Terrorism, Imperialism, and the Afghan Quagmire
Inarguably, while studying contemporary world history, one of the most notable events impacting global politics would be 9/11: the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the World Trade Center of New York City in the United States, conducted by Wahhabi Islamist terrorist group Al-Qaeda. Occurring during the George W. Bush presidential administration, 9/11 was the catalyst for the ongoing war on terrorism – an ongoing, militaristic, counterterrorism campaign launched by the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). In only the first 100 days of the war, the Bush administration performed many feats demonstrating conquest over the Greater Middle East.
At the time, the Taliban was recognised as the primary perpetrator of terrorism in the Afghan region. As the US Department of State proclaims, the United States “helped the innocent people of Afghanistan recover from the Taliban’s reign of terror”, quotes reeking of irony following the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. Due to high levels of civilian displacement, cost, and lack of diplomacy, US anti-war critics have asserted for years that the war on Afghanistan has been exploited by participating governments. Long-standing policy objectives, reduction of civil liberties, and infringement upon human rights is central to current destruction.
On 3 AM, July 2, 2021, the US’s twenty-year war on the Taliban ended in humiliating Western defeat as NATO troops pulled out of the Bagram Air Base without notifying Afghan government forces meant to replace them. Upon their departure, an army of Taliban-aligned looters invaded the base, a symbol suitable for the catastrophic bloodshed the 21st-century US occupation over Afghanistan has caused. The withdrawal concluded months ahead of the Joe Biden administration’s initial promise of withdrawal by September. Last year in Doha, Qatar, a feigned peace agreement was signed between the former Trump administration and the Taliban, in which the US ceded to all the latter’s demands. Without stable defence forces, Afghanistan is now an apocalyptic dystopia, controlled by the same Taliban fighters George Bush pledged to crush in 2001. Afghanistan is hurtling towards yet another civil war, and a solution must be declared urgently to rescue civilians.
The corrupt central Kabul government in Afghanistan is currently led by President Ashraf Ghani, and as estimated by US intelligence agencies at the end of June, around six months remain until the government is overthrown by the Taliban. Furthermore, Afghan masses disapprove of Ghani, deeming him to be a puppet for Western imperialism due to his past cooperation with the US. Hence, the central government doesn’t hold authority over unlawful activities. Between April 13 up to present day, FDD’s Long War Journal reports that the Taliban has taken control of 38 of 407 Afghan districts, nearly 10% of the country. Essential IT infrastructure is being destroyed by Taliban fighters, with cities losing Internet connection and 28 telecommunication antennas being destroyed over the country, recorded by Afghan Telecom Regulatory Authority (ATRA) in June. Further atrocities will be reported as the situation proceeds.
US military propaganda dictates that the US is faultless, or pulled out their troops for no other reason besides Taliban pressures. In reality, the US lost Afghanistan over its two-decade colonial occupation, which kindled fierce opposition from Afghan civilians. Brown University’s Watson Institute estimates 175,000 Afghan civilians died because of the US war on Afghanistan. If Afghans who passed away as a result of deteriorated social conditions were also included, the casualties would rise higher. Additionally, in the past five years, the number of US airstrikes killing people in Afghanistan rose 330%. Apart from US airstrikes, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has collaborated with Afghan paramilitary groups responsible for the extrajudicial killing of citizens, conduction of night raids, and illegal detention of innocents, stated by the United Nations mission report in 2019. Afghanistan became the US’s longest war, regarded as unwinnable even under ideal scenarios.
