Afghanistan: Failure of the US or Curse of History
By Saber Azam*
16 2020 (IPS) – The fourth and last presidential election in Afghanistan on 28
September 2019 was yet another setback to the democratic process. Not
only did it take months for the Independent Election Commission to announce the
results but they were again marred by allegations of massive fraud that
culminated with two candidates declaring themselves as winners.
witnessed two inaugurations taking place on the same day (9 March 2020) at the
same hour albeit at two different locations but on the premises of the same
Presidential Palace. The incumbent proclaimed a win with less than one
million total votes, representing only 2.6% of the total estimated population;
his rival contested.
yet another huge disappointment for the many Afghans who still entertained the
hope that democracy could hold root despite the systematic misdeeds of the past
alone has spent nearly a trillion US $ to “fix” this “broken state”! The
cost of military and covert operations is certainly not included in this
related expenditures within the US such as caring for veterans as well as
multilateral and bilateral contributions would most probably bring the amount
of money spent, since Hamid Karzai was installed in 2001, to some three
trillion US $, slightly less compared to 4.1 trillion spent during World War
became a political and economic giant, following the implementation of the Marshall
Plan that cost 13.3 billion US $ at the time, about 103.4 billion in today’s
value. Why then, one may ask, does Afghanistan continue along a path to
understand the facts and hurdles, one must consider the origin of the current
tragedy. During the Afghan war against the Soviet Union (1980-88), the
West’s focus was on bringing the communist giant to its knees by “establishing
a callous Islamic belt” around Stalin’s empire. “Jihadists” from around the
world were recruited to go and fight “the force of evil” in Afghanistan.
support benefitted mostly extremist mujahidin movements. There was less
concern about the corollaries of such an uncalculated policy. While the likes
of Osama bin Laden were encouraged to join the “freedom fighters” in
Afghanistan with advanced weaponry and money, no action was taken against
extremist indoctrination and training of thousands of young Afghans in
madrassas, known as the Taliban, by the mighty military intelligence services
of Pakistan, the ISI.
Perhaps the pro-Soviet stance of the Indian government at
the time as well as the tense US-Iran relationship pushed. Washington to rely
on Pakistan alone as Central Asia was still under the Soviet yoke. The then US
administration made it clear that beating the Soviet Union was the mother of
priorities and that the rest will fall in place naturally.
Agreement on Afghanistan in 1988 was then “crafted” to pave an “honorable” way
for the Red Army to withdraw from Afghanistan. With the complete
departure of Soviet troops, the US lost interest in this country, leaving the
management of the post-Soviet situation into the hands of Pakistan which played
a major role in the ensuing civil war among mujahidin factions that resulted in
nearly 30’000 civilian deaths and the rise of the Taliban to power. Afghanistan
then became a sanctuary for terrorists.
misapplication of the sharia law (most Taliban fighters are oblivious to the
true tenets of Islam), systematic violation of human rights, the practice of
torture and summary killings, the International Community remained silent.
Did such a
lassitude embolden Al-Qaeda to conceive, prepare and perpetrate the 9/11
attacks? The question will remain unanswered.
post 9/11 objective of the US was to “smoke [the terrorists] out”, none of the
principal figures, the likes of Osama bin Laden, Ayman Al-Zawahiri and Mullah
Omar were apprehended. The southern and eastern main border crossing
points of Afghanistan were left open, allowing them to flee to safe-havens in
Only a few
second and mainly third category terrorists were apprehended and incarcerated
in Guantanamo. The killing of Osama bin Laden by the Obama
administration in May 2011 was too little, too late.
Afghanistan, the US relied essentially on corrupt, inept and inefficient
governments that functioned on the basis of nepotism, tribalism and personal
gains. Rule of law was systematically violated by Mafiosi groups that
benefitted from personal protection of the leaders of the regime.
institutions became “personal properties” of the incumbents and high
dignitaries rather than serving the population. The International
Community and donors could not trace the use of their assistance due to serious
“security constraints” that many believe were created by the rulers and their
measures were taken against election rigging and violation of the principles of
democracy that became state practice. While the 2005 presidential
election was in accordance with the determination of the people’s wish, the
subsequent 2009, 2014 and 2019 polls were marred with massive fraud.
Afghanistan has two declared Presidents. Would this lead to an
unprecedented “clash of titans” and the effective division of the country along
ethnic lines resulting in further tragedies?
the people in Afghanistan have lost trust in slogans that promoted democracy
and rule of law as divergence between the script and actions of both the
government and the West proved evident.
to disengage from its longest war, the US deal with the Taliban presents many
similarities to the agreement that the Soviet Union had struck in 1988. This
time it is the US army that will leave Afghanistan with some degree of honor.
can claim victory over the International Community and US-led NATO forces. The
major concern is the eventual immunity and probable political and financial
support that would be provided to a group that has committed mass murder, war
crimes and genocide.
The idea of
another “government of national unity” with the inclusion of the Taliban is
extremely risky. They may even claim total power like the mujahidin did
some 28 years ago. If so, let us pray that this time around, the consequences
would be different and beneficial to the people of Afghanistan. However, the
population is afraid of the consequences of the deal.
polycephaly in Afghanistan, a fearless terrorist organization awaiting
withdrawal of NATO troops, rampant corruption, division along ethnic and tribal
affiliations, lack of accountability for crimes committed, and absence of an
honest inter-Afghan understanding, the US plan has little chance of succeeding.
cannot be built on shaky foundations. Since the arrival of the coalition
troops in 2001, democratic principles, institutions and behavior did not take
root in Afghanistan. It is high time to opt for a new strategy and support
wholly new leaders.
need to craft the future of the country around a comprehensive nation building
program. Moreover, young, incorruptible and open-minded local figures,
disposed to build institutions that would serve the population must be
supported. Further delay to change the fundamental approach and to back a new
team will enduringly harm our sacred principles of compassion!
*Saber Azam presided over the “Comité Afghan d’Aide Humanitaire” in
Switzerland. He is a former United Nations official and author of ‘SORAYA: The
Other Princess’. Polycephaly is a
condition of having more than one head. The term is derived from the Greek
stems poly- (Greek: “????”) meaning ‘much’ and kephali- (Greek: “??????”)
meaning “head”, and encompasses bicephaly and dicephaly (both referring to