Adios Gringo — winners or Losers in Afghanistan
TWENTY years of war, over 4000 allied soldiers killed and over half a million Afghanis shot, murdered and bombed apart from more two trillion dollars of taxpayers money went into the war, reducing Afghanistan to a shambles and countless made disabled.
For what? Did the destruction of Afghanistan produce desired results? Did all bloodshed in the last two decades change what was intended? Did the system Western powers wanted to introduce in this war ravaged country be accepted, welcomed and implemented? Did the agenda of changing Afghan society, social fabric and lifestyle met any change?
The answer to all the above is a big NO. The American tradition of imposing a war, destroying a country and spilling blood of innocent women, children and old people and then occupying that country for decades without any tangible cause and reason and then in the end leaving as a loser.
From the Bagram airfield, which was the main base for US military, leaving in the night as cowards, shocked not only the world but also the Afghan General, as they left without informing him. America didn’t win any of the wars in Korea, Middle East, Vietnam or in Afghanistan.
World’s only superpower with all the best and latest war technology and weapons are now leaving the country they came to conquer two decades ago, not as victors but as vanquished- defeated by men who have no tanks, no modern war equipment, no B-52 bombers and no F-16s. They just have one thing — will to fight and end foreign occupation and they succeeded in it.
Over the past 20 years, the fate of Afghanistan, now a nation of more than 35 million people, has intertwined with the American military presence.
The changes in Afghan society during that time, for both good and bad reflect a duality of violence and privilege that America unleashed.
It was on display on 07 October 2001, less than a month after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York, that President George W Bush announced the invasion of Afghanistan. ‘The Taliban will pay a price,’ he said.
Then a breath later: ‘The oppressed people of Afghanistan will know the generosity of America and our allies.’
Now with the impending withdrawal of American and NATO troops from the country, the question is what will the impact be on Afghanistan and Afghans? It will be felt very deeply by everyone, but three effects are most threatening: a reduction in aid; diminishing political and diplomatic interest; and the intensification of a proxy war in Afghanistan by countries in the region.
America has two tangible assets that strengthen its influence on the ground – money and troops.
The US has spent approximately $144 billion in Afghanistan on ‘relief and reconstruction’ since 2002, most on building new security sector institutions and maintaining Afghan forces.
According to independent research, the US Department of Defence and the State Department spent $978 billion on the Afghan war between October 2001 and by the end of 2019. Only $36 billion of this has supported governance and development in Afghanistan.
Yet, the Afghan government and its institutions remain heavily dependent on external aid. This will not change even if the Taliban take over or become part of a future government.
In 2018, World Bank estimates showed that Afghanistan drew some 40 per cent of its GDP from international aid.
Unsurprisingly, Afghans fear that the troop withdrawal will translate into reduction in US funding for Afghanistan, as was the case when the bulk of US-led NATO troops left the country in 2014.
Any substantial reduction in aid will be catastrophic for the fragile health, education, local governance and other public sector programmes, and will directly affect ordinary Afghan lives.
More ominously, external money has been instrumental in buying the loyalty of factions within the country through a neo-patrimonial system that has hampered successive Afghan administrations over the past two decades.
Patronage has become a key tool to manage divergent elite loyalties, ethnic qualms and local interests. This patronage system is at the heart of astounding levels of corruption.
Afghanistan is ranked 165 globally on Transparency International’s index for 2020. There are many reasons that Americans and Europeans did not bother to counter this, but it was mainly because these same elements were seemingly supporting the military objectives of the US in the war on terror.
An absence of aid will disrupt the patronage system, especially among armed anti-Taliban elements.
This will have unintended consequences as the fragmentation it will produce could result in competition and violence over any remaining resources.
Secondly, the troop withdrawal could – by default – lead to a decrease in the political and diplomatic commitment by the US and other NATO countries to support a settlement between the Taliban and the Afghan government.
President Joe Biden’s announcement of an unconditional and full military withdrawal from Afghanistan before the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in September 2021 is not a source of optimism for those who wanted to see a ‘conditions-based’ withdrawal of American troops.
Washington is clearly keen to see America’s ‘forever war’ come to an end as swiftly as possible.
In the absence of American influence in the political process, the Taliban and Afghan government could increase attacks on each other significantly increasing the risk of violence faced by civilians.
Thirdly, a heedless military withdrawal will pave the way for a regional proxy war in Afghanistan.
This would result in a civil war, and not one Afghan faction being able to control the situation.
The vacuum would be an ideal incubator for violent extremist groups to regroup and grow, including the Taliban.
Whatever the outcome of US actions, one thing is clear: just as the decision to invade Afghanistan in 2001 had nothing to do with Afghan lives, the past three US presidents have changed America’s military course in Afghanistan without any regard for the Afghans.
For millions of Afghans who put their trust in the world’s superpower, the feeling of abandonment is palpable.
—The writer is an author of ‘2020 & Beyond’ and teaches International Political Affairs.