The US and ‘defeat’ in Afghanistan

Was the ‘fight against terrorism’ really Washington’s goal – or was the invasion in fact a smokescreen for other purposes, writes Asadullah Keshtmand, a former member of the central committee of the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan

These days almost everyone speaks of the US’s defeat in Afghanistan, but there is no single definition of failure.

In my opinion, although the defeat can be considered in merely military terms, this is not enough.

It seems to me that failure must be defined by whether or not the stated objectives were achieved.

If we accept that the US’s objective in coming to Afghanistan was really to fight terrorism, it should be stated that the current situation is indeed a failure.

However, such a war has not been waged so the question reverts to one of victory or defeat on the battlefield.

How can we accept that the same US that in 2001 managed to quickly rout the Taliban, has today been powerless against a lesser Taliban that was not able to bring any concerted fighting pressure to bear on the US?

Attention to a number of factors needs to be given, without which our picture of the current situation cannot be complete.

These factors stem from the US’s covert policy of turning Afghanistan into the convulsive and tense core destabilising the entire regions of central Asia and south-west Asia.

The question can legitimately be asked as to whether the US’s fight against terrorism was really the goal or was the invasion in fact a smokescreen for other purposes — if the US goal was to fight this type of terrorism, why did it not first target its main source in Saudi Arabia?

It can be seen that the pretext for fighting terrorism is inconsistent with the occupation of Afghanistan.

Moreover, it would be far from a leap to state that terrorism in the form of radical and fundamentalist Islamism was founded by the US itself — and that Afghanistan has been the ground for its implementation on a large scale since the end of the 1970s.

If the 20-year US-Nato military presence in Afghanistan is carefully assessed, one can conclude that there has been no real war between the Taliban and the US-Nato forces except for the very overthrow of the Taliban in 2001, and consequently no defeat of the US by the Taliban.

The Taliban’s “campaign” to defeat the US military is a fallacy used to justify the US’s 20-year presence in Afghanistan.

In fact, the Taliban have never been able to confront and strike the US. In all these years, the Taliban have largely resorted to sabotage operations and explosions away from major US and Nato centres.

Today, many in Afghanistan believe that the US’s effort to make the Taliban a credible alternative to the puppet government it had hitherto backed in Kabul led to the Taliban’s quick and effortless takeover of much of the country.

Thus, after all that has happened, one cannot speak of the defeat or failure of the US, but of a change in its policy in Afghanistan.

For many people around the world, especially the people of Afghanistan, the notion of the US’s fight against terrorism in Afghanistan is an unacceptable one — the US’s goal in Afghanistan never was about fighting terrorism.

On the contrary, the result of 20 years of US military presence in Afghanistan has been the unprecedented strengthening of terrorism and fundamentalism and its conversion from an irregular movement into an actual state.

If we question the stated US objective in Afghanistan, then we must show an alternative objective that stacks up in reality.

To this end, it is often believed that Afghanistan’s strategic value has been the real reason for more than 150,000 US troops being brought to a country with a harsh natural environment.

The main goal of the US occupation of Afghanistan was to turn it into a hub for the exporting of Islamic fundamentalism and creating tensions in the region as well as weakening traditional US opponents, ie Iran, Russia and China.

In this regard, the US should not be so dissatisfied with its 20-year presence in Afghanistan, as it has achieved its central goal.

Taking into account Afghanistan’s strategic location between Iran, Pakistan, China and central Asian countries, and its proximity to Russia, the US needed to turn the country into a chaotic, tense and primed-to-explode centre to destabilise the region.

By occupying the country and grooming an extremist, fanatical, fundamentalist, violent, despotic, and belligerent force, distantly estranged from the rules of today’s civilised world, such as the Taliban, the US made Afghanistan an undeniably incendiary centre.

In doing so, the US sowed the seeds of tension it needed to contain multiple adversarial currents in the region, entangling our region with enormous turmoil in the future.

In that case, countries in the region would be more consumed by threats closer to home than the wider conflict with the US.

