By Carlton Joseph
After 20 years of fighting, the United States (US) has finally ended its war with Afghanistan leaving a trail of destruction and chaos in the country and the region.
The official story for the invasion was that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and a WMD programme.
In fact, the Bush administration believed that a quick and decisive victory in the heart of the Arab world would send a message to all countries, especially to recalcitrant regimes such as Syria, Libya, Iran, and North Korea, that American hegemony was here to stay and reassert America as the world’s leading power.
Interestingly, although Afghanistan is the base for al-Qaeda, none of the nineteen hijackers who destroyed the twin towers were Afghan nationals. President Bush declared a “war on terror” and called on the Taliban regime to, “deliver to the United States authorities all the leaders of al-Qaeda who hide in your land, or share their fate.”
The US began a bombing campaign against the Taliban, and the British, Canada, Australia, Germany, and France pledged future support. After the fall of Kabul in November 2001, US officials, a few prominent Afghans, NATO and the United Nations (UN) crafted an Afghan constitution in the image of the US constitution and its European allies. The constitution was based on Western ideals, not what was sustainable or workable for the Afghan people. The US and its allies got it wrong from the beginning.
Americans and Afghans were shocked at the stunning collapse of the Western backed government. Many questions surfaced after 20 years of military training and trillions of dollars in aid: How did the Taliban seize most of the country in a matter of weeks? Why did Afghan security forces surrender or fled from their posts?
The allies collapsed because the Taliban was fighting for their culture and religion, which inspired, and motivated them. The foreigners wanted to dominate the country, and the puppets they supported wanted power and money.
Despite criticism from foes and allies, President Biden insisted that his decision to end America’s longest war was correct, and that America’s troops should be focused on threats to the homeland, emphasizing that the nation’s diplomatic and economic might are the tools to uphold its values overseas. Biden has learnt from the Vietnam and Afghan wars, you cannot impose ideals of democracy, freedom or capitalism using the military. I hope he applies this thinking to Cuba and Venezuela.
The similarities of wars in Vietnam and Afghanistan are astounding. In both cases the Western powers were supporting corrupt and ineffective governments that the newly trained military were unwilling to fight for. After decades of conflict and millions of lost lives, the reason for entering the wars remains controversial. The winners were the war industry, military contractors and locals who supported the Western allies.
At the end of the wars, realizing defeat, America negotiates a swift pullout, both enemies defy peace deals, an American-made military suddenly is left with little support, and boat lift and/or airlift of thousands of refugees. American and European ego-driven officials either didn’t learn from history or chose to ignore it,
George Santayana words: ‘Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it,’ comes to mind.
The Washington Post reported that the collapse of the Afghan US trained military began with a series of deals brokered in rural villages between the militant group and some of the Afghan government’s lowest-ranking officials. I believe that the Trump administration agreement promising full American withdrawal from Afghanistan, that required the Taliban to enter into negotiations with the Afghan government with guarantees that American security would not be threatened from Afghan soil, created the environment for the deals.
The deals were often described by Afghan officials as cease-fires; in reality, Taliban leaders were offering money in exchange for government forces to hand over their weapons. Understandably, Afghan forces realizing that American withdrawal meant they could not depend on America’s air power and other critical battlefield support decided to join with the Taliban.
In addition, police officers report that they hadn’t been paid for six to nine months so Taliban payoff was enticing and corruption flourished. Self-preservation was all that mattered.
Scenes, reminiscent of Vietnam, reveal the consequences of unprovoked wars and the defeat of invaders. Images of disorder and confusion, including video showing desperate Afghans clinging to the sides of a U.S. military aircraft. This is what happens when one encourages foreign governments to overthrow the government in one’s country. One realizes, too late, that you have already lost your country once they are invited in; Venezuela’s Juan Guaidó should be wary of his strategy to become America’s puppet.
Unfortunately, the end of war produces chaos on both sides. The US and its allies must evacuate their personnel and Afghans who have assisted their military and diplomatic missions, human rights workers and activists. Friction arises between allies – Britain, France and Germany believe that America should take the lead on accepting refugees because it led the mission and unilaterally decided to end the war. Canada’s Trudeau, claiming that it is going to be very, very difficult to get many people out, and that the situation is complex and difficult.
In Afghanistan the Taliban are moving quickly to address governance, security and reconciliation. Khalil Haqqani addressed a large adoring crowd at Kabul’s largest mosque saying: “Our first priority for Afghanistan is security, if there is no security, there is no life. We will give security, then we will give economy, trade, education for men and women, there will be no discrimination.”
The Taliban has an enormous task ahead, they fought for and deserve to preserve their culture and Islam. However, they desire normal relations with Washington and other foreign powers, but to get this recognition they must demonstrate respect for political and human rights, and most important, serve the foreign powers’ security interests.
The Taliban has pledged to form an inclusive Islamic government so that the country remains part of the international community. Will this gesture be enough to persuade foreign powers, including the ones they just defeated, to provide funds for reconstruction, and to remove economic sanctions in order for them to rebuild their country?
To say that I’m cautiously optimistic may be a stretch since the US and former colonists do not take defeat gracefully, and use every tool in their arsenal to punish the victorious country. I visited Vietnam in 2018, the country was still recovering from the war that ended in 1975, it was operating under two economic systems, one for foreigners and one for the local economy. The most disturbing fact was that the currency exchange rate was US$1 was equal to 22,000.00d (Dong).
Finally, the war is over, the Afghan people paid a heavy price, 164 thousand deaths including 47 thousand civilians. Black and poor people serving their country sustained injuries and died at disproportionate levels fighting for “democracy.” Also, the US has committed to pay health care, disability, burial and other costs for Afghanistan and Iraq veterans.
The irony is inescapable, over $2 trillion in debt that American tax payers will have to pay, but America refuses to provide its citizens with Universal Healthcare at home, and/or free College Education for its young people.