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Essay: Why the West Didn’t Understand Afghanistan | Asia | An in-depth look at current events on the continent | DW

“It will probably be like the last time. When they took Kabul overnight,” Ahmad Jawed, 30, a Kabul resident told me last Saturday. When the Islamist militant Taliban First captured in the Afghan capital 25 years ago, Jawed was a young child. But he remembers this morning well. Suddenly the fighters were there, while members of the Mujahedin government, who had fought for years, fled. Now, nearly 20 years after NATO first occupied the country, that scenario looked likely to repeat itself, Jawed predicted: “The past few days have clearly shown that they will be here soon.”

Emran Feroz

Soon after, his fears were confirmed. After the Taliban seized all the major provincial capitals within days, they entered Kabul on Sunday. Many members of the army and police abandoned their posts even before the insurgents entered the city. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, for his part, fled the country in haste with his entourage. His behavior resembled that of a neocolonial governor – that is exactly how he has been described in recent years, not only by the Taliban but by many Afghans who did not take advantage of his corrupt state apparatus.

People gather outside Kabul airport

After the Taliban took control on August 17, 2021, thousands of Afghans started flocking to Kabul airport. They all want to leave the country

According to some reports, Ghani’s men took bags of money with them. It was Ghani who said a few years ago that he had no sympathy for the Afghan refugees. They would only end up washing the dishes in the West. After Ghani fled, the Taliban seized the presidential palace and posed for photos outside his office.

One of the commanders told a news conference for Qatari TV station Al Jazeera shortly after that he had been detained and tortured by the Americans for eight years at Guantanamo. A coincidence? Probably not. Instead, it was once again evident that America’s “war on terror” had radicalized dozens of people in Afghanistan – and that many of them have not forgotten it to this day.

Only white US citizens are allowed to board?

Events continued to unfold at a rapid pace. Crowds flocked to Kabul airport, where US troops were busy evacuating their citizens. The chaos at the airport did not subside the next day. People tried to grab hold of the American plane as it took off and died in their last attempt to escape.

Meanwhile, American soldiers fired at the Afghan crowd. “One of my relatives was killed. He was a doctor, ”said Sangar Paykhar, Dutch-Afghan journalist and podcaster, after the incident. Afghan-American author and activist Nadia Hashemi said Afghan-Americans were in some cases denied entry to the plane. The reason: they weren’t white Americans.

Joe Biden at the desk

US President Joe Biden has been criticized for his comments on withdrawal from Afghanistan

The final scenes in Kabul have underscored more clearly than ever that the Western mission in Afghanistan has failed. In his speech yesterday, US President Joe Biden, withdrawing his military forces, did not spare a word for all the Afghans who have been killed by the US “war on terror” over the past two decades. last decades. Instead, his words were once again marked by denial of reality and ignorance. The real winners of the war are not in the White House but in Kabul.

American war equipment for the Taliban

The Taliban have never been stronger than they are today. In the last few days and weeks alone, they have captured many pieces of high-tech American war equipment.

Apart from Panjshir province north of Kabul, which has always been a stronghold of Taliban resistance, extremists once again control almost all of Afghanistan. And they have also regained political weight on the international stage, which they have been working hard on in recent years.

People aboard a US Air Force plane

On one of the first flights, the United States evacuated 640 people in a US Air Force transport plane to Qatar

Numerous analyzes and forecasts regarding a Taliban takeover have had to be corrected several times in recent days. The US intelligence agency CIA still assumed on Saturday that it would take 30 to 90 days to bring Kabul under control. In the end, it all happened in 24 hours. Even prominent US analysts in Washington were at a loss for words in the face of recent events.

How was that possible?

Bill Roggio of the right-wing conservative US think tank Foundation for the Defense of Democracies called the Taliban’s successful advance “the biggest intelligence failures in decades.” Roggio described the Taliban’s sophisticated war strategy as “brilliant.” The extremists initially focused on the north of the country before taking other cities nationwide.

Taliban fighters patrol Kabul on August 18, 2021

Taliban fighters patrol Kabul on August 18, 2021

There are several reasons why this was all possible. Much of what was happening in the country has been suppressed and ignored for years – not only because Westerners wanted to save face but also because they still didn’t know Afghanistan even after all these years. Almost all of the districts in these pre-Kabul provincial capitals had in fact been controlled by the Taliban for years.

The Taliban had established themselves there, operating and ruling in the shadows. The fact that extremists were able to gain a foothold in these rural areas early on is also partly due to the massive corruption in the capital and the numerous military operations carried out by NATO and its Afghan allies.

Victims of the West

Drone attacks and brutal nighttime raids have regularly claimed many civilian lives in Afghan villages. As a result, many survivors shifted their support for the Taliban. This was also de facto the case at the gates of Kabul. Long before recent events, a 20 to 30 minute drive was enough to get you into Taliban territory.

But officials did not want to face these realities. Instead, they were busy congratulating themselves on a job well done. People have spoken of their own laudable values ​​and focused on the alleged achievements in Afghanistan since 2001. Much has been said about democracy, although no democratic transfer of power has taken place in Afghanistan for the past 20 years. .

Corrupt elites

It certainly had nothing to do with the Afghans risking their lives to go to the polls, but it can mainly be attributed to the corrupt elites the United States brought to power in Kabul. Men like Hamid Karzai and President Ashraf Ghani, who could not flee quickly enough, exploited the new system for their own ends and remained in power through electoral fraud. Other prominent figures in Afghanistan have behaved similarly, including many well-known warlords and drug lords who have become the West’s closest allies in the Hindu Kush. They were able to line their pockets with generous foreign aid and transfer billions of dollars overseas.

Hamid Karzai with Taliban leaders

Former President Hamid Karzai met with Taliban leaders in Kabul in August. The photo was released by the Taliban

At the same time, they were also among the biggest war profiteers – thanks, for example, to the private security companies they themselves set up to simulate attacks on NATO troops. In retrospect, it is evident that lucrative contracts were signed on the basis of the alleged terrorist threat.

No need to take responsibility

It has been clear at least since late 2019 that leaders in Washington and elsewhere were aware of these aberrations. Since Washington post published the “Afghanistan Papers,” in which around 400 senior US officials more or less admitted their failures in Afghanistan. The details had been kept under wraps for years.

But no one wants to talk about it today either. Instead, it’s easy to get the impression that the Taliban came out of nowhere to storm Afghanistan and the West. Everyone claims to have acted to the best of their knowledge and in good conscience.

So, he’s unhappy, then, how things turned out. After 20 years of ill-advised intervention that claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Afghans and turned millions of them into refugees, plunging them into poverty, the West has not only lost interest in it. Afghanistan, but does not feel the need to take responsibility for its fate. .

“These people are like that. It is not our fault”, is the tenor of this cultural relativism. It resonates particularly loudly these days.

Emran Feroz is an Austrian of Afghan origin who has been covering the situation in the Hindu Kush for years for German-language media such as “Die Zeit”, “taz, die tageszeitung” and “WOZ”, as well as American media. such as the “New York Times” and CNN. At the beginning of October, his analysis “The Longest War – 20 Years of War on Terror” should have been published on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the start of the so-called “War on Terror”. Due to current events, this date has been moved to August 23, 2021.

This text was originally published in German at www.qantara.de.

© Qantara.de 2021

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