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Summary: Corona = “…impossible to implement peace process”? Bleak assessment from Barnett Rubin on Afghanistan’s prospects

March 23, 2020

Summary:  Barnett Rubin’s assessment that the Corona virus’ is a massive and negative game-changer on the prospects for Afghanistan.  The economic impact of the pandemic on the US risks cancelling all the crucial financial support for Afghanistan at it’s most fragile period.  He believes: “COVID19 in US may have impact on Afghanistan comparable to the collapse of the USSR…It looks increasingly difficult/impossible to implement peace process”…

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I came across a Twitter thread from Barnett Rubin last week which really stood out for its grave concern over where Afghanistan might be headed.  It is a short piece, that should be read in full.  Every single sentence is a hammer blow to Afghanistan’s prospects:

Twitter thread, 21st March 2020: “Like most of the world’s political discourse, debate about Afghanistan is stuck in a fast-disappearing past. The COVID pandemic is shifting the context rapidly and disastrously. A few points that I will try to develop further in the coming days.  About 40% of US population (including me) in lockdown (White City as we said in Kabul).  That will increase.  Unemployment may reach 20%. The economy may contract by 25%.  Government will spend a trillion $ or more on domestic relief.  Repercussions will last years, decades.  Under such conditions there would be no continued US commitment to Afgh of bns of $ per year. COVID19 in US may have impact on Afghanistan comparable to the collapse of the USSR. USSR did not abandon Afghanistan. It lost the capacity to make such choices.  In a year cd happen.  It looks increasingly difficult/impossible to implement peace process.  Quick start of intra-Afghan negotiations on ceasefire and transition was key to avoiding breakdown and escalation as are now happening.  Travel restrictions force delays. Every day increases mistrust.  Response to pandemic in Afgh may require US-NATO military logistics not withdrawal.  Withdrawal, war, humanitarian relief are all incompatible with social distancing.  Will COVID spread in military forces?  No social distancing when deployed.  What happens to prison populations?  Pressure cookers for pandemic. All prisoners over 50 should be released immediately.  Need for health considerations to take priority over politics of detention or release.  Loss of aid, military paralysis in pandemic, all risk loss of control over forces on all sides.  Once control disintegrates, agreements are worthless.  US govt, Afgh govt, Taliban are trying to pursue political/military advantages that are becoming increasingly meaningless.  I know it is probably pointless to say this but everyone must declare an unconditional ceasefire and discard all political conditions for cooperation”

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