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Afghanistan, between the victory of a ragged troop and the discredit of the “empire”

“The US military invasion of our country was like a stab wound. You bleed at the moment of impact, but the possibility of survival depends on the way you draw the knife. ”
Hameed Hakimi

The United States is unlikely to find a worse time than now to remember, within a few days, the 20th anniversary of the attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.

That memory will be contaminated by another one as old as it is present: the disaster exhibited by Afghanistan with the clumsy exit of US troops, the reinstatement of the fundamentalist Taliban militia in power, and the perception of an ominous future for that country that could have been avoided.

Both episodes share the same birth certificate in 2001, one is a consequence of the other. And they were intended to be equivalent on this anniversary: the end of a war as a successful end to that tragedy.

The dramatic Afghan parable that ends in the same place where it began, now complains a wide range of assumptions, from the sense of the American invasion 20 years ago decided in reaction to the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. Also, about the format of that intervention that he seemed to barely contemplate the fate of that town as can be seen in this denouement. Today the country is in absolute chaos even worse than the hell it was even a few days ago.

President Joe Biden taken by surprise, unusually, by this drift, justified himself in the worst way in one of his most complicated speeches: “The mission in Afghanistan was never supposed to be to build a nation. Our only vital national interest in Afghanistan today remains what it has always been: preventing a terrorist attack on the American homeland. “

That comment has a flaw that shows the disdain of the occupant. It reveals in the worst way the reason that a military force of 350 thousand men, trained for years, with modern equipment and air support, succumb easily to a ragged guerrilla, with hardly any fist weapons and machine guns. There was no defense, no reason to fight.

The mountain of money that the US squandered in the Asian country “served to finance the neo-patronage that has weighed down successive Afghan administrations, fueling staggering levels of corruption ”, argues the political scientist Hameed Hakimi of the Chatman House in London that we cited in the section of this column. In between, during those years, tens of thousands of Afghans died, an absurd common sense of that experience.

Other data reinforce that view. According to conservative estimates, the US invested $ 979 billion in the war between October 2001 and the end of 2019. Of that spending only 36 billion served to support the country’s governance and development, according to research by the Watson Institute at Brown University in Rhode Island.

The last chapter we are seeing of the Afghan crisis was written by Donald Trump during his last year in office when he agreed in Doha with the Taliban on a mediocre exit plan, which Biden aligned himself with.

Both agreed on the need to close the presence in that war for the same reasons. They were not fleeing from the Taliban but from the fact that it no longer made sense to be there. First, because he supposed he would get him votes in the presidential elections that he ended up losing. The second, to get rid of this conflict as soon as possible of the crucial legislative next year.


But the axis was not the retirement but, eminently, how it would be managed. American intelligence did its thing. He zigzagged, first warning that there would be no risks and then warning the White House this July about the high possibility of it happening. what now fills the television screens with terror. All that improvisation and unpredictability it demolished in an extraordinary way the credibility of the American leadership.

Biden, almost in the tone of his predecessor, went so far as to affirm on July 8 that it was “unlikely that the government of Afghanistan would fall.” And he even ruled out any possibility of “a chaotic evacuation” in the style of the Vietnam withdrawal that undressed, at the time, the depth of the American defeat in Southeast Asia.

That the US makes mistakes of this caliber is a geopolitical fact that defines the fragility of the current stage. One clear bill is that Biden goes back almost to the beginning in his attempt to convince his allies of the return of the United States after Trump’s painful tenure. The improvisation has not gone away.

On the other hand, the victory of this precarious ultra-Islamic army over the greatest power in the world is a triumph for Al Qaeda in many ways, although the concept has limitations. The terrorist gang formed by the Saudi millionaire Osama Bin Laden, who is attributed the attacks of 9/11, currently very degraded, maintains close ties with the Taliban, in particular with the violent Haqqani network that integrates that squad of tribes united by a common enemy.

Al Qaeda, La Base in Spanish, was part of the resistance together with the Afghan mujahideen against the Soviet occupation. That feat, in the middle of the Cold War, it was made with great help from the USA. who also provided generous public assistance to Osama himself. That is why Bin Laden was taking refuge in that country in 2001.

The US invaded that very poor Asian nation in search of the head of the terrorist who fled to Pakistan, one of the few countries with an ambiguous link with Washington where the term Al Qaeda it’s not exactly a bad word.

Those alliances are not the same today as before. In that sense, care should be taken with the characterization of the Taliban as a terrorist force. Even for the US that label only fits the Pakistani wing of the group.

They are often mistakenly compared to the caliphate that the ISIS group built, a fundamentalist and mercenary organization, of enormous cruelty and ephemeral existence that at its height, after 2011, came to dominate more than 7 million people in a kingdom financed by the Arab autocracies between Syria and Iraq.

