Here ends the West’s grotesque illusion that using its military might it could lead Afghanistan to a stable democracy. In the shadow of the Twin Towers engulfed in flames, I was one of those who participated in the current that assured that “something had to be done”, that march in favor of a war that would end terror and liberate the oppressed peoples. We have received a bitter lesson.
How deceptively easy was the triumph of 2001, after which the Taliban fighters fled to remain in the background, mingling with the civilian population while muttering “you have watches, we have time.” Now they have just turned the clock back 20 wasted years.
A year after that empty “triumph”, I was in Afghanistan looking for signs of cultural transformation and social progress. But it was clear that the West had neither the political will, nor the financial generosity, nor the attention span to confront its own bombastic rhetoric.
Remember how pretentious his oratory was. “This is a moment that must be seized“Tony Blair said at a Labor Party conference in October 2001.” The kaleidoscope has been shaken. The pieces are changing. They will soon settle again. Before you do, let us reorder the world around us… Only the moral might of a world that behaves as a community can. With the strength of our joint effort, we achieve more than what each one can achieve on their own. ”
It was a powerful and moving sight, albeit dangerously wrong. I doubt that anyone will ever speak of “reordering the world” again, except for the jihadists. There are no more “Christian soldiers marching with courage,” as the hymn says. Finally, here is the end of the American century (although what may come is worse).
According to the Blair doctrine – plastered in his 1999 Chicago speech, with which he sought to persuade Bill Clinton and NATO to fight against the mass expulsions of Albanians in Kosovo – there was a moral obligation to intervene: do the right thing where you can.
But Afghanistan did not meet two criteria of the doctrine: the action must be “carried out with prudence” and only if it is prepared to last “in the long term.” The invasion and occupation of Afghanistan was not “prudent” nor was there ever enough political or financial commitment for it to “endure.”
The “eternal war” of 20 years already seemed too much to Joe Biden as well as to the American public opinion, according to the polls. But neither two trillion dollars nor the lives of more than 2,400 American soldiers have been enough. The late American right-wing guru Charles Krauthammer – who once called his country “a singularly benign empire“- along with other NATO contributors, gave President Hamid Karzai a first budget of $ 460 million for a country then of $ 22.6 million. This figure was closer to the budget of a small British local authority than any other. something that would serve to create a new Afghanistan.
Thus it was impossible to “rearrange” what the World Bank I call the “most miserable state in the world”, surrounded by belligerent territories and with a history marked by war. Western politicians were willing to be fooled by the charming Western-educated Kabul leaders, who promised the impossible: root out corruption and create efficient administration, even as they left the military in the hands of warlords and the budget. for the security forces it vanished into thin air. This was recklessness, an illusory and arrogant thought about a culture and a society that, they believed, outsiders could “rearrange.”
The invasion brought with it not only the clash of cultures, but also the clash of wealth. NGOs and crowds of foreigners caused rental prices to skyrocket, occupying the only decent houses in Kabul that were left standing. They competed to do good: each country had its own project for women.
The outraged minister of public works, who earned 35 dollars a month, told me to take a look at the cars of foreign officials and NGOs: “Stand by my window and you will see 200 white Land Cruisers go by every hour. They are spending our money. ” A local aid worker summed up the clash between rich and poor like this: “They expect Pringles potatoes everywhere.”
Any hope for Afghanistan was dashed by the Iraq war. A year after the invasion, not only the military, but also the NGOs and all the ambitious parasites of the war zones were ready for the next thing. “Now it’s Baghdad’s turn,” some journalists and NGOs cheerfully said as the US channels and broadcasters left, as the novelty grew cold. “Don’t go,” the Afghan leaders begged.
The minister for women, a law professor who had returned to the country, warned me of the fragility of the new rights for women. “If they let us, the fundamentalists will rise again,” he said. That’s how powerful that fear persisted on my next visit, eight years ago: Afghans saw that Western leaders wanted to withdraw. The same was perceived by the Taliban patients.
Pathological hatred of women
The Taliban and their pathological hatred of women did not come out of nowhere. The patriarchal structure of Afghan society is evident. The women are still covered with burqas that make it difficult for them to see, since when they wear them they can only see through a grid-shaped opening. Men continue to treat them as irritants, pushing them out of their way on the streets.
“Saving the women” was the reason many of us supported the invasion. There had already been many improvements in their jobs and in their lives, especially for those who had received education.
Nothing was more moving than seeing hundreds of girls huddled on benches inside a dusty tent, eager to learn, reciting letters written on a blackboard for three-hour shifts. That is an achievement, not a missed opportunity, and its effects will last a lifetime for those who benefited.
But now? Two girls’ schools had been bombed in the week before my first arrival and, earlier this year, 85 girls died in an explosion at a school. Today only one third of women in Afghanistan can read.
Hear the voices of terrified journalists, no matter what the Taliban tell the world this week.
What achievements can be seen after these 20 years? Afghanistan started in 2021 with 18.4 million people in need of humanitarian aid. Life expectancy has increased, although at the same rate as before. GDP has barely grown compared to those in other low-income countries.
However, the World Bank figures do not include the main export: opium. The area devoted to its cultivation increased by 37% last year, according to the UN. The relentless “war on drugs”, in which the United States bombed heroin laboratories, hardly affected the business of opium growers.
Afghanistan is the source of 95% of the opiates that circulate on the streets of Europe. This is how the Taliban and the warlords finance themselves. That’s where its power comes from. The country’s endemic corruption would take a fatal blow if that global exchange were legalized.
Ending the failed drug prohibition, which fuels corruption in the poorest countries, is a powerful measure that the West could begin to consider. Along with the urgent task of receiving Afghan refugees, this is a genuine “rearrangement” that we could bring to the country. The other “rearrangement” is to learn the bitter lesson about realpolitik from the Blair doctrine: without the ability or the will, your idea of ”moral might” calls for disaster.
Translation of Julián Cnochaert