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The Financial Express

Afghanistan: The failed US imperial project


-Reuters file photo -Reuters file photo

The victory of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the speed of their success caught the world by surprise. The pretense of  "war on terror" was the overriding motto of the invasion leading to the occupation of Afghanistan by the US. This has become a mantra and readily deployed whenever the US needed to pick up a defenseless a small country and throw it against the wall. The US history has been defined by war, mostly illegal and unjustified.

Afghanistan is just one example among many of such wars on terror. On the 20th anniversary the invasion leading to the occupation of Afghanistan on the pretext of waging the war on terror, is now marked by the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan and the return of the Taliban to Kabul. The US invasion and occupation of Afghanistan have been a complete disaster at every level. In fact, Afghanistan's rapid collapse is part of a long, slow US defeat.

President Joe Biden did not  accept any responsibility on behalf of his country for the horrendous war, and blaming the defeat on a cowardly Afghan army not willing to fight for the US sponsored Afghan government. Instead, he used the rationale to leave Afghanistan on the need to fight the "terror threat"  in many other places rather than keeping thousands troops concentrated in just one country. The US' longest war in fact moved through seven administrations since 1978 and is expected to be over by the end of this month, not four presidents as claimed by President Joe Biden.

Zbigniew Brzezinski, the fanatically anti-communist and moral extremist national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter in 1978 initiated the policy of fomenting Islamist insurgency labelled as the Mujahadeen against the Soviet backed  regime in Kabul to give Moscow its "own Vietnam". And at the same time to spread Islamic fundamentalism in Central Asia to  destabilise and eventually destroy the Soviet Union. Carter's own alternative to Soviet communism was Saudi Wahhabi fanaticism for Afghanistan. 

In July 1979, President Jimmy Carter authorised, then not known to Congress and the American people, a US$500 million "covert action" programme to overthrow Afghanistan's progressive secular government. The Mujahadeen were dominated by a group called the Northern Alliance composed of ethnic groups in the North Easter part of Afghanistan. This alliance was under the full control of war lords who controlled the heroine trade  and terrorised rural Afghans, in particular rural women.

The US encouraged, armed and funded Mujahadeen (Brzezinski used to call them stirred-up Muslims) turned  not only against the modern secular regime in Afghanistan but also girls' education. Under the secular regime women in Afghanistan achieved significant gains so much so that half the university students were women and women made up 40  per cent of country's doctors, 70 per cent of school teachers and 30 per cent of public servants. All those gains were just wiped clean with the  ascendency of the Mujahadeen.

The invasion of Afghanistan by the US and its foreign legion NATO in the wake of September 11 attack was a complete fraud. Afghanistan did not attack the US. 15  attackers out of 19 were Saudis, not a single Afghan was among the attackers. The 9/11 attack was funded and executed by Saudi militants outraged by the presence of US troops on the "holy" land.

President George W. Bush responded to the 9/11 attack by  declaring a "war on terror".  Thus begins the "war on terror" as a conduit to endless wars moving onto  Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen and Somalia. A country immersed in militarism and exceptionalism,  now this attack  provided a perfect opportunity to show its military might once again and open a new front for waging a war in Afghanistan as a prelude to attacking other weaker and vulnerable countries in the Middle- East.  

According to the Guardian, US troops killed Afghan civilians for sport and collected fingers as trophies. The  reports of war crimes committed by Australian and British troops highlight that Afghanistan, indeed, was turned into a killing field.

Western violence, to quote from cultural anthropologist Talal Asad, is always presented as unintentional and rational, despite murderous trail, and its overarching intent is always just.

The US does not flinch from committing mass murder on people it considers as its enemies. The human  costs of the war for  the Afghans are catastrophic.  Official data while massively under-reported claim that 164,436 Afghans were killed in the war and thousands wounded.

The Afghan causalities are the result of indiscriminate bombing by B-52 bombers, reaper drones and AC-130 gunships as well as by Afghan militias (death squads) trained, funded and armed by the CIA, private militias commanded by criminal war lords and their victims are mostly rural people which included women and children.

Afghan collaborators euphemistically called "interpreters" ( Interpreters role as collaborators goes back to Caesar's conquest of Gaul)  also played a major role in committing these war crimes.

The Taliban were an ultra-puritanical faction within the Mujahadeen, mostly composed of ethnic Pashtuns, the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan. They punished banditry, rape and murder but banished women from public life. The Taliban are definitely misogynistic but they are also offering Afghans now, especially Afghan women hope, peace and stability.

The austere and ultra-puritanical Taliban over time have spread their roots among war-weary Afghan people. No wonder Afghans welcomed the Taliban into Kabul without a fight. Both the army and the police just stood aside. There seemed to be a party celebrating the US withdrawal.

According to the Daily Mail, former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country as the Taliban reached the capital Kabul  on August 15, with US$169 million in cash stuffed in helicopter ( An economic commentator described it as "helicopter money out of Afghanistan")  and now has been granted asylum in Dubai on "humanitarian grounds".