The momentary “success” of this sinister group and its defiant attitude against the West, promoted an intense wave of attacks in Europe and the United States. The vast majority of them were committed by lone terrorists with serious social problems, who claimed themselves as part of that furious deed against “the great Satan.” When ISIS was diluted by losing the support of its sponsors, the attacks were stopped. Nobody is reflected in a failure.

This background gives special importance to what is happening in Afghanistan. The exaggerated vision of a defeated America and fleeing humiliated threatens to produce a sympathy effect among fundamentalists around the world as happened with ISIS with foreseeable consequences.

This is what the former director of the CIA, retired general David Petraeus, refers to when he denounces that “This is a huge setback for national security and everything is about to get worse.”

It is important to note that although they share the same trend within Islam, the Taliban were severe enemies of ISIS. Its current top driver, Maulaui Hibatullah Akhundzada, the Emir al the believer, prince of the believers and the highest political religious and military Taliban chief, rejected them with contempt although it is known that there are lost patrols of that group growing in the Asian country.

There are reasons for this critical positioning. The insurgents, last July, before their final battle in Afghanistan sent their political leadership to a little-known tour of the region which included Moscow, Ashjabat, the capital of Turkmenistan, Tehran and the Chinese city of Tianjin.

The stopover in Iran is especially interesting for its projections. The Persian Shiite theocracy, though harshly conservative, assimilates the possibility of linking with Sunni fundamentalist regimes, despite considering this version of the cult as “a stone in the throat of Islam.”

Pragmatic, they have elaborated a doctrine of “heroic flexibility”, according to the name given to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to enable these fabrics.

One of its extremes has been in the past to facilitate routes to the Taliban through Iran to move the opium caches that have allowed them to finance themselves, the newspaper recalls Haaretz.

The role of China

In return, the insurgents blocked the advance of groups like ISIS, built by autocracies and Arab potentates as a reaction to the unwanted democratic outbreak of 2011 in the region, but whose primary and exclusive objective was fight the Persian power.

The other relevant stop on that excursion was China.. Beijing has a common ally with the Taliban in Pakistan. For the Chinese regime it is central to deepen Islamabad’s support for the insurgents to grind off any Indian influence in the Asian country and to thread Afghanistan into the Silk Road initiative in which Pakistan actively participates.

Therefore, due to its importance, the meeting lasted two days and Beijing raised the stature of the insurgents: “Fundamental military and political force”, I call them. Bernett Rubin, a former US Foreign Ministry official and advisor on Afghanistan at the UN, summarized that China seeks to “use its influence to persuade the Taliban that do not seek a military victory, but seriously negotiate an inclusive political settlement. “

A purpose that is not unlikely to share with the US Not all are disputes between the giants. The common intention is prevent Afghanistan from becoming a haven for terrorist groups, as they proliferated during the five-year period that the Taliban ruled before the North American invasion.

Naturally, it is a focus of Beijing’s self-interest that tries to dilute any stimulus to rebellion by Muslim independence groups in China’s Xinjiang province. The currency of the People’s Republic, applauded by the Taliban, is urgent financial aid.

This offer is crucial in a country that depends on more than 40% of foreign investment and that now it will deepen its crisis due to global mistrust and the IMF’s decision to suspend an economic assistance plan for Afghanistan for US $ 370 million approved at the end of last year.

There is another little-known dimension to these diplomatic efforts, especially on the part of China. Afghanistan has unexplored mineral wealth, with large deposits of gold, copper, iron, the so-called rare earths and, even more relevant, one of the world’s largest lithium reserves, base of rechargeable electric batteries.

A moderate estimate sets at a trillion dollars the potential of that find. There is already a commitment from Beijing to invest $ 3 billion in the Aynak copper mine.

In these possible agreements, accompanied by certain not very emphatic gestures of moderation, the main core of the doubts of the moment circulates. On the one hand the insurgents they have been content in naming a caliphate and government officials.

They are known to negotiate with higher profile figures for the West such as the controversial former President Hamid Karzai, one of the most notorious viceroys of the American occupation who governed the transition from the fall of the Taliban to the 2014 elections.

Along with these more or less auspicious signs, nothing indicates that there is a unity of judgment in this very strategically dislocated army. They are divided between moderates and radicals, between sectors that understand that the economic profile must be improved and deny a return to the hard past and other fanatics who disdain any progress.

The Taliban also they can hardly keep unified the country that runs the certain risk of the outbreak of civil wars for the control of parts of the territory. They are also challenged by the Afghans themselves, subjected to a new invasion, especially the youth and women, who have lived 20 years with a framework of autonomy and that they reject this new medievalist regulation. Too many challenges for so much madness.
© Copyright Clarín 2019


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