Give Afghanistan a chance

After more than 40 years of war, peace to the Afghan is to be desired

by Karl-Jürgen Müller

On 14 and 15 August 2021 armed groups, commonly referred to as the Taliban, entered the Afghan capital Kabul and took control of the city. The Afghan president in office until then, Ashraf Ghani, had left the country hours earlier. The takeover of control in Kabul happened largely without a fight. Whether this will end the more than 40 years of war in and against Afghanistan is still not clear at present. The further development will also depend on how the world of states reacts to the new situation in Afghanistan.

The record of the NATO so far over the past 20nbsp;years is devastating. There are no reliable figures available. However, it is certain that not only more than 3,500 NATO soldiers and more than 70,000 Afghan security forces died, but more than 100,000 civilians have been killed or injured. The US drone war alone in recent years has cost the lives of thousands of Afghan civilians, including more than 2,000 children.
  The US Watson Institute calculated the cost of war for the USA in April 2021 to be of 2,26nbsp;trillion USnbsp;dollars1, and that is only the cost to one country. Hardly anyone talks about how high the cost to the people of Afghanistan have been. Once again it has been confirmed that a war, any war, brings immeasurable suffering to the people affected.

Leave Afghanistan in a hurry?

But not everyone shares this view. On 15 August, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the German Bundestag (German Federal Parliament), Norbert Röttgen of the CDU (Christian Democratic Union), piped up several times on Twitter. He said for example: “This day is an immeasurable disaster. It is the consequence of the fatal decision to leave Afghanistan precipitately and our inaction in the aftermath of that decision. A failure of the West with dramatic consequences for Afghanistan and our credibility.”* Röttgen thus stands for a reading that does not question the war itself in Afghanistan, but rather its end. He is concerned about the reputation and the potential loss of the previous position of power of the NATO states and not the fact that the reputation has long since been destroyed – ever since the military alliance has been waging wars all over the world. This reading includes the images of Afghans storming the airfield in Kabul, clinging to planes, desperate to leave the country; it includes the concentration of our politics and media on the question of how could be accomplished to get as many people as possible to leave Afghanistan; and it includes horror stories about the new rule of the Taliban.

Or opportunity for the country?

Another interpretation sees the takeover of state power by the Taliban as an opportunity for the country. The main argument for this view: Now, at last, there may be finally a chance to end more than 40 years of warfare in and against the country, and that the country can go a self-determined path.
  The Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said at the Taliban’s first international press conference in Kabul 17nbsp;August2 that the Taliban were seeking the formation of a strong Islamic government in which all parties and social groups would participate, including the Taliban’s former enemies.
  All employees of the former government and the Western states were pardoned, no matter what their role was. Literally, Zabihullah said: “The animosities have come to an end and we would like to live peacefully. We don’t want any internal enemies and any external enemies.” They wouldn’t want any problem with the international community. They needed their help in rebuilding the country. But they also expected the international community to respect the right of the Afghans to manage their own affairs. The Afghans had the right to determine their own policies in accordance with their own values.
  Zabihullah called on his compatriots not to leave the country, their skills were required, he said. With regard to the women in the country, the Taliban spokesman said that they were women’s rights within the rules of Sharia law. Women would have access to education, the health care system and other areas. There would be no discrimination against women. With a view to the media, Zabihullah demanded objectivity. They could criticise the work of the Taliban in order to improve it. Finally, with regard to the Taliban today and those of 20nbsp;years ago, he said there was a big difference between them in terms of maturity and vision.

Statements by the Taliban not be dismissed as propaganda

One should not immediately dismiss these statements as propaganda.
  Conrad Schetter, Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies at the Institute for Political Science and Sociology at the Bonn International Centre for Conversion (BICC), said in an interview with the Swiss radio station SRF (“Echo der Zeit”) on 16nbsp;August, that the Taliban had been “trying to build up trust for one or two years. Even during the negotiations with the Americans, the Taliban strongly stick to their statements. [...] Time and again, the Taliban have confirmed that they are ready to respect their commitments. They want to win the trust of the international community. They want to express that they are capable to govern.”

“The Taliban want to rule in this country in the long term”

The political scientist Matin Baraki, previously a lecturer at the University of Marburg and an Afghan living in Germany for many years, with established contacts in the country (see also article "After 20 years of civil war and 20 years of NATO war the Afghan peoples only long for peace!”), was asked by the website on 16 August whether the Taliban were not to be expected to take revenge on the local forces, the auxiliary forces of the occupying powers. His answer: “That is what is being spread in the media. But there are now two statements by the Taliban in which people who work for the armed forces or other foreign organisations are called upon to stay. After all, they are skilled workers who are needed. That is why the Taliban say: we won’t hurt them – if they regret the collaboration. […] We don’t know if the Taliban keep their promises. We are not clairvoyants. But the Taliban want to rule in this country in the long term. If they want to do that, they have to get along with the people who live there.”

