The end of the American Raj and civilising mission in Afghanistan

Jahangir Mohammed, director of the Ayaan Institute, deconstructs the West’s failed civilising mission in Afghanistan and looks forward to a future where the Afghan people can enjoy peace, security, and a life free from poverty.

The U.S. and Western governments have evacuated their employees from Afghanistan ready to leave the country by August 31, after 20 years of occupation.

The UK government evacuated some 15,000 employees (including Afghans) and left around 1,000 employees behind, with some estimates putting the figure at 9,000.

Yet the withdrawal from Afghanistan, which foreign forces have had a longer time to prepare for than COVID-19, appears to have been an almighty mess and mismanagement.  A total abdication of responsibility for those the West employed to do their work.

In total around 160,000 employees linked to U.S./Western governments and management of the occupation of the country have been evacuated. Of these, around 109,000 have been evacuated by the U.S.

An American Raj

It is now clear there was in fact no real Afghan government and there were never 300,000 Afghan army soldiers.

There was never a government separate from the Western military occupying power. It was a fig leaf for what was in fact a military occupation and colonial government, with most Afghans being employed/paid by the West to run the country.

This administration was mainly limited to Kabul and one or two other cities. Ashraf Ghani and those fronting this colonial administration knew this reality and took their ill-gotten gains and left. Those in outer regions of the country simply handed over to the Taliban who had been in virtual control behind the scenes in much of these areas anyway.

President Ashraf Ghani. Editorial credit: Gints Ivuskans / Shutterstock.com

The Taliban’s rapid takeover simply exposed this reality – there was in much of the country no one to fight and takeover from once the U.S. and West had decided to withdraw their troops.

It is reminiscent of the British Raj (the military occupation of India) – the British employed native sepoys (soldiers) to control and fight their own people, and native princes, translators, informants, and functionaries working for them to administer the country.

This appears to be what has happened with the occupation of Afghanistan. There were locally employed Afghan sepoys and administrators, as well as co-opted tribal leaders and warlords.

The media cover up

We all know in times of heightened security and political crisis the media and politicians collude to create a unified narrative for domestic consumption. And they have this time colluded to prevent the truth of their occupation reaching their own people and audiences.

The media and politicians are calling these occupation employees “refugees” as part of deliberate propaganda for domestic confusion, to make it look like some benevolent act to rescue people from the Taliban, when in fact they are their own direct or indirectly paid employees.

Calling them refugees also has had a negative effect on their own local populations, as can be seen from the racist and hateful comments after articles in the mainstream media. Once again, the media have perpetuated anti-Islamic sentiments for their own political purposes with fake stories and narratives and hysteria about Afghanistan.

The same can be said for the constant focus on women’s rights, the Taliban and abuse of human rights and atrocities, fake or real. It is propaganda meant to justify to Western audiences that they were in fact liberating the Afghans, and the natives themselves messed it all up through corruption, whilst they did some good.

It is an attempt to prevent holding to account and questioning of their own failures, and justification for the losses of their own people and others, in the name of some noble cause.

Mission civilisatrice

It also resembles the civilising mission of past European colonial empires – the barbaric native “other” against the civilising forces of the Europeans. The Taliban and Afghan factions are portrayed as the evil and backward people and the West is needed to keep them in check, even to protect Afghan people.

Certainly in 42 years of bitter warfare in that country there will be very few who will come out with clean hands and not have committed atrocities. There are no angels, and there is real fear among people about what is to come, as there is in any war.

However, was there no fear, terror of human rights abuses when the mightiest power on earth, backed by many NATO countries, was dropping the most terrifying bombs on earth on Afghan people? Was there no fear and abuse of human rights when they were breaking the doors of families, taking Afghan women into custody at night in their night clothes, abusing men they had captured and hitting civilian targets with drones and planes?

British soldiers in Afghanistan. Editorial credit: timsimages.uk / Shutterstock.com

This of course is presented as justified because the West was fighting terror and on some civilising mission, especially to “liberate” women. But it is not liberation of women to kill their husbands, fathers, and sons, destroy their villages and send them to refugee camps in Pakistan and Iran, to a life of poverty and squalor coping on their own for decades.

Many have been taken in by this civilising narrative, sadly many Muslims too. Every past European colonial adventure was always justified by such a civilising mission propaganda, before military attack/occupation, during their rule, and when the invaders departed or were forced out.

Each European country had their own version of the civilising mission. The French had “mission civilisatrice,” Britain had Rudyard Kipling’s “white man’s burden,” the United States has the “our way life” and to spread “democracy, human rights, liberate women.”

21st century colonialism 

The occupation and withdrawal of Afghanistan has been no different from the past. In the 21st century we see politicians and media pumped up with “white man’s burden,” shedding crocodile tears for Afghanistan and its people, when in the last 20 years of terror, torture, rights abuses, and deaths, most have remained silent, never once questioning the mission, or what their troops and Afghan accomplices had been doing there.  Most never even uttered a word of concern in the UK Parliament.

The real motive for the U.S. and Western Afghan invasion was revenge for 9/11, and good old imperial opportunism and ambition. Instead of reverting to the rule of law and due process to deal with Osama Bin Laden and his followers, they visited the worst kind of revenge on Muslims collectively across the globe, all in the name of fighting terror and their civilising mission.

These Muslim countries were the lesser foreigners and brown people; they could just be collectively punished and slaughtered instead of bringing the accused and culprits to account. Few in the West would or did care. For the European politicians their lives were irrelevant and meaningless, nobody even bothered to count their dead.

9/11. Editorial credit: Anthony Correia / Shutterstock.com

What we have seen in Afghanistan is old-fashioned colonialism, and we have/are now witnessing the civilising mission justification for a retreating failed military occupation.

We have also witnessed the unfolding of what historians will one day call the American Raj. The Americans and their European government poodles in the West, who blindly follow them without question, are leaving in a couple of days.

The American Raj in Afghanistan is over. They have packed their bags and left in a hurry. They have taken their 150,000 local colonial administrators with them. The myth of an Afghan-led government and democracy has collapsed along with the American Raj before the eyes of the whole world.

No amount of women’s rights propaganda can hide it. It’s time for Western public opinion to hold their governments to account for their disasters and blind allegiance to the American Raj.

The Afghans are a fiercely independent people. They do not take kindly to foreigners telling them how to rule their country, live their lives, change their values, culture, and interpret their religion.

Many empires and invaders have tried and failed. It’s time we ended this civilising mission and stopped interfering in the affairs of the Afghan people. We need to let them run their own country the way they want, according to their own traditions.

The best that the rest of the world and especially Muslims can do is offer them brotherly advice, criticism when needed, but above all help them rebuild their broken country and lives, from poverty. Without any resources or reparations by two superpowers for the mayhem and destruction caused to the country and its people, that task will would challenge anyone who takes over the government.

The Afghan people deserve peace, security, and a life free from poverty, not a colonial civilising mission.

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