The United States claims it wants to safeguard the progress made in the past two decades but it also wants to evade any responsibility toward Afghanistan, as per President Joe Biden’s latest remarks and his decision to withdraw troops from the country. Biden stated that the reason the US and its allies came to Afghanistan could not justify their presence there now. The president ignored the fact that the United States chose to frame the intervention as a liberating mission. Therefore, at such a critical juncture of history, we must ask: Was progress truly made in the past twenty years? And can the post-settlement Afghanistan sustain such progress?
It was imperative to show the Afghan people what democracy could achieve for them and the power they held within this new order, yet the same old story of elites amassing riches and power continued, this time exponentialy. The United States always kept the government of Afghanistan on the hinge of collapse and at the height of dependency lest it forget who was at the helm. The US strategy of throwing money at political issues within the country and ignoring fundamental issues further polarized the rural population against the republic. Stark examples of this were the patch-up jobs performed by US envoys after the last two presidential elections. While new democracies evolve with time and their election processes become smoother, ours kept becoming more and more shameful and corrupt. Governments that need to sham their way into power do not do a much better job governing either.
The Taliban never needed to out-govern the republic, they only needed to disrupt whatever semblance of governance the state was attempting to practice. Rampant corruption confirmed the Taliban-given description of the government as a godless state. Any political settlement reached in the near future would include the involvement of the same elites that contributed to the failure of the current system. What hope would there be of social integration if managed by such corrupt individuals, when budgets and programs do not reach their targets?
The insurgency and violence were only symptoms of the actual issue; the Taliban did not come into existence within a vacuum. They were once welcomed by the people of Afghanistan and nothing has been done to change that mindset. The structural ideology that enabled the Taliban is still in existence. The mentality of mobs gathering to see a woman whipped for adultery in Herat a few days ago, two decades after the American intervention, is evidence of how the claimed progress only happened within pockets of the major cities and never managed to spill over. The common Afghan in the rural areas never got to see this new Afghanistan that was promised. All they saw was how incompetent, corrupt and dysfunctional this supposed foreign-imposed democracy was, and they consumed the propaganda that whatever change had occurred was in opposition to the teachings of Islam.
Only those within the cities of Afghanistan were given a taste of what their lives and rights could be. A generation that never grew up in the Afghanistan of the past will be left with a false promise of a democracy that adheres to the will of the people. We expect the Taliban to be dissolved within the current social order, but the sad reality is that even if an election is agreed upon, the voice of the moderates will be lost in the mix, dominated by those who hold the same beliefs as they did pre-2001 or who are probably even more radicalized now.
Obaidullah Baheer lectures on Peace and Conflict Resolution in the postgraduate program at Kardan University in Kabul, and has an MA in international relations from the University of New South Wales, Australia. He is an adviser at the National Development Corporation. Twitter: @ObaidullahBaheer
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