Who Messed Up Afghanistan?

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The tragic breakdown of governmental machinery in Kabul and the Taliban’s ascendency cannot entirely be reported as something that happened over night; rather, it was the outcome of a long process. The cold remiss toward the Afghan National Army, Police and Security forces by the US and its allies, as well as the Kabul administrations, gave birth to serious structural problems in the institutions and led to their tragic fall. The corrupt Kabul administrations and the support of the support they received from the US caused serious governance crises. The Taliban filled that gulf as they were reportedly welcomed across the country, with the exception of a few areas. However, they will come across a plethora of challenges whose solutions would demand them to show flexibility and adopt a positive approach. The international community must play a positive role in bringing peace to Afghanistan, and can start by providing humanitarian assistance. The Taliban will have to improve governance, build confidence and trust among their people and abroad by promoting their soft image, which might be made easier by forming an inclusive government.

The Role of the US and its Allies.    There is a plethora of literature which has uncovered the parochial nature of the American mission in Afghanistan. The US backed the Mujahideen against the Soviet Union in the 1980s, and after the latter’s withdrawal, abandoned Afghanistan, thereby paving the way for a devastating civil war that left Afghanistan in tatters. Following 9/11, the US landed in Afghanistan to counter terrorism and cut off the roots of al-Qaeda for its alleged involvement in the attack on the World Trade Center. The new US assignment in Afghanistan was also aimed at installing democracy and preserving human rights in Afghanistan. Geo-strategically, Washington was planning on staying in the region.

The US relied on ill-advised policies like relying upon the reinstatement of the local warlords to win against the Taliban till 2005, followed by the increase in troops by Obama and the withdrawal of NATO forces in 2014. The US never intended to form an inclusive government in Afghanistan, and supported a puppet regime there. Nation-building and reconstruction were totally set aside.  The country’s administrations were reported to have indulged in massive corruption, nepotism and power politics, which thrust Afghanistan into a serious governance crisis and compelled the common Afghan to welcome any kind of change in the power corridors to improve living standards. James Dobbins, a former US Special Envoy for Pak-Afghan, and V. Falbab-Brown, a senior research fellow at the Brooking Institution, both espouse this view. The US also ignored the institutional building of Afghan National Defense and Security Forces.

Henry Kissinger brings the United States of America under scrutiny for the abstract military and political objectives of its Afghan mission in ‘Why America Failed in Afghanistan’. Zahid Husain quotes the conversation between Gen. Ashfaq Parvaz Kyani the then COAS, with US Gen David Petraeus about the strategy of the US and its allies in Afghanistan in his book ‘No-Win War: The Paradox of Pak-US Relations in Afghanistan’s Shadow’; the US and its allies were found with no concrete strategy for their Afghan assignment. Finally, the hasty withdrawal of foreign troops actually paved the way for the return of the Taliban to Kabul.

Incompetent Kabul Administrations.  The well-known work ‘Why Nations Fail’ unequivocally categorizes Afghanistan as a backward and failed state by virtue of its centralized authority, extractive economic and exclusive political institutions. Institutional corruption, nepotism and political interference caused a serious governance crisis where services delivery remained a day dream as the country had been ranked 169 out of 189 at HDI 2020. The former US Ambassador Michael McKinley holds the various Kabul administrations responsible for today’s Afghanistan, as he writes in ‘We All Lost Afghanistan’ since they all accorded top-most priority to remain in power. They left an indelible record of massive corruption, plundering, nepotism, political interference and power politics which furthered a widening crevice between the public and their representatives. Therefore, the common Afghan had a strong desire for the second coming to bestow them with good governance.

The Downfall of the Afghan Army.      The abovementioned reasons paved way for the dramatic failure of the Afghan military. According to the Ambassador McKinley, the indifference shown by the Kabul administrations, as well as the US and its allies toward the reformation of an organizational and administrative set up of the Afghan Army, compelled it to quickly surrender before the Taliban without much resistance. The ‘Reports on Progress Toward Security and Prosperity in Afghanistan’, issued separately in 2012, 2013 and 2017, uncovered the perceived and overt capability of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces to avert any danger facing them. A US intelligence briefing to Biden earlier this year warned of  the likely fall of the ANDSF against the Taliban. The institution faced serious structural problems which demoralized it, having fallen prey to corruption, bribery, nepotism and political interference. The forces were paid minimum salaries and were equipped with lesser military equipment, as reported by the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction. They lacked in proper training and were left totally dependent on the assistance of foreign troops. Thus, the ANDSF was doomed within hours soon after the gradual withdrawal of foreign troops and the appearance of Taliban across the country.