“The Taliban do not want to repeat their sad fate a second time”

It is also interesting to study media outside NATO predominance. For example, RT German on 16 August: “Russia does not believe that Afghanistan will turn into a version of the Islamic State (IS) under the Taliban, the Russian envoy of the [Russian] president for Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, told the TASS news agency. ‘No, I don’t have that worry,’ he said in response to a question on the subject. ‘I have seen in reality how the Taliban have fought the IS, and fought it hard, in contrast to the Americans and the whole of NATO, including the Afghan leadership, which has fled and which has not confronted the IS, but only bowed to it”. [...] The President’s envoy also called for step-by-step monitoring of developments in Afghanistan, saying it was easy to ‘move away from reality with a rich imagination. [...] The Taliban, as they have said, and I also sense very sincerely here, do not want to repeat their sad fate a second time.’”

Ashraf Ghani wanted to flee with four cars full of cash

The same website cites the spokesman of the Russian embassy in Kabul, Nikitas Ischenko, on the same day: “As for the collapse of the regime [of Ashraf Ghani], it is best characterised by the way Ghani fled Afghanistan: four cars were full of money, they tried to put some of the money in a helicopter, but it did not fit. And some of the money was left on the runway.”
  And again, the same website from the same day: “China has asked the [...] Taliban to take over power in Afghanistan peacefully and smoothly. ‘The situation in Afghanistan has changed significantly, and we respect the will and decision of the Afghan people,’ Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunaying told the press in Beijing on Monday. An end to the war and the establishment of peace are both the unanimous wish of the more than 30nbsp;million Afghans and the common expectation of the international community and countries in the region.”

How do the NATO countries react? So far, no lessons learned from the mess!

What has been the reaction of those responsible in NATO’s domain so far? Matin Baraki once again: “You can’t send the German Armed Forces to Afghanistan again, as the CDU’s foreign policy spokesman said. I was really speechless. Where have these people been living for the last 20 years? They have not learned any lessons from the mess. 40 years of war, including 20 years of NATO and German Armed Force operations have not solved the conflict. Former Chancellor Helmut Schmidt already has said: “We should finally stop playing world’s policeman. I think we should leave it to the Afghans to solve their problems. They will do a better job than NATO or the German Armed Force.”

They still pretend as if they only wanted the best

After all, one has to get the impression that hardly any of those responsible in NATO’s dominion fundamentally question its war against Afghanistan – even when there is talk of the “greatest debacle” in NATO’s history (according to the CDU’s chancellor candidate Armin Laschet, cited on of 16nbsp;August 2021). With a renewed “robust” German Armed Force mission, Laschet not only wants to bring the Germans’ “local staff” in Afghanistan to Germany, but also the country’s women’s rights activists. Annalena Baerbock, the chancellor candidate of Bündnis 90/Die Grünen, [the Greens] urges that at least 10,000 local staff members who have worked for the German Armed Forces and “NATO partners” in Afghanistan in recent years to be brought to Germany. Chancellor Angela Merkel still pretends to have acted for the “good” when she characterises the events in Afghanistan as follows: “For the many who have built on progress and freedom, especially women, these are bitter events” (cited on of 16nbsp;August 2021). The neo-conservative US politician John Bolton is even of the opinion that Afghanistan now will fall “back into the 15th century”; because the Taliban are a group of “medieval religious fanaticism” (cited on of 16nbsp;August 2021). The “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung” commented on 16nbsp;August: Twenty years after 9/11 the project ‘Rebuilding Afghanistan’ was still only at the beginning. It was not yet viable on its own.”
  At the same time, the geopolitical Cold War continues. “Afghanistan: Putin’s dangerous flirt with the Taliban” headlined the “Luzerner Zeitung” on 16 August, and on the same day you could read on Spiegel Online: “Afghanistan. China wants ‘friendly relations’ with the Taliban.”

One could know better

This is how attention is deflected, facts are suppressed, denied and/or ignored. Yet one could know better, for years. On 17 August, a newspaper, which is usually quite favourably disposed towards NATO such as the “Neue Zürcher Zeitung”, investigated the question of why the Afghan state was able to collapse within a few days. The answers have been known for a long time. The newspaper says: “If you want to understand why Afghanistan crumbled within two weeks, you have to look back 20 years, keep the Zeitgeist in mind and what it had done to the West. [...] What has gone wrong the past years will keep historians busy for years.”

