Swallowing Dust: How The West Failed Afghanistan – Labour Article
Talking about current affairs is a difficult task. In this myopic age of dystopia where hour by hour you can watch a terrorist insurgency destroy a country on your phone, it can be hard to gain perspective in the shifting sands of the news.
However, despite the recent developments of the Taliban sweeping across Afghanistan, effectively taking control of the entire country, there is more than enough history behind this conflict for a serious discussion about what went wrong. History is often divided into neat chapters, told like stories with beginnings and ends, but time doesn’t work that way. Conflicts spill over and continue to perpetuate misery even when attention is elsewhere.
On October 7th 2001 coalition forces formally started the ground war against the Taliban with a bombing campaign on the west of the country. Just a few months before I was born and 20 years later we got to witness the dream of a free Afghanistan die.
None of what we see today with the desperate fleeing countryside to the torrents of people falling off of the landing gears of US jets was inevitable. In fact, every step along the way was deliberately chosen, by people who either didn’t know or didn’t care.
From the same stretch of time from today to 2001 is the same stretch of time from 2001 to 1980, where the first Soviet troops crossed into Afghanistan. The Soviets marched southward at the request of the Socialist government, the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan, in order to deal with a loose confederation of rebels, the Mujahideen. The Socialist state had come around after a revolution to depose the country’s president. He had flamed ethnic tensions by favouring his own group, the Pashtuns. After the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan had tried to modernise by ending feudal landholdings, banning forced marriages and ensuring freedom of education for women. However, this was the 80s so anything left of Jimmy Carter wasn’t going to be tolerated by the west. What followed was dubbed operation cyclone, where the CIA would funnel almost $600 million a year through Pakistan secret services to the rebels. With most of the funding going to Islamic extremists such as Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. While Hekmatyar was a fundamentalist and the kingpin of a gigantic opium empire he was the go-to for western democracies, Gulf State monarchies and even the Chinese for support in the war against the Soviets.
What followed from 1979 – 1989 can only be described as utterly barbaric. Soldiers would wake up in the morning to find their comrades heads on spikes. Entire villages would be razed to the ground just in the hope of finding insurgents. Over the last 20 years of the west in Afghanistan, 47,000 civilians have lost their lives. Over the 10 years, the Soviets were in Afghanistan as many as 2 million civilians died.
While the Soviets eventually left and quietly imploded in private in the next couple of years, the Mujahideen became the first post-communist government but quickly collapsed when golden boy Hekmatyar tried to take the country for himself in 1992. In the ensuing chaos, Pakistan placed their money on an upcoming group, a group composed of many from Hekmatyar’s old posse as well as foreign legions all well funded and experienced from over a decade of constant war. The Taliban.
We went into Afghanistan after we demanded the Taliban hand over Bin Laden, which they offered to and we rejected.
What happens now? Well, the establishment has to find someone to blame, doesn’t it?
The problem with how the modern discussion is framed is that this was a “good” war that was going “well” until your political opposite of choice screwed everything up. However, this is a comfortable delusion that completely eradicates the knowledge that the presence in the country post 9/11 was a bipartisan effort and that western imperialism was the cause of the mess that we had to “fix” in the first place. With representative politics, the blame is among the individuals. Much like how liberals will quite happily call out Boris Johnson for his various porkeys but won’t question the party that fields unquestionable loyalty to him and the media that parrots everything he says.
Let’s be clear here: the hawks who would have us march boots in their tomorrows such as Theresa May and Nigel Farage are ignoring the horrific occupation we subjected the Afghan people to. Even though the Taliban had all but evaporated in 2001 the new corrupt western regime was more than happy to label their opponents as the group in order to dispose of them.
The Western back Afghan Local police routinely went around with impunity murdering civilians, looting and drug trafficking. We also backed local feudal warlords who we knew had sex slaves as young as 14. When civilians were killed by coalition forces by mistake only $1000 was paid to the families. Clearly the “global” Britain Theresa May wants is where this system never had to end.
