Afghanistan After the American Withdrawal
Ambassador Omar Samad versus Emmanuel Dupuy versus Kerry Hardy versus Dr Fatimeh Robiolle
Moderator : Patricia Lalonde
Afghanistan is a nation which, since the departure of the United States of America a little over three months ago, has been under the control of the Taliban and remains to this day a country facing many economic, humanitarian and security problems. The first Afghan government installed by the Taliban currently presents a catastrophic record and is unable to offer tangible solutions to resolve the looming crisis within the country. The question therefore arises: what future is there for Afghanistan?
Afghanistan, a land of conflict
The history of Afghanistan over the past few centuries is one of conflict. Whether through the “Great Game”, opposing Russia and the United Kingdom from the beginning of the 19th century, the Soviets facing the mujahedin (1979-1989), the fall of the Afghan communist regime (1989-1992), the conflict between the Northern Alliance and the Taliban (1992-2001) or the Western intervention in response to the attacks of September 11, 2001 (2001-2021), Afghanistan has found itself not as the master of its own destiny but has served as a theater of operations for the great powers and its neighbors.
After twenty years of conflict in Afghanistan, led largely by the United States and its Western allies, more than $3000 billion have been spent by the international community ($2.3 trillion by the US), with more than $1 trillion spent with the aim to rebuild Afghanistan, its infrastructure and institutions. The human toll has also been substantial. About 250,000 Afghans perished, accompanied by 3,400 Western soldiers (including 2,400 Americans) and 3,800 private military contractors. The Afghan army, under the regime of Ashraf Ghani, has suffered around 70,000 casualties. We can add to this the displacement of around 2 million Afghans. Despite all these losses and expenses, the level of corruption and opium production in the country has dramatically increased and the main opponent of the coalition now rules the country. On a humanitarian level the situation remains dire, with more than 20 million Afghans depending on humanitarian aid from the international community to meet their basic needs. The Taliban victory does not signify the end of tension within the region. Contrary to the popular image given by Western media, the Taliban is not just a simple monolithic organization but a complex and organic structure. While the war against the coalition was going on, the Taliban were able to maintain a semblance of unity, but the peace that followed demonstrates the many ethnic and ideological divisions within the organization. We can indeed observe growing internal pressure within the country, between the northern and eastern Taliban who diverge on subjects such as girls’ education in the country; groups that have taken an oath to ISIS, the main target of Westerners in their fight against terrorism and the Taliban of different origins (Uzbek, Pashtun and Tajik). Despite everything, it is important to note that the level of violence in the country is declining, with around 3 deaths per day compared to the 3,000 that could be observed 3 months ago.
The reasons behind the failure
The reasons behind the failure of the West in this 20-year long intervention are manifold. Regarding its approach on the ground, the poor regulation of the money invested, in addition to the absence of a coherent strategy, led to a high level of corruption within the previous institutions and the former government, which then finally led to the erosion of the country’s civil society. Consequently, the Afghan National Army made up of thousands of “ghost soldiers” (individuals listed as being paid by the state for their services but not taking an active part in the army), rapidly collapsed during the war, shortly after the departure of coalition troops. During the Taliban’s offensive, the Afghan National Army (ANA) had proved to be unable to defend or recapture any of its territory from its adversary, wiping out 20 years of effort in the space of a few weeks. Yet it is on the diplomatic level that the West has failed the most. The United States and its allies have repeatedly had the opportunity to end the conflict with a victory (in 2009-2010) or by offering a political agreement to the Taliban. This offer, which existed until August 2015, could never be set in motion due to the refusal of Ghani’s government to negotiate. This agreement, if it had been signed 10 years ago would have secured the Taliban one third of government posts, and if it had been signed two years ago half of the posts. But a lack of strategy, coupled with a belief that victory was still within the coalition’s grasp, made it impossible to achieve a peaceful solution to the conflict. The United States had tried on multiple occasions to reach this agreement without consulting its allies during the conflict, initially under the Obama administration, which had already started the process of allowing the United States to leave Afghanistan but ended prematurely in 2012. This process was again undertaken by the Trump administration in 2018, after its major offensives against the Taliban in 2017. The second negotiation process lasted 2 years and ended with the Doha agreements between the United States and the Taliban, without the involvement of the government of Afghanistan, which has led to the current situation.
The coalition left the country in a catastrophic manner, not only putting an end to its military presence on Afghan territory but also, for a time, to its contribution in terms of humanitarian aid, which had prevented millions of Afghans from falling into poverty and starvation. Despite the difficulty of the situation, solutions still exist. The resolution of the crisis in the country can be organized into two main priorities. The first is to resolve the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan with aid, without however legitimizing the Taliban regime. This can be done through NGOs, which still have the right to operate in the country or through the UN, which would allow its action to be re-legitimized around the world. The second priority is to make the Taliban keep the pledges made during the Doha accord, particularly concerning the fight against terrorism against Al-Qaeda and ISIS-K. Ideally, the international community should also demand that the Taliban adhere to certain universal values which are fundamental such as women’s rights. Unfortunately, the international community is deeply divided over Afghanistan as is also reflected in its neighborhood. Countries such as Uzbekistan have a favorable attitude towards the new regime, unlike Tajikistan which serves as the last major regional stronghold in the anti-Taliban struggle. The establishment of Chinese and Russian bases in Tajikistan as well as the rapprochement of the Pakistani government towards the Taliban government, demonstrates the prima of various individual interests at the expense of the collective need of the international community. Russia seeks to maintain its influence in the ex-Soviet bloc while China, through its cooperation agreement with Iran (Lion-Dragon Deal), seeks to secure one of the corridors of its Silk Road, taking part in a more global strategy in its fight against the USA.
France, for its part, also has a special history with Afghanistan. Indeed, it was the first European nation to initiate diplomatic relations with the country in 1922. In addition, for the duration of the first semester of 2022, France will be President of the Council of the European Union, allowing it to reinitiate both a French and European diplomatic process. Contrary to the Doha agreements which had escaped from the Europeans’ control, the nations of Europe are setting up their own diplomatic solution using, for example, Qatar as an approach vector while waiting for a more comprehensive and global solution.
Afghanistan marks the West’s first defeat in a post-Atlantic world, which is gradually embracing a new strategic paradigm: Sino-globalization. The conflict also establishes the first step towards a de-westernization of international relations and an orientalisation of stabilization processes, something that the coalition has failed to achieve in twenty years. This defeat also reveals the West’s inability to spread its values such as the freedom of expression and gender equality, as well as the universal principles on which international relations are based. The future of Afghanistan is still uncertain, but perhaps is on its way to becoming an American proxy in its global fight against terrorism.