Resurgence of the Taliban.    The corrupt and exclusive Kabul administrations, the indifferent US and the structurally weak Afghan National Army reinforced the Taliban cause. In ‘Why the Taliban Won’, Vanda Felbab-Brown, a senior research fellow at the Brookings Institution, emphasized how the structural deficiency of the ANDSF and the poor-governance dilemma paved way for Taliban entry to Kabul. She states that the resurgence of Taliban dates back to the group’s occupation of Kunduz in 2015. Moreover, the Taliban reformed their disputed past by showing concern for international-cum-communal values and roles. The said outfit revamped its structure by making itself more inclusive for the different sections and factions of Afghan society. General amnesty was announced for all; women were seen in the streets protesting and the provision and protection of human rights have been promised. Geopolitically, they succeeded in acquiring the support of their neighbors, the regional stakeholders of the new great game who aim to pursue their respective geostrategic interests. Finally, the Taliban fully exploited the gap provided by the structurally fragile ANDSF, serious governance crises and the lack of effort by US and its allies toward Afghan reconstruction and nation-building, to enter Kabul. Zahid Hussain’s book criticizes the US for not taking the Taliban on board and for having repudiated Pervez Musharraf’s offer to invite the Taliban to the Bonn Conference.

Afghanistan an Ethnically Fragmented Society.   Today’s politically chaotic Afghanistan is somehow a replica of the 1990s when the country was in dire need of sincere leadership and administration. The ethnically diverse Afghan society, consisting of Uzbeks, Tajiks, Hazara and Pashtuns, among others, is yet to unite over a single point for a national cause. The recently closed episode of resistance by Ahmad Shah Masood’s group demanded the lion’s share in decision-making power. Afghanistan is also home to a number of minor or major militant outfits like the Islamic State of Khurasan Province and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, which may also disrupt the peaceful fabric of Afghanistan in case it is installed in the near future. External spoilers and manipulators also play upon the divided nature of Afghan society. In recent years, a demo of the power wrangling was observed in the Ghani-Abdullah Abdullah episode for making government in Kabul and the stalemate occurred in the intra-Afghan dialogue over power sharing. Most important has been the indifference of the US, as per Henry Kissinger in ‘Why America Failed in Afghanistan’, and of successive Afghan governments toward the fractious Afghan society.

The Role of the Regional Players.   China and Russia have been the key rivals to the US in the contemporary world order. The US-China rivalry pushed Beijing ahead to play a crucial role in regional and global geopolitics, thereby doing its level best to thwart any intentions of the US as to staying where it can infringe on Chinese interests. Therefore, China has been a key rival to US in this region. China also aspires towards a peaceful region for its growing economic interests under the BRI, especially for the investment it is making in Afghanistan and which might be impossible without a peaceful Afghanistan. Russia is the erstwhile Cold War rival to US and the present day resurgent force threatening the interests of the US beyond its borders. Iran, though a former supporter of the Northern Alliance in the civil war and still loyal to Shia community, supported the Taliban politically and diplomatically against the US. Pakistan, despite that fact that it has persistently been blamed for backing the Taliban, doubtless has  stakes in Afghanistan and, therefore, has been contributing to a peaceful future for the country in one way or the other. It is clear that while the aforementioned countries looked after their geostrategic interests in Afghanistan, they have given their best to bringing peace in Afghanistan, using the Troika plus one platform, different sittings at the ministerial level, and meetings of their intelligence agencies chiefs, among others. 

The fall of government in Kabul and the ascendance of Taliban is not an incident but the outcome of a long process. The US administration misconstrued ground realities and misjudged the Taliban’s potential, never paying heed to regional geopolitics. It channelized the Afghan Reconstruction Funds and other foreign assistance toward strengthening the footsteps of its puppets over Kabul. It totally ignored institutional and nation-building in Afghanistan, thereby contributing to the tragic fall of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces and the poor performance over all developmental indicators. Similarly, the various corrupted administrations in Kabul contributed well to today’s Afghanistan. Their interest was only in retaining power at any cost.

However, the new dawn of Taliban rule would hardly bring a bed of roses; rather it would be surrounded by mounting challenges: economic, political, social, national integration and international acceptance. They must follow a positive approach and must show flexibility to attain recognition from the international community and the trust of Afghans. The international community must give a chance to efforts aimed at the rise of a peaceful Afghan dawn, which would be in the best favor of regional and global peace. In this, the efforts of Pakistan for an inclusive government in Afghanistan must be supported not only by the Taliban, but also by the international community.

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About Abdul Samad Khan 4 Articles
Abdul Samad Khan

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