The West and corruption in Afghanistan

The newspaper names the problem of severe corruption and the West’s responsibility for it. The problem was billions of so-called aid money that ended up in the wrong pockets under the eyes of the donors. The USA itself has been investigating the problem for years – but without consequences. Regarding to a report by the responsible investigative body Sigar (Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction) it was written in March 2021: “As has long been reported, foreign aid has distorted the Afghan economy and aggravated the corruption problem.” The newspaper writes “Billions of dollars in development aid have flowed into Afghanistan.” But also: “Currently, 14nbsp;million people in Afghanistan do not have enough to eat.” It writes: “For years, the West supported a government of kleptocrats.” And: “In the end, the corruption in Afghanistan was so pervasive that people couldn’t get a document authenticated or an identity card issued without paying a bribe.” So, Afghans had “had enough of the state”, “which was more of a facade than an institution”.

“We shot an incredible number of people, but as far as I know, none of them turned out to be a threat”

“We shot an incredible number of people, but as far as I know, none of them turned out to be a threat.” This is how the newspaper cites US General Stanley McChrystal on US warfare. The citation dates back to 2009. Things had not improved since then. On the contrary: “Civilians were killed in night-time house searches, later by drone attacks.” The result was an “alienation of the Afghan population from foreign troops”. The newspaper also mentions the Afghanistan Papers published in 2019 (see box): “In the documents, former soldiers say that bad news and criticism were not welcome at headquarters in Kabul.” Even after the invasion of the Taliban in Kabul, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke of a “successful” US mission in Afghanistan. What caps it all of: Almost at the same time with the NATO disaster in Afghanistan, the US citizen Daniel Hale, who as a whistle-blower had already drawn attention to the devastating consequences of the US drone war in 2015, was sentenced to 45nbsp;months in prison in the USA. The public knows from Daniel Hale that 90 per cent of the drone victims are civilians – many thousands of people.

“So, it is not war that can bring peace, but only justice”

Jürgen Rose, then still an active officer in the German Armed Force, gave a speech at a peace demonstration in Stuttgart in October 2001, shortly after the start of the NATO war against Afghanistan. “Crusade against terrorism?” was his title. What he said at that time is still relevant today. A quote from this speech should therefore conclude this article: “So it is not war that can bring peace, but only justice. In a modification of the well-known Roman motto, thus the device must be: if you want peace, serve peace! This struggle for peace must be waged for the souls and hearts of the people in the Islamic countries – but it is inconceivable that bombs and missiles could lead to success. Every bomb on Afghanistan increases the hatred and resentment against the USA in the Muslim world immeasurably. [...] The nations of the world who call themselves civilised should not fall into the jargon of terror and counter-terror. In view of the terrible catastrophe of New York and Washington and the now looming, at least as horrible, hunger and refugee catastrophe in Afghanistan, they should instead devote all their energies to improving the unbearable political, economic and social conditions in that region of the world.”  •

* Translation of all quotes by Current Concerns


The Afghanistan Papers – never forget!

mw. The Afghanistan Papers were published on 9 December 2019 in the “Washington Post”1 and hit the world like a bomb. They contained hundreds of interviews with high-ranking military and civilian leaders of the Afghan war, on the basis of which John Sopko, US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan (SIGAR), wrote a report for the US Congress. The results of the interviews were so disastrous that the US government wanted to keep the report secret. The journalist Craig Whitlock, however, fought for years for the publication of the documents and finally succeeded. 
  The worldwide outrage in the media after the report in the “Washington Post” was great. Der Spiegel, e. g., wrote: “A 2,000-page report exposes how the US government and military systematically whitewashed the conflict. Now the dossier has been published – thanks to a lawsuit.” The insight from the interviews: “Not a single one of the generals or senior officials actually believed in a positive outcome of the operation or even a victory. Nevertheless, they all publicly claimed the opposite.”2 Because the interviewees assumed that their statements would not be published, they spoke openly.
  Der Spiegel quotes some statements by decision-makers:

  • General Douglas Lute, chief adviser to Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama for Afghanistan: “We lacked a basic understanding of Afghanistan – we didn’t know what we were doing. We didn’t have the faintest clue.”
  • Dan McNeill, Commander of US Forces in Afghanistan (2003/2004 and 2007/2008): “There was a lot of talk, but there was no plan. I tried to define what ‘winning’ meant, but no one could tell me.”
  • Michael Flynn, lieutenant general in Afghanistan and later National Security Advisor to President Donald Trump: “We had no idea what our job was.”

Only one and a half years have passed since the publication of the Afghanistan Papers. So much suffering and destruction, so many dead and injured, the destruction of the country of Afghanistan and its people – forgotten already?

1 “U.S. officials misled the public about the war in Afghanistan”. In: Washington Post of 9 December 2019
2 Koelbl, Susanne. “Geheimbericht zum US-Einsatz in Afghanistan. Der Krieg und die Lügen” (Secret report on the US mission in Afghanistan. The war and the lies). In: Der Spiegel of 11 December 2019

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