Massacres, mass arrests, house raids and torture followed. Pro-government forces recruited children as soldiers, while the Afghan Local Police – a 30,000-strong pro-government militia mobilised by the US – murdered civilians, committed fraud, and engaged in theft, rape, kidnapping, drug trafficking, and extortion.
So this is how it ends? For any foreign policy experts reading, in the US government or not, the simple answer is that you cannot build a functioning nation off of arms sales and NGO goodwill. It’s a baffling situation that even as I write this I cannot wrap my head around. We thought we could tear into the heart of a millennia-old civilisation to retrieve one man and in its place, we could install a modern democracy. An utter farce, an idea that not even the people in charge believed could happen.
We sent soldiers to die. We sent weapons to kill innocents. They all died for wholly nothing. They died because the global network of imperialists collaborated with the manufacturers of war to enrich themselves. They died because our representatives withdrew as it was unpopular to stay. The greatest failure of representative democracy is that it shields us from thinking about the consequences of funding terrorism. It shields us from the consequences and failures of occupation. It shields all of us to such a degree that when an entirely new generation is in power they have no idea what they’re doing. Lastly, it shields the victims of this war, the Afghans, from seeking refuge in the imperial core, after all, we have done because for the demagogues in power: losing your family and your homeland to outside invaders is not a price high enough for the insultingly penurious benefits in this country.
The absolute bare minimum we could do is grant asylum for ALL of the Afghans we helped displace. Not 20,000 after we have already sent 15,000 back, every. Single. One. Just how we offered asylum to 2.5 million Hong Kongers. Or how we accommodated 28,000 Ugandan Asians, two of whom were Priti Patel’s parents. Anything less for the Afghans is an insult to every innocent we killed and every soldier we sent to die. While the politicians sit comfortably, the Afghans we bombed, occupied and threw to the dogs need OUR help while the country is still trying to raise itself back up on its one remaining leg.
Written by Senior Labour Writer Joseph McLaughlin
Point of Information
The West, the Soviets, and a Few Solutions – A Liberal Response
The 20-year-long Western occupation of Afghanistan has been a botched job Joseph’s article portrays this extremely well. There was little justification for staying in Afghanistan for as long as we did. More importantly, there was no real justification to intervene in the first place. Joseph is very right to say that it was delusional for any foreign nation to believe that they could rip apart an entire system and stitch it back together at will. Imagine if that had been done to us!
Even when we did decide to intervene in 2001, it was half-hearted. With Bush’s initial light-handedness tepidly turning into a full-blown operation, the Western occupation was off to a bad start. This was compounded by many significant blunders. Particularly the announcement of a withdrawal date, giving the Taliban sufficient time to recuperate and strike again. Whilst Western rule was cruel, it pales when compared to the atrocities the Taliban may commit.
Our 21st-century presence in Afghanistan was not only a crime but a poorly planned one at that. The old saying that a half-done job is worse than no job at all rings loud and strong.
But this tragedy did not start with ‘the West’ – unless we consider the USSR to be under this address too. Joseph undermines the unparalleled role the Soviet Union and the Communists played in destroying the region. The West only continued what they put in motion.
For starters, the Soviets were not simply acting on the behest of Amin and his autocratic Communist government. Whilst the USSR ostensibly entered Afghanistan to rid it of the Islamists, a mutual threat, they had an even bigger target: Hafizullah Amin himself. Since the country’s Communist Coup d’etat in 1973, the Kremlin had considered Amin to be a rogue and even dangerous leader. He was quickly assassinated in a war which spilt over to murder more than 2 million Afghanis, as Joseph importantly highlights. The Soviets, aiming to modify the system themselves, wished for Amin’s downfall just as much as the West did.
In fact, we could trace the problems of 1979 back to the 1973 Revolution, which was hardly contained to Afghanistan alone. Mohammed Shah and his gradual reformist government were ousted by Marxist zealots, potentially with Soviet assistance. Yet the PDPA’s radical agenda repulsed even the Soviets after a while, let alone the country’s rural Muslim population. If it were not for the ferocity of the PDPA, the threat of the Mujahideen with their demands may have been mitigated. Unlike the Communists, the deposed Shah was not only a modernizer – see the 1964 Constitution – but also a balancer. The Communists gambled too much, and lost it all in the process.