In the context of the US occupation of Afghanistan, one can also refer to the shoring-up of the neoliberal capitalist system, practically and theoretically, as well as the forced abandonment of the people’s hopes for taking a path other than one of unrestrained capitalism.

The last remnants of the mixed economy infrastructures that had been formed in Afghanistan over the years, which had thrived and been expanded under the government led by the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) over more than 12 years, were destroyed.

This of course brought about a change in the class structure of Afghan society, so that a parasitic broker-and-contractor relationship has taken centre stage in the current system and become the main obstacle to democratic changes.

Class rifts have broadened to the extent that today more than 60 per cent of our population lives below the poverty line today and Afghan society is falling apart.

Based on US and US-referenced policies, extensive measures were taken to change the fabric of our society.

By forcefully imposing upon Afghanistan the models, rules and regulations, and profiteering practices of the heartless system of capitalism, the ordinary people of our nation were turned against each other.

The hardship has reached such a level that the notion of helping and supporting the poor and unfortunate — which had a high place in the traditions and customs of our society — has been replaced with a heartbreaking ferocity and insensitivity.

This atmosphere, created over the past 20 years, has eroded the hope of any social justice arising out of the current mindset of our society.

A look at the last 20 years in Afghanistan and other Islamic countries shows that the US does not have any ethical problems with extremist groups such as the Taliban, and that they can easily cope and compromise with their reactionary moral code, practice of misogyny, ethno-sectarian hatred, and hostility towards modernity or a culture of tolerance, as long as these do not collide with US interests.

There is no doubt that the US has failed in Afghanistan. But this failure is of another kind to that fed to the world in recent days.

The US has suffered a moral failure in Afghanistan. This moral failure is not just about the brutal killing of our people, but in leaving the US’s objective in coming to Afghanistan to fight terrorism unsubstantiated — in not being able to convince world public opinion about the integrity of its policies towards Afghanistan.

The US failure is also in the fact that all aspects of its presence in Afghanistan have remained obscured and unclear.

There is ambiguity not only in the US’s policies, but also in its actions.

There is ambiguity in the distinction between friend and foe, and ambiguity in the US macro-plans such as institutionalising democracy and freedom of expression.

A major ambiguity persists over the US military bases in Afghanistan.

In the Doha agreement — signed in February 2020 between the Taliban and US representative Zalmay Khalilzad — it is stated that the US, in addition to withdrawing its forces from Afghanistan, would close five of its nine bases.

No-one knows how many military bases the US has built in Afghanistan, how many are maintained and where they are located.

The fate of the security accord signed between Afghanistan and the US, which in all circumstances leaves the door open to US intervention in Afghanistan, is also under great uncertainty and has deliberately remained unaddressed in the Doha talks.

Consequently, the US’s ambiguous and covert policies in Afghanistan have led to agonising speculation and an excruciating wait for the Afghan people.

Today, the people of Afghanistan find themselves standing on the precipice of hell. Will today’s Taliban be the same as yesterday’s Taliban, or have they changed as the world has changed massively?

This question will be answered by what unfolds in the coming days. The prospects do not look good in this regard.

In these days, because of the orders given to the Taliban (the increased scrutiny they are under), a picture of an ordinary and patient people with not-so-ugly attitudes has been put about.

But the harsh conduct of the Taliban is gradually replacing this temporary show of patience.

It can be concluded that there are very difficult days ahead for our people.

How will the US, who have had a big impact on the course of the events in Afghanistan, and may still have for a long time to come, deal with this situation?

Will they allow the gates of hell to be flung wide open for the people of Afghanistan, or will they call on the Taliban, who have become their new ally and who listen to them, to exercise some restraint? Only time will tell…

Asadullah Keshtmand, born in Kabul in 1949, is a graduate of agriculture from France, a former member of the central committee of the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan, former deputy director of the International Relations Department of the central committee of the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan, and former Afghan ambassador to Hungary, Iran and Ethiopia. He currently lives in London, England.

This article was first published in the Morning Star newspaper

Photo: Afghan soldiers from 215 Corps take aim at Taliban insurgents. (Creative Commons)

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