Doctrines and political programs should be modest in their thinking about Afghanistan. They should shudder to propose solutions for fixing it, as it surpasses both liberation and invasion; being colonized or being independent. This country's experience demonstrates that political ideas and major ideologies do not suffice alone.
Neither the Soviets and their Communism, nor the Americans and their Liberalism, nor Islamists and their jihadists and then their Taliban fighters succeeded at fixing the country. Before any of them emerged on the scene, Afghanistan saw attempts to impose an Ataturkist solution sponsored by its king in a hurry to modernize Amanullah Khan. In 1929, Amanullah was deposed in a civil war.
The "war on terror's" limitations were demonstrated this time, but in preceding periods, the limitations of all kinds of wars were also made evident.
When occupiers invade Afghanistan, they create massive problems, and when they pull out, they create massive problems. Its invasions are a disaster, and this is always easy to say. However, its liberation could also be a disaster, and this is a contentious assertion, though past experiences tell us that whenever the Afghans defeated a foreign invader, they were defeating themselves as well.
The issue is more complicated than that: When Russia withdraws from Afghanistan, the US is faced with a calamity of the scale seen on 9/11. Today, as the US pulls out from Afghanistan, observers are asking: What disasters will Russia, China, Iran, and Turkey face as a consequence of someone else's withdrawal?
A quick ideological and political answer, whether it favors the occupation or is enthusiastic about liberation, does not add much.
Trying to play it smart isn't useful either, the Americans perhaps succeeded during the war between the "Mujahideen" and Moscow, at turning Afghanistan into the "Soviet Union's Vietnam." But New York and Washington were swiftly hit by Afghanistan's hurricanes. Iran has certainly benefited from the Americans bringing down Taliban rule, but with the Taliban's likely return to power, they could end up paying a price equivalent to that which they had received as a result of its overthrow. As for Russia, which rejoiced at Washington's difficulties in Kabul, a new Afghan curse could come to it from Central Asia.
Thus, the world grits its teeth every time Afghanistan is invaded or liberated. These are some of the current headlines accompanying the United States’ preparations to withdraw: Pakistan has voiced its fears of a civil war erupting in Afghanistan followed by a new wave of refugees. Iran shares Pakistan's concerns. NATO is afraid of an Al-Qaeda comeback in a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, which could perhaps host ISIS as well. Turkey, which wants to reconcile with the United States at any cost, has offered to take on the responsibility of ensuring security at Kabul International Airport. The United Nations has expressed increased concern about the grave human rights violations being reported in Afghanistan, and it has reported that 18 million people, or more than half of the population, are in dire need of "life-saving aid." The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has warned of "a looming humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan as the escalating conflict brings increased human suffering and civilian displacement."
In addition to all that life is very cheap in Afghanistan, and displacement is cheaper. Since 2001, between 66,000 and 69,000 Kabul government soldiers, 84,000 fighters from the ranks of the Taliban and their allies, and 71,000 Afghan civilians have been killed. As for the number of internally displaced persons in the country, it is estimated at 3.2 million Afghans, while 2.7 million have sought refuge abroad.
What made Afghanistan what it has become? In this landlocked country that has never been colonized two extremes came together:
- Foreign interventions of every kind, starting in the late nineteenth century, with the “Great Game” between the British and the Russians, which rendered Afghanistan a buffer state. In 1979, the Russians came. In 2001, the Americans came.
- Tremendous ethnic diversity, which is accompanied by partial sectarian diversity. As a result, the minimum consensus needed for political stability was never reached.
These two extremes mutually reinforce one another, and from these two extremes stemmed a third: Fanatism. The identity vis a vis the ethnic other and vis a vis non-Afghans, fortified this fanatism, which manifests itself in many stances, the most famous of which is perhaps the attitude towards women. Afghanistan distinguishes itself from other countries around the world in that it has witnessed suicide attacks on schools that educate girls!
This does not mean that Afghanistan has always been a hopeless state. Modern Afghan history itself witnessed a promising period that stretched from 1964 to 1978. Under King Mohammed Zahir Shah, Kabul adopted a policy of neutrality, granting it the best of ties with Moscow, Washington, and London, and it provoked the three capitals to compete in giving aid to Afghanistan, which distanced itself from the Cold War and, before that, the Second World War.
Domestically, Zahir Shah embarked upon a calm and gradual modernization process accompanied by the adoption of a constitution and the expansion of the role of institutions and the rule of law. 1973 witnessed the Republican coup, which was followed, five years later, by a Communist coup, and the beads started rolling.
Returning to the past is impossible and processing toward the future is also impossible.