What have the West accomplished in Afghanistan?

Anti-war activist, Rabia Khan describes the state of Afghanistan 12 years after the US-led invasion.

2014 will mark the start of the withdrawal of NATO combat troops from Afghanistan, twelve years after the war against Al Qaeda and the Taliban began, in the autumn of 2001.

Many explanations were given as to why the invasion of Afghanistan was necessary – from the necessity of finding and punishing the perpetrators of 9/11, to liberating Afghan women and eradicating the opium trade. Time and again politicians and the media tried to legitimise the war in the eyes of the public.

We were told in the weeks following 9/11 that the invasion was an act of self-defence by George W Bush and his administration; they stressed that it was not was a retaliatory move. Whether the invasion was legally or morally justified is a lengthy and time consuming affair, but whether it has been a success can be determined by the facts.

Victory or defeat?

There seems to be little in the way of positive things to say about the perceived “accomplishment” of the invasion. Yes, the Taliban’s grasp on power in Afghanistan’s major cities is dwindling, and in these cities there is more freedom available to women who would otherwise be confined to their homes. In these cities we find that there is a greater opportunity for girls to pursue an education than elsewhere in the country, but unfortunately this is where all commendation of NATO’s endeavours end.

There has been an exponentially sharp rise in the production of opium, even though efforts have been made to offer “subsidies” to farmers who refrain from producing opium. This is hardly an appealing offer if the yield of opium and the optimum climate in Afghanistan provides for its cultivation is taken into consideration, as well as the vast profit that can be made from it.           

The Taliban’s hold on the south has also been hard to remove. British forces have suffered severe causalities in both Kandahar and Helmand provinces recently, and in Herat province the Taliban still have a lofty presence. One could argue that the whole operation has been in vain seeing as Bin Laden was killed almost ten years after the invasion of Afghanistan, not in the Hindu Kush Mountains between Afghanistan and Pakistan which was where US intelligence thought he was hiding, but rather in a quiet and scenic area of northern Pakistan.

Similarly, now that the US is intent on dialogue with the Taliban, it begs the question were such draconian steps necessary in combatting extremism in the first instance? And if this is added to Al Qaeda’s ever-growing presence in Yemen, Syria and the Maghreb, the whole operation seems futile.

State of Afghanistan

However, lambasting the invasion itself won’t do much to solve problems on the ground for the average, working Afghan. Afghanistan is still one of the world’s most impoverished nations and it has one of the highest numbers of internally and externally displaced refugees. The level of literacy is still extremely low and the country ranks high on global corruption indexes.

But funnelling funds into the country in the form of aid projects won’t rectify these problems, if the methods used to do so are not significantly altered. There needs to be a transparent and accountable body through which funds are collected and distributed, with every penny being noted, as to ensure that aid is benefiting those who genuinely need it. The international community also needs to put more pressure on the head honchos in Kabul so that those in a position of authority are not abusing their power.

Afghans themselves also need to make a concerted effort to form a unified Afghanistan, where a Pashtun is not superior over an Uzbek, and nor an Uzbek over a Hazara. Ahmad Shah Massoud was a former military leader, mujahideen commander and ethnic Tajik who sought a united Afghanistan. This mind-set needs to be at the forefront of Afghan politicians and high-ranking military personnel so that all Afghans are considered an integral part of Afghanistan and feel a sense of belonging and brotherhood, which will go a long way in preventing another bloody civil war, like that of the 90s which ravaged the country.

Having noted the above, it is very simple to just write off Afghanistan as a “failed state”, without contextualising the reasons as to why the country is in turmoil. However, it is essential to analyse these reasons in order to understand which mechanisms should be implemented to allow Afghanistan and its people to flourish.

If the years of colonialist meddling, attempted land grabbing, insincerity from neighbouring countries and corruption within the Afghan establishment are also considered and acknowledged as contributory factors to blame for Afghanistan’s current state, it becomes easier to comprehend why Afghanistan is still finding its feet and struggling to blossom into the free and prosperous country its people long for it to be.







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