By James Morley
Since the U.S.A and its allies withdrew from Afghanistan every news outlet has carried stories of Taliban takeover, frantic evacuations, failures, and political attacks. In such a noisy environment it can be hard to know what to think. So, this article aims to guide you through the difficult situation that is evolving in Afghanistan and help you understand what has happened to the people there and what the future could hold for them.
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Why was America in Afghanistan anyway?
The answer to this question often depends on who you ask. The answer you would get from any U.S official is that America entered to protect its interests. In 2001 it was a well-established fact that the Taliban were providing refuge for Al Qaeda terrorist cells, the same group that was responsible for the September 11 terrorist attacks against the world trade centre and pentagon. It was a strategic decision to destroy the safe regions of the world that existed for terrorists that posed a very real threat to American life.
However, there are some who see the invasion of Afghanistan and the subsequent 20-year occupation as a part of American imperialism. The argument is that America used the terrorist attacks of 9/11 to justify placing military forces in the middle east, as a way of projecting power and installing sympathetic governments that would act in accordance with American wishes. The idea is that America would gain control over the natural resources that lay under the surface of many middle eastern countries. Afghanistan certainly has a long history of being fought over, with the USSR invading in 1979 and the U.S using its ally Pakistan to fund the rebel army of the Mujahideen. Huge swathes of this rebel army would later go on to become the Taliban and sweep to power in Afghanistan.
There are also those who argue that Afghanistan was just a way to sell weapons and justify the Pentagon’s enormous arms budget. Continual war is good for business and stocks in American defence companies has only increased since America entered Afghanistan.
So, it’s all America’s fault?
It is very rare in geopolitics that there is one nation or one political force to blame for anything. The Afghan war is an example of powerful forces and ideologies exerting themselves on a nation without any real thought for the impact it will have on people. The former USSR, the U.S.A, Pakistan, and all other NATO llied nations all carry a sense of blame. The Taliban carry just as much blame for the pain inflicted on the nation as foreign occupiers. The Taliban are not a democratic voice that speaks for the people of Afghanistan. They are an oppressive, extremist, army of religious radicals.Fighting against them and protecting Afghan people, especially women, non-Muslims, and LGBTQ+ people is noble in many ways. There is no clear fault here, only victims. There are vulnerable people who need as much protection as possible from the harm that military conflicts and radical, dictatorial regimes can cause.
Should America have stayed then?
There are very few people who believe that America should have continued and perpetuated the war in Afghanistan and there are many reasons for this. The war in Afghanistan has cost more than $2 trillion in the past 20 years. A completely unsustainable amount of money for any nation, even the largest military force the planet has ever seen. There is also the human cost. Over the past 20 years in Afghanistan there have been over 73,000 allied military and contractor deaths and over 47,000 civilian deaths. The war is also unpopular. Money, life, and a lack of political will are all hindrances to continuing the war. The war was no longer popular with the establishment in Washington and even less popular with those who saw it as an extension of American imperialism. America withdrawing from Afghanistan was always something that should happen.
Why is everyone mad about it?
The anger at the Afghan withdrawal does not come from the fact that it happened, but how it happened. America assumed that the government and military it had trained and established in Afghanistan would be strong enough to keep the Taliban at bay and maintain order for some time. This was clearly wrong. It took the Taliban 10 days to sweep across Afghanistan and take control. Twenty years of nation building fell away in a matter of days, and this failure of America to properly prepare for its departure has created huge amounts of criticism and controversy.
This rapid Taliban takeover created a problem that America did not expect to have to deal with: mass evacuations. Many Afghans, especially those who worked with the Americans and new Afghan government feared for their lives and tried to flee with the departing Americans. America simply did not create the capacity and time to evacuate all those who were in danger.
America also left in such a hurry that it left behind £61 billion worth of weaponry which are now in the hands of the radical and oppressive Taliban.
Joe Biden must have messed up big time?
Whilst it is tempting to lay the blame with President Biden for the failed withdrawal there is a long list of people and groups who can share in his failure. Biden is simply the last domino to fall in this long legacy of failure. Donald Trump shares the blame. He was the one to begin the withdrawal and to work with the Taliban. Five thousand of those Taliban fighters who helped take over the country were released from prison under Donald Trump’s watch.
Obama and Bush both need to take the blame, for perpetuating war and for failing to build a credible and effective Afghan government; a government which should also not escape any blame. . The Afghan government established by the U.S is notoriously corrupt and inefficient. They have embezzled millions that should have been used for developing Afghanistan. The military is riddled with officers lining their own pockets. Military camps are run by paedophiles who use their position to keep child sex slaves.. This was a system that could never stand up to the dedication and persistence of the Taliban. In the end, without the support of the much more powerful and well organised Americans, the Afghan government was bound to fall.
Was the past 20 years for nothing?
Hearing about the inevitable nature of the Afghan loss it is easy to think that the past 20 years was a waste of life, money, and time, with only greedy defence contractors and blood thirsty imperialists benefiting. Whilst it is true that global capitalists have benefited in many ways from the American occupation, it is not just them.
There is a reason many people wanted to flee from Taliban takeover and that is because life was better in Afghanistan under America than it was under the Taliban. There is now a whole generation of Afghans who have experienced things they could never have dreamt of under the Taliban. Access to electricity has grown from 8% to 30%, child mortality has dropped threefold, and the ratio of girls to boys in education has gone from 1:5 to 1:2. Many urban Afghans have access to modern music and TV.
Hopefully this generation will be able to act as a moderating force against the radical certainty of the Taliban. This is a force the Taliban may eventually welcome. They will need international trade and cooperation to succeed. So far, they have funded themselves by controlling the opiate trade and extorting taxes from farmers in Afghanistan but no legitimate government can sustain itself on drug profits and threats. The hopeful part of any observer tells us that the Taliban will moderate as the requirements of rule and the need for international recognition lead them away from radicalism to pragmatism.
What can I do?
If you are concerned about Afghanistan and its people, then one of the things you can do is support those fleeing the Taliban to claim asylum where they feel they will be safe and respected. Write to your MPs, sign petitions, donate when you can. The past 20 years has proven that military intervention does not solve the problems of a nation and it is now time to be humanitarians who can provide safe and welcoming nations for those who have been so deeply impacted by a long list of failures they had no part in making but are the tragic victims of.
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