.S. military personnel are currently on the island as part of a “military exchange,” as she announced that the country’s 23 million residents would never “bow to pressure” in the face of the growing military threat from China. All the while, China practices amphibious troop landings, and Russian and Chinese warships conducted their first joint naval operations in the western part of the Pacific Ocean. The armada consisted of ten warships that sailed thru the Tsugaru straits that separate Japan’s major islands, rattling that country’s sense of security.
History is important: more than 70 years ago, during a civil war in China between the Nationalists and Communists, the Nationalists, after defeat on the battle field, retreated to Taiwan. It is important to understand on the international diplomatic level, Taiwan is not a nation-state, it has no seat at the United Nations and is recognized by 15 very small nations. At times in the past, life did flourish between the mainland and the democratic island. Today, the relationship is at its lowest level. China’s president announced that before the end of his tenure, he will see the return of the wayward “province” to the embrace of Beijing’s authority. And America’s president announced that we have an obligation to defend a democratic Taiwan.
Pakistan and India have a long feud regarding claims to territory in the northernmost geographical region of the Indian subcontinent since the partition of that area in 1947. Until the mid-19th century, “Kashmir” denoted only a valley between two mountain ranges. Today, the term encompasses a larger area that includes Indian-administered territories, Pakistani-administered territories, and, as I’ve just learned, Chinese-administered territories. Today, India and Pakistan both claim the region in full. The Indian side of the region has been the scene of constant clashes between government forces and armed groups seeking Kashmir’s independence or its merger with Pakistan. At the same time, India regularly accuses Pakistan of arming and training militants and allowing them across the frontier, to launch attacks. Naturally, Pakistan rejects the accusation, as it is accused of providing a safety zone for those jihadists who stage attacks in India.
Indian authorities have moved to shut down the internet as a “precautionary measure”, and have placed restrictions in Kashmir Valley. Police had ordered the civilians to refrain from walking on the streets.
India and Pakistan have fought four wars since their partition in 1947, three of them over Kashmir. China has remained silent. What makes this hotspot more volatile is that the United States and India have taken a major step in signing an agreement to develop an air-launched unmanned aerial vehicle, thereby deepening the defense technology between the two nations. India playing both sides of the street will welcome Russia’s Putin for a summit as Moscow begins the delivery of air defense missile systems to India. That could spur U.S. sanctions.
While the tensions run high in the India and Pakistan, they are unlikely to produce any significant, imminent fighting, other than cross-border sniping. Pakistan has long been a sinking pit for the American infusion of tens of billions of dollars in aid, most of it unaccounted for by its corrupt government. Although it has long been thought, in a positive way, as our partner in our “war” against al Qaeda and the Taliban. Without our financial aid, its government must totally rely upon its drug trade, which will undoubtedly be encouraged by the new Taliban chiefs in Afghanistan. One of those Afghan Taliban leaders, it has been frequently been reported in the press, is a protégé of the Pakistan military. All this must be viewed against a background that a corrupt Pakistan government holds the keys to a nuclear arsenal.
It appears that India, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan, along with other smaller nation states in the South China Sea are trying to downplay the anxiety each feels (and attempts to shroud) when scrutinizing their individual relationship with the U.S. Our present standing in the international community, after four years of the Trump Administration and our botched withdrawal from Afghanistan, has put these countries on edge. Are they each safe from any and all types of China incursion? “The world has witnessed how the US evacuated its diplomats by helicopter while Taliban soldiers crowded into the presidential palace in Kabul,” the official and hawkish Beijing Chinese-English language newspaper wrote shortly after the Afghan Governments collapse. “This has dealt a heavy blow to the credibility and reliability of the U.S.”, the Chinese-English paper’s editorial continued. True or false – is it China propaganda (which they appear to be very good at), or are we in a world racked by an uncontrollable virus, shifting world political alliances and domestic political upheaval, causing confusion as we attempt to refocus our international priorities?
Two very different American Presidents planned to carry out our withdrawal from Afghanistan. Two very different American Presidents view this nation’s already contentious and hostile future with China; where we have no hotline as with Russia. The increasing, dangerous threats and aggressive activities from China necessitate the United States to shift its national security focus from the Mid-East and focus on China and the Indo-Pacific arena. The Chinese will learn that they will have to refocus and consider a more robust, offensive United States to its East, and to the west the Uighurs, whose plight is more and more being examined by the international press. They are a predominantly Muslim group of Turkic ethnicity and who live in China’s North-Western Xinjiang Province. China appears to view them as a national security threat to Beijing’s hard rule, and has subjected them to internationally condemned severe treatment.
Then the day after Thanksgiving, what started as a sunless cold day, the Global financial market plunged on the opening bell following the discovery of a new viral variant in southern Africa that top advisors warned was the “most worrying we’ve seen.” I thought: is there no place to hide?