Crisis demands engagement - not isolation
“In the West, in the international community at large, we have to ask ourselves if military interventions are suitable to export a form of government which we prefer. This was not successful in Afghanistan … This is why we have to draw the necessary lessons that … military interventions are not suited to export a specific form of government. We need to think about the purposes and also the duration of military interventions.”
With these words German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas summed up the lesson the US-led West hopefully learns from the ignominious exit from Afghanistan in the witching hours of August 31, 2021. The date is now etched in history as the culmination of a foreign intervention that began as a revenge campaign for the twin-tower attacks on September 11, 2001 but drifted into a haphazard and deeply corrupt nation-building project in a country largely governed by conservative tribal culture.
American commanders and officials either completely failed to understand these aspects of Afghan reality or failed to report them honestly to their bosses in Washington, the Congress, and the public at large.
When Mass made these remarks, he resonated what the British academic Anatol Lieven (TW @LievenAnatol), a senior research fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft and the author of Pakistan: A Hard Country has been saying for long.
Leiven told me in a virtual interview, “American commanders and officials either completely failed to understand these aspects of Afghan reality or failed to report them honestly to their bosses in Washington, the Congress, and the public at large”.
He also placed the larger part of the blame for the shift from counter-terrorism to nation-building project on major European allies. Most European officials knew nothing or little about Afghanistan’s socio-cultural dynamics.
“The US embarked on the mission as revenge but the rest of the west committed itself to nation-building in order to please Washington,” Lieven said. They were pathetically desperate to keep American committed to the defense of Europe.
Even an EU official, an old friend, told me in Kabul in early 2021 that all major European countries were there only for the sake of the US not out of commitment to democracy. European countries were there to convey to the Americans that they were helping them under NATO’s Article 2 (1)
It was not only the American anxiety for revenge and the European need to appease the US, but also the lack of the socio-cultural context of that country. Most importantly, top officials hardly realized the monster that their lust for vengeance and a brutal counter-terror mission created: a massive corruption nexus through the tens of thousands of US and European security contractors in cahoots with successive Afghan regimes.
Did anybody ask as to where those trillions ($$$) went?
US Joe Biden in his July 14 speech spoke of $2.6 trillion expense since late 2001. Europeans spent more or less the same. Did anybody ask as to where those trillions went, where are they sitting right now?
The only voice warning against the financial fraud and waste was that of the US Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) John Sopko, who ripped apart the US engagement in Afghanistan since late 2001 as a mission built on over-ambitious plans, shifting goalposts, and misreporting of facts on ground by the military.
"We exaggerated, over-exaggerated. Our generals did. Our ambassadors did. All of our officials did, to go to Congress and the American people about 'We're just turning the corner.' … "We turned the corner so much, we did 360 degrees. We're like a top", he said to VOA in late July of this year.
Like Lieven, Sopko also laid into the US for having failed to understand the Afghan context. Ignorance of prevailing social, cultural, and political contexts in Afghanistan has been a significant contributing factor to failures at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels, he said at a Pentagon gathering.
SIGAR also concluded in one of its reports that less than 2% of the entire US spending on Afghanistan’s reconstruction reached the Afghan people in the form of basic infrastructure or poverty-reducing services.
Jeffery D. Sachs, an American economist, academic, public policy analyst and former director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University, opined the following in August this year, based on Sopko’s reports:
“In short, less than 2% of the US spending on Afghanistan, and probably far less than 2%, reached the Afghan people in the form of basic infrastructure or poverty-reducing services. The US could have invested in clean water and sanitation, school buildings, clinics, digital connectivity, agricultural equipment and extension, nutrition programmes, and many other programmes to lift the country from economic deprivation. Instead, it leaves behind a country with a life expectancy of 63 years, a maternal mortality rate of 638 per 100,000 births, and a child stunting rate of 38%.”
The entire indifference to the socio-political context and the massive corruption led to the misunderstandings on the resilience of the Afghan national army and as well as a misplaced confidence in a reticent, self-serving Ashraf Ghani. The biggest misplaced assumption was that the government machinery at the highest level was committed and competent. In reality, it largely comprised corrupt people with dual nationalities or permanent residences abroad.
In the end, Pakistan came to the rescue of over 10,000 US, British and German soldiers, INGO workers, and their “allies/assets” and flew them into Islamabad’s safety.
The subsequent meltdown is more than ample proof of the aforementioned.
Following the fall of Kabul, the US and UK have also caused an indirect brain drain by offering free flights to educated Afghans (assets and allies). These big nations should not - for their own failures – punish (or worse, forget) the rest of over 30 million Afghans.
Ironically, the US-led West, kept scapegoating the consequences of astronomical corruption by US and Afghan contractors plus officials as well as operational failures on Pakistan, with a 2,611 km long border.
In the end, Pakistan came to the rescue of over 10,000 US, British and German soldiers, INGO workers, and their “allies/assets” and flew them into Islamabad’s safety. It also paved the road to Doha with all it could. Unfortunately, Ghani and some of his associates stalled the entire process.
In retrospect, one can safely say that no body appeared to listen to SIGAR – John Sopko – who raised the alarm about financial misappropriations and wasteful expenditures at the cost of the American taxpayer since 2012. This has had harrowing impact on the entire socio-political and security edifice that the US and allies believed to had built as part of their nation-building experiment.
Now, any western effort to withhold humanitarian or financial assistance to impoverished Afghans will only be a disservice to the ideals the West preaches in the developing nations.
Sanctions and geo-politically motivated restrictions to the disregard of a broad-based political dispensation – as being promised by the Taliban together with veterans such as Hamid Karzai, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, Gulbudin Hekmetyar, Rasool Sayyaf, and Yunus Qanooni, will negate the long-held notion of ‘majority is authority’.
A war-battered and corruption-ridden Afghanistan needs active engagement and economic connectivity, not sanctions, ignorance, or indifference.
- The Parties will contribute toward the further development of peaceful and friendly international relations by strengthening their free institutions, by bringing about a better understanding of the principles upon which these institutions are founded, and by promoting conditions of stability and well-being. They will seek to eliminate conflict in their international economic policies and will encourage economic collaboration between any or all of them.