“Those who came here 20 years ago in the name of fighting extremism and terrorism not only failed to end it but, under their watch, extremism has flourished. That is what I call failure.” Hamid Karzai, the former Afghan president
A sacrifice of this degree required reasoning, so explanations were presented to the media. America vowed to end terrorism once and for all – another vow left unfulfilled as the Taliban rises once more. The US considered itself a saviour, alleviating the appalling suffering of Afghan people, donating humanitarian aid. In total, the US spent $143 billion on Afghan reconstruction, but none of the finances went to civilians, as the Economic Times in April 2021 counted. The cash instead went to the pockets of the central government, a corrupt kleptocracy. US interventionist efforts are therefore a fraud. After 20 years of alleged US aid, Afghanistan ranks 169 out of 189 in the UN’s Human Development Index. Afghanistan is not the first time human aid was utilised as an excuse for military intervention, and it won’t be the last. From Iran and Iraq to Cuba and Haiti, history has shown that one intervention leads to another. Foreign intervention is never the answer. A lack of knowledge about local cultural issues, especially from a global superpower, leads to poor decision-making where special forces travel across the world to shoot someone without questioning the complete story.
Truth is being concealed; the genuine motive of war was not welfare but the development of the corporate oligarchy. The American presence in Afghanistan gave pause to Iranian aggression in the West and Chinese expansionism in the East. Lt. Col. David Lukey of the US Army Special Forces noted withdrawal from Afghanistan would give China the window to undermine US military intervention. Countries strategise military forces to gain access to what is considered the second largest reserve of petroleum and natural gas in the world, as mentioned by the United States Geological Survey. Today, the U.S.'s rival imperialist nations – Britain, France, Germany, Russia – all scheme to get into the country through diplomacy and long-term stationing of troops. Further, the U.S. has to keep the leaders of Pakistan, India, China, and Iran from using Afghanistan as a battleground for their conflicts. Iran, Russia, and China all following their narrow interests, want to stabilise Afghanistan. They desire the stability of a new regime that is friendly to their needs. As always, people’s lives are not the focal point of interest, but rather the principle of divide and conquer.
Afghanistan is losing patience. The Taliban is not waiting for the outcome of steady intra-Afghan talks; they have already claimed multiple cities. US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, called for a political settlement between the Taliban, neighbouring countries, and average citizens in an interview with The Hindu on July 17. He condemned any military solutions since military costs are unaffordable and peace will not be achieved. Regardless of what high-level diplomats say, Afghans must receive the opportunity to decide how they will be governed. The aims of the US ruling classes do not stand for the interest of ordinary Afghans abroad, they stand for geopolitical domination. Given the region’s worsening conditions, mass struggles against imperialism are inescapable.
The white, Western perspective does not view terrorism as the threat, instead they understand “the other” to be a threat. Political sycophants like Ashraf Ghani or the Afghan upper-class are accepted by the US since they behave in alignment with American values, and are given the offer for future peace treaties. Meanwhile, the impoverished who stand in opposition are either demonised as terrorists or relegated to a kinder role, where they are helpless children being photographed with pity by journalists. Media parades around news headlines screeching “Afghanistan is facing a humanitarian crisis and it’s up to us to help,” never pointing out the blatant facts: Western assistance is why Afghanistan is approaching the brink of destruction in the first place. In truth, defeating the Taliban is likely a lesser priority compared to maintaining hegemonic control of political narratives where “the other” is lower in ranking than imperialist countries. The Taliban will be defeated by poor, native Afghans, or the Taliban will not be defeated at all; in fact, they will be endorsed by diplomats to “keep the peace”.
A government must be recreated in Afghanistan by Afghans which stands for the fundamental rights of all citizens, reflects population diversity, and centres those most affected by war. Historically, Afghans were never allowed the opportunity to form an integrated nation – they were consistently torn apart by warlords and contrasting ethnic groups, thus they are in desperate need of support. Afghanistan must seek an international solution, incorporating the needs of all countries relying on it. The working classes dying at the hands of the Taliban and US military should be given a voice, not those who care for nothing but advancing the political standing of their respective countries. Misery and destitute poverty of the masses need to be alleviated through a new social system. Liberate Afghanistan from the game of “hot potato” imperialist countries play, where the livelihoods of Afghans are toyed with. Most importantly, end violence by Western powers. End the war on terror.
“How can you have a war on terrorism when the war itself is terrorism?” Howrd Zinn, American historian and activist
Written by Eshal Zahur
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