I opposed the first invasion of Afghanistan on the grounds that terrorism is a heinous crime, but not a war. He believed that surveillance and intelligence techniques should be implemented while addressing the underlying causes of terrorism, rather than opting for military intervention to tackle the problem.
Many of us said that the 9/11 attacks should have been considered crimes against humanity, not as an attack by a foreign state. The terrorists should have been classified as criminals, not as enemies. As the distinguished historian Michael Howard put it, the expression “war on terror” gave “terrorists a status they want and do not deserve.”
The “national construction”
After the invasion, I was in favor of a human security strategy that would provide stability to Afghanistan and protect Afghans and their families. President Biden called this plan “nation building” and has Said it should never have been carried out.
This was the United Nations approach and, although it can be argued that nation-building efforts are often too “top-down”, technical and that they must integrate civil society and local initiatives, these are not the reasons why. the ones that nation-building was so inappropriate in Afghanistan.
There have certainly been notable advances for education and women’s rights, as well as increased democratic awareness, as exemplified by the recent protests in Jalalabad. However, nation-building failed because the security of Afghans was constantly undermined by the way the United States prioritized counterterrorism operations, which means militarily attacking the Taliban and Al Qaeda and, more recently, ISIS.
“Warlords” and corruption
In reality, there was no insurgency until five years after the invasion. The insurgency began for two reasons. First, night raids, drone strikes, and bombings produced a reverse reaction.
Second, America’s allies in the fight against terrorism were the so-called “warlords.” Many of them – or their parents – had been recruited by the CIA to fight the Soviets in the 1980s. The continued presence of these predatory warlords within the Afghan government is what explains their systemic corruption and lack of control. legitimacy. Civil society organizations were clear and insistent in demanding justice and an end to corruption. But their demands were ignored.
Antony Blinken, US Secretary of State, had the audacity to blame the afghan security forces for not defending his country despite all the money that the United States has allocated. In reality, many of them have died defending their country. But much of the billions of dollars spent equipping and training security forces went into the pockets of America’s “war on terror” allies: Afghan warlords and corrupt officials.
In addition, the private security contractors used by the US government abruptly withdrew, taking with them the logistical infrastructure that the security forces needed.
The decision to withdraw, taken by the Trump administration and upheld by the Biden administration unconditionally, has led to peace talks with the Taliban that have excluded the Afghan government and civil society and have given the former a lot of power. For many members of the security forces, the hasty withdrawal seemed to indicate that the United States had switched sides and was now supporting the Taliban, and it was this that undermined the will to fight.
What to do with the Taliban
Any illusion that the Taliban they are somehow “different” –Despite the murders of intellectuals and the horrible treatment of women. The Taliban Government must not be recognized. If sanctions are applied, they must be selective so as not to cause further suffering to ordinary Afghan citizens.
More violence is likely to ensue as factions within the Taliban coalition emerge, competing with each other for dwindling state resources and control of criminal activities. Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State of Greater Khorasan and the Haqqani networkNot to mention the different ethnic militias, they are part of the Taliban coalition.
If we want to help ordinary people in Afghanistan, we must not make a deal with the Taliban or start a war against them. Continued counterterrorism air operations, as Biden has suggested, will only strengthen support for the Taliban.
Instead, we should begin a humanitarian intervention to establish safe havens and humanitarian corridors to assist those who need to flee and deliver aid. This is not about war, although military personnel could be employed. The goal would be to protect people rather than kill enemies.
The airport should come under international control (United Nations or the International Red Cross) and safe humanitarian corridors should be established to reach it. It is incredible that the chaos at the airport continues after so many days. The UN could also establish protected places for civilians and safe land corridors to other countries, such as Mazar-i-Sharif to Uzbekistan or from Herat to Iran.
Consideration should be given to creating a safe haven in the Panshir Valley, the only area of Afghanistan where the Taliban have not seized power. At the same time, visas should be granted to all Afghan refugees, as the UK does to Hong Kong citizens fleeing authoritarianism.
The main lesson of the Afghan experience is that the “war on terror” does not work. 20 years after the invasion, Islamic extremists celebrate their victory. It is true, as Biden says, that the United States conducts counterterrorism operations in multiple locations. The consequence has been the spread of extremism not only in Afghanistan and the Middle East but also in large areas of Africa.
If we take this danger seriously, then we must approach human security in a different way. One that combines surveillance and intelligence with the fight against injustice, the establishment of legitimate political authority and that aims to marginalize and stop terrorists instead of turning them into martyrs.
Mary Kaldor is Professor of Global Governance and Head of the Conflict and Civil Society Research Unit at the London School of Economics.
Translation of Julián Cnochaert