The chaotic withdrawal from Kabul will be a turning point but now it’s up to us to choose the direction of travel. We can turn this around. That’s why Tuesday’s G7 meeting matters. It will show the determination of the free world to work together.
There will be some key early tells, as gamblers would say, that will give us a clue as to where we’re going.
The first is easy: Who is at the table? Of course, it’s short notice but few nations are more affected than India by the inland tsunami in Asia, or more likely to be important to what happens next. Along with partners from G7 parliaments, I’m calling for India to attend. With Delhi holding the presidency of the UN Security Council, its presence at the meeting would show a commitment not just to bringing others in, but also to leveraging the institutions we have built to defend peace.
The second is harder: Who is promising what? Over the coming months, the demand for humanitarian aid is only going to grow. In conversations with ministers of governments around the region and our people who know them best, however, it’s clear that this isn’t just about aid and it’s not just about cash. What matters on Tuesday is commitment and the demonstration that we’re there for the long term. Allies are looking to make their alliance count, rivals to see whether now’s the time to come in from the cold.
Sudden shifts in power leave the world in flux. While the iron is hot, it is malleable. Even those who armed the Taliban weren’t hoping for the situation we’re in now. Instead of a three-wicket victory, they’ve won an innings triumph. That’s going to change the way the Taliban see their dependency on partners and their aspirations for the region.
Two flashpoints stand out. In the West, just before Nato attacked in 2001, Iran’s Shia regime nearly went to war with the Taliban. Though the years have passed, the theology has not changed and the tension remains. In the East, the border with Pakistan, the so-called Durand Line, has never been accepted by a government in Kabul. It seems unlikely that the Taliban, as a Pashtun movement with adherents on both sides, will consider this time to change their prior stance.
That’s why the G7 must do more than renew commitments and more than help the region. We need to realise that the impact of the Taliban’s success will be felt wider. Already China is spreading propaganda in Taiwan, claiming that this shows the US has no commitment. We need to prove our strategic patience by being willing to invest in our allies.
In Kenya and the Horn of Africa, al-Shabab, an al-Qaeda-linked group, has seen the Taliban’s success as proof of their own victory. In Nigeria and Mali, there are reports that fighters will draw succour from Afghanistan. We must make sure that the example of Kabul isn’t copied elsewhere and that our allies know that we will not abandon them.
Closer to home, our Nato partnership needs renewal. After years of wrangling, we need to get beyond the forever squabbles and focus on what matters to us all – trade, cooperation, but most of all defence. We need to build on the Nato alliance and accept that Britain is an independent but essential ally of many European states.
None more so than in the Baltics. In Lithuania and Latvia, Russian-backed Belarus is using people trafficking as a way to destabilise democracies. Yesterday, Lukashenka, the country’s dictator, threatened Poland with Afghan migrants flown into Minsk and bussed to the border. At the same time, China is pressing Lithuania to back down on its rejection of Beijing’s interference.
After 9/11, the world turned to the United States for leadership in responding to the attacks on New York and Washington DC. Over the past 20 years, that’s been eroded by tough choices and tragic errors. But the world was always too big, even for the greatest power, and too complex for a single leader. We need an allied response.
Afghanistan isn’t just about the region, nor the US. Networks matter and patience wins wars. Tuesday’s G7 will be the first test of that new commitment. There is nothing inevitable about our defeat. But we need to show the will to succeed.
Tom Tugendhat is Conservative MP for Tonbridge and Malling