The reason behind the United States’ plight during the September 11 attacks in 2001 was the religious and political extremism that engendered the terrorists who carried out the attacks. This charged sentence does not refer to religiosity, but the politicization of religion.
The invasion and occupation of Afghanistan aimed to eliminate those who carried out the attack. The broader goal, which was to get rid of the terrorists, required a strategy to combat extremist ideology, the main driver of al-Qaeda, then ISIS, al-Nusra Front, and other organizations.
The US achieved a swift military victory within weeks, the Taliban regime collapsed, and the surviving al-Qaeda leaders fled to Iran and Pakistan. However, the secret ideology and organization of these groups was not destroyed. Rather, al-Qaeda gave birth to organizations such as ISIS, and the Taliban returned to power with arms, despite the passing of 20 years since their expulsion and persecution.
One of the challenges faced by the American forces over two decades in the administration of Kabul was to confront the extremist ideology inherited from the Taliban rule and exported to it across the border from Iran and otherwise—with which the latest and fiercest weapons are futile.
Anyone who looks back at the Bush, Obama, and Trump administrations finds that they relied on two remedies, power and money, in order to rid Afghanistan of the Taliban and build a modern allied state.
The US fought the Taliban with weapons and dollars. It spent more than $180 billion on the military, security, schools, hospitals, roads, the government, parliament, and local and national elections—all of which evaporated even before the date set for troop withdrawal.
Aside from the problem of entrepreneurial corruption that created a non-national ruling class, 38 million Afghans formed an unconnected people, even though Washington was spending $750 million annually in salaries on Afghan employees.
The problem of the “Afghan project” is that it is American in terms of identity and concept, which Washington wants to resemble itself politically and socially, which is acceptable if Afghan soil were suitable for this quantum leap, as did Germany post-WWII and the defeat of Nazism. Afghanistan, like most third world countries, is not prepared for such and has not undergone the three centuries of Western experience.
The debate about the eligibility of developing societies is complex and long-running, which frustrates some thinkers who see it as a derogation of human beings in these countries. We are not discussing principles and philosophy, but applications and results. If the cloned modernization project had been valid and successful, the Taliban would not have seized, without a single bullet being fired, a country about three times the size of Britain. The Afghans did not lack weapons, but their army was larger than the army of France, comprising 300,000 Afghan fighters who put down their arms. The Taliban were not stronger; the Afghan army surrendered and did not even put up a fight.
Why? Because there was no bond between them. Despite the passage of 20 years, the American did not succeed in creating a genuine national project. The parliamentary experience did not create the social contract in which the tribes and their citizens would defend.
Despite twenty years, the American has not succeeded in creating a true national project. The parliamentary experience did not create the social contract in which the tribes and their citizens would defend it.Abdulrahman al-Rashed
Why? Because there was no bond between them. Despite twenty years, the American has not succeeded in creating a true national project. The parliamentary experience did not create the social contract in which the tribes and their citizens would defend it.
Indeed, millions of Afghans have gained many benefits that they will lose under the Taliban’s rule; social, political and economic benefits. Whereas the groups that fought the Americans used religion and tribe as a uniting bond and promised heaven as a reward for those killed for its sake. Even the Taliban’s religious project—doomed to failure—is easy to challenge from more extremist sects, schools and leaders unless all Afghans are gathered under its banner, which is unlikely.
There was a homeland and a national project in Afghanistan that fell with the military coup in 1973, and five years after the junta came the communists, then came the Soviet invasion in 1979, and the march towards Iran after the fall of the Shah. The Americans and the global mujahideen overthrew the Afghan-Soviet regime, but they failed to establish an alternative state. Their infighting marked the worst stage of Afghan history.
What the United States did in two decades was to try and civilize the state’s apparatus, popularize its service messages, and create a suitable parliamentary political system that would help marginalize traditional forces and exacerbate the differences between the various components. Reconciling good governance and moderate Islam is a reasonable objective.
There is a long-running and complex struggle within the Muslim societies of the world, and this is discussion is an ongoing one.
This article was originally published in, and translated from, Saudi newspaper Asharq al-Awsat.