One of the most favorite activities for today’s democratic leaders, apart from preaching democracy at every chance they get, is controlling the electoral system of other countries or war invasions. The United States which takes pride in being one of the strongest and oldest democracies in the world is overthrowing the democratic structures in other countries—completely undermining the legitimacy of the people and the interests of other nations all to ensure that it gets to maintain the hegemonic and unquestionable control over power in regional and international politics. The immediate impact of this withdrawal of the U.S. was that thousands of the people of Afghanistan people became refugees in other countries living in desperate conditions
The United States alone is responsible for overthrowing seven governments; according to a report by Foreign Policy, more unsettling is the report by Washington Post, which claims that during the cold war, the United States tried to overthrow the governments in other countries at least 72 times. The fact that there are these first-world democratic countries that are controlling the political systems of other countries is minded baffling in itself though what makes it worse is the kind of lengths that these countries go to achieve their goals; from controlling the economic system of countries to threatening these countries with tariffs and international segregation to full-fledged military attacks nothing is off the table for these first-world democracies.
Why we are disappointed in democracies?
“The literature on the use of economic power politics in general and on sanctions in particular almost always proceeds from a mechanically economic point of view.”(Merom, 1990) These countries completely operate on the principle that anything that serves their interests, especially economic interest, is fair, and because of their evident power and influence, there would hardly be any voice that would challenge their actions as they control the World’s economy. “Henry Bienen and Robert Gilpin characterize sanctions as the “manipulation of economic relations for political objectives” designed to “threaten or execute eco- nomic punishment in order to coerce a society to change its policy or its government”(Merom, 1990)
These countries extensively use the economic advantage that these developed nations hold over the developing countries as the prime tool for executing their policies and coercing countries into adopting and implementing their doctrines of political, economic, and, more often than not, social structure.
One of the prime examples of critical democratic destabilization followed by military intervention is that of Afghanistan; the country perhaps went through one of the worst power conflicts in recent history with the established legitimized government being overthrown and the establishment of a controlled democracy that not only ensured the preservation of the interests of the United States but the corrupt leaders made sure to that the government institutions become practically useless through their corruption and through establishing the conflict of interest through the mechanism of foreign aid.
“The article suggests that the majority of U.S. interventions in the region are done to increase its own sphere of power, similar to British and French colonization prior to World War I, with little thought given to the humanitarian aspect unless it is useful as a tool for expansion.” (Wood, 2019)It is a web of deceits and strategic manipulations that is not only difficult to comprehend but nearly impossible to get out of as this attacks the foundational basis of the country rendering its institutions and economy futile.
The US-Afghan conflict is intrinsically complex and long-standing
In order to comprehend it, we need to chronologically explore the series of events keeping in hindsight the implications and repercussions of the decisions made by the stakeholders during different time periods. Although the US has only had an active ‘military’ presence in Afghanistan for the last 20 years, the influence and the strategic ramifications in the Afghan political structure by the United States started at least 40 years ago during the cold war.
“In 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan and installed a Marxist puppet regime, an attempt to impose order after two separate coups. Millions of Afghanis fled to Pakistan and other nearby countries, while thousands of others took up arms against the Red Army. The U.S., seeing a chance to stymie its Cold War foe, provided weapons to Afghan militias, including radical Islamist factions.”(Wadhams, 2021)This was the beginning of one of the most long-standing issues of this century that lead to immense economic and human devastation. “Aerial operations caused 519 civilian casualties (363 deaths and 156 injured), 150 of which were child casualties (89 deaths and 61 injured).
This represents a 39 percent increase in overall civilian casualties from this aerial tactic alone. While the number of injured decreased, the number of civilians killed more than doubled, highlighting the lethal character of this tactic.”(AFGHANISTAN, 2019) According to the Atlantic, it was reported that an estimated 1 million Afghan civilians were killed throughout the brutal nine-year war period. The fact that almost all the discursive debates ignore while discussing the Afghan issue the people and the nation are left at a bay makes it a humanitarian threat not just for Afghanistan but for every other country that can be on the United States’ list of strategic accusations.
In this proxy war primarily between the capitalist U.S. and Marxist Soviet Union, the highest cost was paid by the people of Afghanistan. The strategies of attack taken by the U.S. led to casualties of several hundred Afghan civilians. However, on the other hand, the war waged by the forces of the Soviet Union caused casualties of several thousand Afghan people. For instance, “The Soviets carpet-bombed cities such as Kandahar, whose population fell from 250,000 to 25,000. Millions of land mines were planted all over the country, with no maps kept of where they had been laid.” (Riedel, 2010) It can be said at this point that the most damage of any war is born by the people being invaded.
Additionally, here one is forced to think: were the policies of ruthless invasion by the U.S. entirely wrong because more deaths occurred at the hands of the forces of the Soviet Union. However, one can reply that it was the war raged by the U.S. against the invasion by the Soviet Union that resulted in these deaths. Moreover, although the U.S. claims that the involvement in the matters of Afghanistan took place due to humanitarian reasons, critics generally hold the view that the U.S. invaded because it wanted to maintain its global supremacy and defeat or suppress the uprising of any economic system that differed or contrasted greatly from capitalism.
“Once the Cold War was over, however, the concrete danger of nuclear war had ceased, yet U.S. involvement in the Middle East persisted. The defeat of the Soviet Union in the Cold War led to the U.S. becoming the hegemonic superpower at the center of world power (Krauthammer, 1990) and so its policies changed from military security to economic security”(Wood, 2019) This economic issue in case of Middle East was tied to its oil and strategic geographical position and the United States went on the militarily control Afghanistan in order to ensure its control over these resources.
