Afghanistan: What Went Wrong?

Kabul, Afghanistan. Credit: UNAMA/Freshta Dunia
  • Opinion by Saber Azam (geneva)
  • Inter Press Service

Even the West's main adversaries, the Russian Federation and the People's Republic of China, endorsed the war against radicalism. Dozens of thousands of soldiers, the most sophisticated military equipment, and billions of US dollars began to inundate Afghanistan to smolder the fanatics out of this country and annihilate barbarism. Afghans assumed that after years of wars and calamities, peace, security, and serenity were at their doorsteps.

In the ensuing twenty years, 3,600 foreign soldiers (2,500 Americans) sacrificed their lives, 34,000 (21,000 Americans) were wounded, and dozens of thousands were traumatized. Furthermore, about 70,000 Afghan soldiers, 47,000 civilians, and 53,000 Taliban militants perished. Though the number of wounded and traumatized Afghans cannot be precisely evaluated, the sequels of war affected the entire population.

However, in August 2021, the US and its allies evacuated Afghanistan hastily, handing it over to those they had to "smoke out," shattering the hopes of respect for human rights, democracy, good governance, progress, and trust in a promising future.

Not only Afghans but the world is now holding its breath as the Taliban are considered unpredictable, unreliable, and dangerous. What instigated the "submission of the West" would be arduous to comprehend at this stage as intervening states retain crucial information for concealment necessities. However, there is an absolute need to understand and draw lessons based on the available evidence.

Despite noticeable improvements in areas such as women's emancipation in main cities and freedom of expression, many aspects of the West's intervention and actions between 2001 and 2021 in Afghanistan did not fulfill the objectives. A detailed analysis would not fit the scope of this article. However, the following flaws were indisputable:

A – The Bonn Deal in December 2001

The “Agreement on Provisional Arrangements in Afghanistan” ignored decades of transformation in the country. It did not address the root causes of repeated crises. The assumption that only “like in the past two and half centuries, only Pashtun leaders can govern this country” was erroneous.

In particular, the resistance against the Soviet Union and communist regimes, the Mujahidin tragic era, and the first Taliban rule had generated new realities. Other ethnic groups had significantly gained political, military, and social apprehensions.

In addition, the euphoria of “kicking out the terrorists and their protectors” was such that not only the so-called “legitimate government,” recognized by the International Community since 1992, was sidelined, but the idea of incorporating a few elements of the Taliban, known to the US and its allies, to the negotiating table was disregarded.

At least, it would have split the extremist movement from the onset of the West intervention. As a result, the “broad-based government” was senseless for reconstructing a war-torn country and seemed nothing but a reward to former warlords, Western loyalists, and political traders.

Nepotism, tribalism, rampant corruption, dilettantism, loyalty to foreign interests, and many other flagrant handicaps promptly affected central and provincial governance systems.

B – Afghan Leadership

The pick, by the US, of the Head of Provisional Authority, who then became the Chairman of the Transitional Administration and twice President of the country (2001 – 2014), astonished many. He and his successor (2014 to 2021) were not recognized for any significant contribution against terrorism or political and management skills.

Therefore, the lack of clear strategies to build a nation and forge a promising future marred their administrations. Senior executives and politicians of the country felt "fuehrer" and untouchable, granting all privileges and rights to themselves and little or nothing to the people.

The creation of the General Independent Administration for Anti-Corruption in 2004 was a significant failure; the first head had to resign, and the second was a convicted drug dealer in the US. Its replacement in 2008 by the High Office for the Oversight and Anti-Corruption did not prove helpful as the same "senior officials and staff" remained in place.

Those who wished to prosecute corrupt individuals, including the President's family members and close allies, were instantly dismissed. Others against whom rock-solid proof of misdeeds existed were shielded.

Efforts by the second President and his Chief Executive as of 2014 did not curb the swindle! The 18 "anti-corruption" organs, headed by their underhand devotees, lacked coordination, and business as usual persisted.

The ousted Taliban began to regroup in Pakistan at the beginning of 2002, strengthen their ties with Al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations further, and commit suicide attacks within Afghanistan on military structures and crowded public areas. Many were convinced of the complicity of senior government officials.

