Is Afghanistan Facing a Fragmented Conflict?

Is Afghanistan Facing a Fragmented Conflict?

As US and NATO forces finalize their withdrawal from Afghanistan, estimates vary as to how much territory the Taliban has seized. The Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Long War Journal shows much of the country under Taliban control; the BBC Afghan service reports more districts as “contested.”

Commentators continue to worry about a Taliban takeover, but views on the matter are by no means monolithic. Seth G. Jones recently argued in Foreign Affairs that continued US support could keep the Afghan National Security Forces afloat, and Anchal Vohra writes for Foreign Policy that Afghanistan will likely face something more complex than a two-sided struggle between the Taliban and the Kabul-based government.

Post-US, post-NATO Afghanistan could involve a panoply of warring factions, Vohra writes, noting criticisms that President Ashraf Ghani has been too reluctant to devolve power to warlords that share his common enemy and appear to be mobilizing against the Taliban’s advance. Summing things up, Vohra writes: “The Taliban won’t concede while Ghani is president, and Ghani won’t give in until the Taliban agree to hold elections and submit to the current constitution. Ethnic warlords, meanwhile, will look for support from wherever they can find it to fight the Taliban and protect their people. If neither side is ready to compromise, the fragmentation of the country seems imminent.”

‘China’s Sputnik Moment’

Donald Trump is no longer president, but his tech war on China may provide a lasting boost to China’s technological self-reliance, Dan Wang writes for Foreign Affairs. Trump’s assaults—blocking various Chinese firms from using US-made technologies in their wares, for instance—seem to have raised the alarm for China over tech supply chains in the same way Russia’s Sputnik satellite did for the US over space, Wang proposes.

“In the 1960s, integrated circuits were developed when the National Aeronautics and Space Administration was willing to pay any price for technology that could send astronauts to the moon and bring them safely back,” Wang writes. “Today, the U.S. government is putting Huawei in NASA’s position: a cash-rich organization willing to pay for critical components on the basis of performance rather than cost. Smaller Chinese companies that previously never stood a chance of selling to Huawei are now sought after as vendors, and they receive infusions of cash and technical expertise that will accelerate their growth. Private and state-owned chip manufacturers are ramping up their operations. … China is now undertaking a whole-of-society effort to improve domestic technology, specifically around what Chinese leaders think will drive not only economic growth but also geopolitical power.”

Who Wants What for Tunisia

After Tunisian President Kais Saied dismissed the country’s Prime Minister and suspended parliament for 30 days, some commentators are lamenting the potential death of Tunisian democracy. To others, as the Global Briefing noted yesterday, the story is different.

At NewLines Magazine, Tunis-based journalist Francesca Ebel poses the shakeup as a “popular coup.” Residents braved sweltering heat on Sunday to protest the government’s handling of Covid-19, but Ebel writes that much of their anger was directed at parliament and its leading faction, the moderate Islamist party Ennahda (of which Saied is not a member). Saied has the support of many young Tunisians who protested, Ebel writes, and their argument is largely with an old order seen as corrupt, not with the President.

“Is it possible for several conflicting truths to exist at once?” Ebel asks. “Can a measure be taken in the name of the people but be fundamentally undemocratic? Can citizens be so fed up with their political elites and the country’s deteriorating state as to want an action as extreme as this one but also remain wary of a return to a dictatorship? As the dust has settled since the July 25 events, there are still many unanswered questions.”

Can Operation Warp Speed Be Replicated?

“Industrial policy”—the government practice of propping up domestic production in chosen sectors—is in vogue, after four years of former President Donald Trump’s protectionism and amid President Joe Biden’s seeming inclination to stay that course. Some think Covid-19 has offered a blueprint for it.

“Industrial Policy Saved Europe’s Vaccine Drive,” a Foreign Policy headline declares, as Caroline de Gruyter writes that a heavy bureaucratic hand helped solve production and delivery problems on the continent.

In the journal American Affairs, which blends conservative politics and left-leaning economic policy in Trumpian fashion, David Adler suggests the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed (OWS) could be replicated in other sectors. Helmed by Moderna board member Moncef Slaoui (who resigned that post to join OWS) and Army Gen. Gustave Perna, “OWS resembled a pharma company, with Slaoui and Perna reporting to a board, here composed of the secretaries of Defense and HHS, and officials from the White House Coronavirus Task Force,” Adler writes. It supplied to vaccine developers a mix of research-and-development funding and—critically—the promise to purchase doses, which in the view of Adler (and other OWS admirers) spurred the private sector into action quite effectively. It also employed a strategy used by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, taking a “portfolio approach” to vaccines by spreading its investments among the technologies that might pay off, Adler writes.

In Adler’s view, OWS amounted to a major improvement on US-government-led innovation, which has centered on disparate bodies like the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, and National Institute of Standards and Technology, and it guided the innovation process toward a usable, finished product. That same approach could be used to make gains in developing new iterations of microchips, batteries, and shipyards, Adler argues.

Insights, analysis and must reads from CNN’s Fareed Zakaria and the Global Public Square team, compiled by Global Briefing editor Chris Good

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