It was not only the corrupt Afghan elite propped up by the US occupation army were on the take, but also US military and CIA contractors with no bid contracts were  pocketing a massive amounts of the war money. 

According to the  New York Times (August 15), the war cost the US more than $2 trillion. But according to the Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction, the US spent US$145 billion on Afghan reconstruction, while it spent US$837 billion on war. So, the total money spent on conducting the war and Afghan reconstruction was US$982 billion, of which 14.8 per cent was spent on Afghan reconstruction.  A very large chunk of that Afghan reconstruction money was stolen by the Afghan elite closely associated with the US or more precisely Afghan clients of the US.

The war in Afghanistan, we are again told by the NYT, after achieving the primary objective of denying sanctuary to Al Qaeda evolved into a two decade long nation building project guided by the "enduring American faith in the values of freedom and democracy".

There is an implicit recognition in this view  of the NYT that the US military occupation and violence can  be justified on the ground that it helped Afghanistan to be a democratic state and  enabled women to be liberated to enjoy equal rights. Mahmoud Mamdani, the Ugandan academic, author and political commentator labelled such intentions as "an assertion neo-colonial domination".

The US itself is facing a crisis of democracy (or more precisely plutocracy) at home. We have seen how US sanctions and demonisation of  Hamas made it almost impossible for them to run government in Israeli occupied Palestine after winning a fair and free election.  

In Afghanistan, the US  engineered "democratic" regime in Kabul amounted to a political zero. The regime's survival depended on the US military presence and support. Once that support was withdrawn, the regime just collapsed.

The US corporate media  claim that during the violent 20 years of US occupation of Afghanistan, great advancements were made by Afghan women, especially in education. This claim is not entirely true. According to the National Statistics and Information Authority (NSIA) of Afghanistan, 84 per cent of Afghan women are illiterate and only 2 per cent of women have access to higher education.

 In fact, educational opportunities leading to successful completion of an educational pathway still remains a preserve of very select few in Afghanistan who constitute a small elite artificially propped up by the West and they do not belong to the masses. The Afghan experience has definitely shown us that it is almost impossible to bomb feminism into the social and political consciousness of a country.

What is surprisingly missing is that the US corporate media never mentioned the enormous pain and suffering  including death inflicted upon  women by the Afghan war and also  through the devastating social collapse caused by the US invasion and occupation.

The decision by many women including many feminists both in the West and Afghanistan including Nobel Laureate Malala Yusufzai to side with the US occupation for the "liberation of women" in Afghanistan is quite astounding to say the least. During this violent twenty years period, countless Afghan men have been tortured, disappeared and summarily executed. All of them were sons, brothers, husbands, and fathers of distraught women who will not forget or forgive the actions of the occupying forces and their local collaborators.

George W. Bush, former US president and war criminal whose " war on terror" led to the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan 20 years ago, now bemoans and warns that Afghan women and girls would suffer "unspeakable harm" due to the  US troops departure from Afghanistan. It is very ironic indeed to hear that,  because the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan by the US caused terrible harm to the women and girls of the country.

Also,  the US' strategic partner in South Asia and the close collaborator of the US efforts in "nation building" in Afghanistan, India is also deeply concerned about the future of Afghan women if one goes by what are being churned out by both Hindutva dominated far right as well as  Nehruvian Congress oriented liberal print and visual media.

It is also equally ironic because according to a global perception poll carried out by Thomson Reuters Foundation, a charity, which surveyed 558 experts on women's issues in 2018 in order to assess nations on overall safety for women. The survey results (2018) put India as the most dangerous country for women in the world ranking it as no. 1 just ahead of Afghanistan (no. 2) followed by Syria, Somalia and Saudi Arabia. 

The Taliban won its political  legitimacy through armed struggle. But now on the way to govern the country it has declared that it would form an "inclusive"  Islamic government which one would expect to include women and Shi'ites along with representatives from other ethnic groups over and above the Pashtuns.

A general amnesty has been declared for all including those who actively collaborated with the occupation forces. Now it is time to wait and see how the Taliban-led governing system evolves in Afghanistan once the 31st August deadline expires for the US to withdraw its troops.

The US is leaving Afghanistan a devastated country without a single achievement. Similar scenarios are also very visible in other Arab countries like Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen.

While the 42 year phase of the war is coming to a close, the US has already put in place the next phase of the war against Afghanistan in operational mode. The US is now in the process of deploying what is called "Hybrid War" tactics to discredit and destabilise a government that is not yet even formed and has not even started to function. No wonder the Chinese media describes the US as a "strategic rogue".

This new war in Afghanistan will also be a silent war, an economic war with sanctions and debt weapons as devastating as  the US "humanitarian bombing" with cluster bombs, helicopter gunships and drones. Already the US has frozen US$9.4 billion of the Afghan Central Bank's foreign reserve and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has suspended US$46 million emergency reserves to Afghanistan. The aftereffects of such measures will certainly inflict much more miseries and deaths than the hot war  of the last 20 years.  

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