However, I thoroughly agree with Joseph and his solutions. It is clear that neither Western nor Soviet intervention was the answer. Instead, we must reform from within first if we wish to truly help the World.
Joseph is right about representative democracy. Many warlords, with their profits solely in mind, have been allowed to escape because of this system. Let’s make democracy more direct! Give the people the power! I have sung myself hoarse in advocating for MMPR, Citizens Assemblies, crowd-sourced apps, and participatory budgets. But until someone heeds the call, I will not relent.
We can also put our feet on the right path by accepting more refugees. However, we have to be sustainable about it. The capacity of our communities and the needs of the Afghan refugees should be considered carefully to ensure that both parties benefit. Importantly, we must resolve our housing crisis in the process. We need to provide fleeing Afghan refugees with true opportunities in Britain, free from crippling debt, xenophobia, and unannounced extradition.
Written by Chief Liberal Writer, Frank Allen
Afghanistan: an American failure – A Conservative Response
The war in Afghanistan couldn’t have gone much worse than it did, that much cannot be argued. I do find myself agreeing with Joseph on several of his points; leaving a country now run by the people that the whole purpose of the invasion was to destroy is a catastrophe. 456 British servicemen and women paid the ultimate price. Their families are only able to find solace in the notion that their son or daughter died for a worthy cause. Such comfort has now been ripped from under them, stolen by a collapse in Western occupation. It’s humiliating, it’s tragic. It’s almost unbelievably reminiscent of the last helicopter flying out of Saigon in 1975.
Indeed, it’s short-sighted to suggest blame should be placed entirely on the shoulders of the British government. The fault for the catastrophe of the past weeks should go no further than the front steps of the White House.
It was Trump who struck a deal with the Taliban. When they told him to jump he didn’t bother to ask how high. Filled solely with a desire to show off to the American electorate, Trump was willing to agree to anything so he could re-board Air-force one with a deal. So that he could be the one who ended a war in a place most Republicans couldn’t point to on a map.
Unfortunately for Biden, against intervention since before his Vice-Presidency, he was left in an impossible position. He had to now get out as soon as possible. But his total failure to predict the consequences is what has created this mayhem.
Fundamentally, NATO as an organisation is totally at the whim of American foreign policy. The imbalance of resources, money, and power is so biased towards Washington that, even if the British and other allies had so wished, they could never have maintained a presence in Afghanistan following American withdrawal. Once America decided they were done, it was happening for everyone. End of story.
I also contest Joseph’s point about “hawks” marching back in. Surely, he must admit that the last 20 years have been incalculably better for the people of Afghanistan than the rule of the Taliban or the Mujahadeen before? Girls were going to school, women were starting careers, people had rights. The last week has shown that the only thing holding Afghanistan together was the presence of the West.
The war in Afghanistan has been a disaster, mainly due to poor planning, horrendous corruption, and a catastrophic Western withdrawal. But what it has shown is that, sometimes, intervention does work. As large, rich, and powerful Western nations, our governments like to spend billions on visually spectacular. Yet with this capability comes responsibility: sometimes, we need to help those who cannot help themselves.
The loss of Afghanistan is an American failure, and one they will pay the price for. They have subjected themselves to immense international embarrassment. Their reputation is in tatters and even their closest allies will, undoubtedly, begin looking elsewhere. No one will want involvement with an America that has shown itself to not have shaken off its blind arrogance despite repeated (almost identical) failures, unable to learn crucial lessons, and still committed to the belief that it can impose a self-portrait of democracy in any and every country.
I pray for the people of Afghanistan and hope that the last 20 years have not been wasted. Despite the war, they have been shown a glimpse of what their country could be. Once the dust settles, I hope they use that to remove the Taliban and reintroduce themselves what has been taken away from them. And I hope the West will be ready to support them in that.
Written by Senior Conservative Writer, Alex McQuitty