So Long, Afghanistan

By Tony Halsteindal 

After 11 years in Afghanistan, our coalition forces, ISAF, are starting to get packed and ready for their complete withdrawal in 2014. The West’s enthusiasm for fighting the war against Taliban has seemingly disappeared and it is now up to Afghan’s own forces to maintain security. As we now leave Afghanistan there are still great insecurities about of what kind of future the nation beholds. The mission has been deemed a failure as the Taliban, who we were supposedly going to defeat, is still at large.

The question many are asking now, looking back at the past 11 years, is why did we even invade Afghanistan in the first place?

It all began with 9/11. It became known that Al Qaida had taken refuge in what was then a Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. Naturally the US, thirsty for justice, invaded the country the month after the attack and overthrew the Taliban government, which resulted in Al Qaida fleeing to Pakistan instead. The point many are making of this is that if the initial goal was Al Qaida and that was made impossible from an Afghanistan angle within the first weeks, why are we still there after 11 years?

The thing is you can’t exactly invade a country and eradicate the status quo and then expect the country to manage itself afterwards. So the past 11 years we’ve basically been in Afghanistan trying to clean up our mess. Although Afghanistan was a mess long before NATO, removing what little stability that existed made us morally responsible for a status quo to reemerge. If not, Afghanistan would certainly have fallen into a civil war, and that probably wouldn’t be too popular in the global community. Still after so many years trying to maintain stability, a civil war is still a possibility after the coalition leaves.

So, why has Afghanistan proven to such an impossible task?

First of all, Afghanistan is a tribal nightmare. The West largely underestimated the complexity of the political landscape, as well as the culture, in Afghanistan. The invasion was way too rushed and didn’t seem to think much of the aftermath of overthrowing the government, and if they did they were very mistaken in how hard it would be to put the pieces back together. This hasty and unplanned occupation is again seen in the several comments that have been regarding the lack of direction. It was always the plan to build a nation, but the department it’s been lacking in is that they didn’t have any sort of vision about the end results. And of course, like we westerners always do these days when we invade a country, we force democracy down their throats.

Democracy has been way to much glorified by us in the West. Don’t get me wrong, I do think democracy is the most ideal way to govern a country, but it doesn’t work unconditionally. To have a healthy and sustainable democracy the nation need at least a portion of the population to have higher education and the technology to support a mass media with free speech.

To be frank, a third world illiterate country like Afghanistan does not have the capabilities to sustain it. Even if by some miracle the democracy manages to hold on it is prone to corruption, like it already is. Afghanistan has more pressing problems than how’s governed.

The more I read about the current situation in Afghanistan the more I’m starting to think that it was a hornet’s nest that we shouldn’t have poked. Everybody agrees that the situation in Afghanistan was bad before we got there, but is the alternative we have provided any better. There are disagreements on whether Afghanistan will have a civil war once the coalition leaves, but to me a civil war seems imminent. So why are we leaving while there is much still to resolve?

The truth, I think, is that people got tired of throwing money at an apparently lost cause. To be honest I can’t say whether we should stay longer or leave as scheduled in 2014. Afghanistan has problems that might take decades to fix, and if you think the enthusiasm for the occupation is bitter now, how do you think it will be after a couple of more decades. And if there is one thing we’ve learned the last decade is that our conventional military force hasn’t work out so well, so maybe it’s for the best that we retreat and rethink our approach.

One thing is for sure, we haven’t heard the last from Afghanistan.

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