C – The US and its Allies

The enthusiasm for “smoking out” Al-Qaeda and their protectors from Afghanistan and “ending terrorism” did not last long in Western capitals. Already as of 2003, they were cognizant of cronyism, kleptocracy, and other appalling realities in the country.

Instead of providing immediate remedies by compelling the inept leaders to accomplish their duties, they let the situation corrode hoping that “it will improve with time!” The establishment of SIGAR (Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction) by the US Congress in January 2008 did not change much. Its reports on mismanagement of resources often went unattended.

The state of affairs became worse in 2009 due to election rigging. The silence of the West was a tacit endorsement of the misdeed. Suggestions to opt for a transitional government composed of competent, honest, unbiased, and ethically-bound young individuals, from within the country, were ignored under the pretext that it would be contrary to the constitutional order. However, the election fraud in 2014 was such that the US opted to put aside the constitution. A government based on an unworkable political agreement was founded.

Despite its promising nature, the hurdle relied on the fact that there was no change in the people who run State affairs. The US and its closest allies closed their eyes and ears to the widespread malfunctions, including in the security apparatuses. Such a situation permitted the Taliban to grow in strength, grab more territory, and finally take over the government on 15 August 2021.

D – Other Most Concerned Countries

The Russian Federation, the People’s Republic of China, and the Islamic Republic of Iran monitored the failure of Western intervention in Afghanistan from its onset. It is fair to say that they rejoiced in the “defeat of the US.” Pakistan maneuvered to manage Afghanistan through the Taliban.

They had learned from the failure of their first attempt (1996-2001) and had conveniently prepared the new generation of Islamic clerics. India and Central Asian countries earnestly endeavored for a peaceful Afghanistan. Saudi Arabia had an ambiguous policy.

While it was part of the International Coalition to fight terrorism, the espousal of Saudi nationals to extremist movements in Afghanistan was undeniable, a fact that the government in Riyadh could have prevented.

E – The United Nations (UN)

The UN’s role seemed the most questionable. Victims of decades of imposed tragedies, the Afghan people expected this organization to stand for them. Unfortunately, it miserably failed to do so. Instead, the UN bogged down in rubber-stamping the desires of the strongest.

In Bonn, it did not push for addressing the root causes of decades of conflict to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war,” as its Charter stipulates and endorsed the irremediable provisional agreement. Then, it became the ratifying organ of repeated rigged elections, depriving Afghans of their fundamental rights.

The accusation of Taliban activists benefitting from the “return of refugees” program to settle in the northern provinces of Afghanistan surfaced in some circles. In addition, it assumed the prime role in managing multi-lateral aid to the Afghan people, amounting to hundreds of billion US dollars.

There are accounts of endemic mismanagement, corruption, and inefficiency. However, the UN has not investigated its actions. This is a serious blow to its image and leadership, providing further elements for skeptical to consider it a redundant and unaccountable organization.

F – The Syndrome of Easy Money

Experts believe that the availability of "easy and extirpated money" provided at the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom, which began on 7 October 2001, laid down the foundation of corruption and the future demise of the republic. A few who then became the bigwigs of the regimes profited immensely from its flow.

Most scholars trusted that the West, led by the US, would implement an answerable government model that functioned in their societies. Subsequently, the public pressure on the leaders to use international sympathy and unlimited support in addressing the root causes of the conflicts, building a solid nation based on a new framework suitable to all ethnic groups, and developing appropriate confidence-building measures was weak!

The fact that hundreds of billions of US dollars per year will have an end did not figure in many assumptions. Despite democratic avenues, most remained "infirm" on their leaders' rampant corruption, nepotism, tribalism, and inefficiency.

With the above in mind, there was no chance for the republic to sustain itself in Afghanistan. The Taliban rule the country again. The question is could they keep it?

Saber Azam is a former official of the United Nations and author of Soraya: The Other Princess, Hell’s Mouth: A Journey to the Heart of West African jungles, and numerous political and scientific articles .

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© Inter Press Service (2022) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service