The diplomacy of oil
“Oil is a controversial, yet consistent factor in U.S. involvement in the Middle East, which is an area that remains critical for the future of energy and is thought to hold 65% of the world’s oil reserves (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, 2018). The Oil Factor (2005) suggests that because oil is so crucial to the U.S. that the Bush administration was in fact lucky when their aggressive foreign policy inadvertently produced the Islamist force behind 9/11 so that they could pursue further interests in the Middle East.”(Wood, 2019) This motive lead the US government to occupy and control Afghanistan for 20 years through the active military presence and in the process, the US government completely sabotaged the democratic government to ensure that it can fulfill its interests in the region.
Nearing the end of the Cold War, the United States became aware of Afghanistan’s strategic importance, and the events that took place in the years to come to create a situation where the United States could just comfortably slip into the region’s politics, followed by a military coup under the pretext of militarization in the region. “September 11 did not create racialized Muslims, Arabs, or South Asians. Rather, the authors highlight a preexisting, racializing war on terror and a more complex history of these groups with race both globally and domestically.”(Cainkar, 2018)The United States had already started a strategic plan to bring Afghanistan and the Muslim diaspora under control as it posed a threat to the power hegemony, and the strategic importance of these countries could eventually lead to them becoming an important player in the regional politics which the United States didn’t want.
The situation obviously being the 9/11 attacks on the twin towers in New York, the blame of this tragedy was put on the Taliban and Usama Bin Ladin specifically. Followed by these accusations, Osama Bin Laden, who was in the good graces of the Saudi Royal family, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and at one point, the United States itself became public enemy number one for the entire world. The United States issued orders against any and every country and individual or organization that would support him and his organization. This created a sense of hostility towards the Middle East, Afghanistan, and essentially the entire Muslim diaspora under the pretext of terrorism.
In order to extradite Osama Bin Laden from Afghanistan, the United States put sanctions on Afghanistan “UN Security Council passes the US and Russian-backed resolution demanding that the Taliban comply with resolution 1267, turn over Osama bin Laden, and close all terrorist camps within 30 days. Resolution 1333 imposes an arms embargo against the Taliban that also includes military training and advice.”(Gary Clyde Hufbauer (PIIE), 2008) These sanctions proved devastating for the economy of Afghanistan and plunged the country into the worst economic crisis of recent history.
“No reliable economic statistics are available about Afghanistan for years, but in 1991, according to U.S. estimates, the gross national product per person was $155, one of the lowest in the world. The country is a major producer of opium, which brought in an estimated $183 million last year, but Afghanistan has few valuable legal exports and little to show for its drug income.”(The Washington Post, 1999) These economic sanctions led to the country’s economy getting wrecked and then later on becoming completely dependent on foreign funding; this economic move put the Afghan administration under the thumb of the US government.
US intervention in Afghanistan: What actually happened?
The United States government then moved on to the next stage of operations, the military intervention of Afghanistan. “Less than a month after the September 11 attacks, US President George W Bush launches “Operation Enduring Freedom” in Afghanistan after the Taliban refuses to hand over al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. In a matter of weeks, the US-led forces overthrow the Taliban, which had been in power since 1996.”(AGENCIES, 2021)
This war started by the United States continued for the next 20 years, coming to an end in 2021, and in these 20 years, this led to immense damage in the country, not only in terms of the economy, but the human loss that the people of Afghanistan had to experience is unparalleled and absolutely devastating. “Although there is clear evidence of realist strategy by the U.S. in terms of foreign policy, interventions in other states are justified as being for the good of humanity, because the U.S. is promoting democracy.”(Wood, 2019) Through this strategic move, the United States not only ensured the hegemony over Afghanistan but also left the country’s politics and institutions paralyzed in a manner that would continue to harm and haunt the country for decades to come.
The United States destabilized Afghanistan in order to put itself in a strategically significant place both geographically and politically to ensure its strategic gains in the region. The mechanism that was adopted by the United States is no less than a Hollywood movie; Afghanistan was first put under immense pressure through tariffs and political boycotts, which later on got intensified through military intervention in the country. This destabilization shook the entire fabric of the societal and political structure of Afghanistan, with the institutions being rendered nearly useless as a result of the continued intervention of the United States in the government.
This strategic move resulted in suffrage of the Afghan people with thousands of innocent lives being lost, millions of dollars in economic loss, the country becoming the central point of different proxy wars of the region, the country’s political system getting completely being rendered useless and implications and repercussions which will continue to haunt the country for years to come.
America in an attempt to maintain and enforce its hegemony over Afghanistan and defeat the Marxist government of the Soviet Union during the cold war also utilized the military, land, and institutions of Afghanistan’s neighboring country Pakistan. Firstly, it provided Pakistan large sums of money in aid to assist the freedom fighters in Afghanistan. For instance, the ammunitions supplied to the freedom fighters fighting against the army of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan were done through Pakistan. “The U.S. channeled some US$2-3 billion worth of covert assistance through Pakistan to the mujahedeen, training over 80,000 of the fighters.” (Malik, 2021)
Understanding Pakistan’s involvement
Also, prominent members of the Pakistan Army and Pakistan’s security and intelligence agencies provided Mujahidin guidance and training during the Afghan war in the 1980s and 1990s. Secondly, Pakistan was paid large sums to maintain and open new Madrassas (Islamic religious institutions). Originally designed to impart religious education to young children. These institutions in Pakistan were utilized for the agenda of indoctrination. These enabled US and Pakistan collectively to create a large generation of young men who were exposed to the horrors and trials of war from a very young age. The curriculum for the Madrassas was designed by the US.
In the curriculum young children were taught alphabets and counting through different war-related terms and through the count of dead soldiers and the count of weapons. “Special books were published by the Centre of Afghan Studies in the University of Nebraska-Omaha with American funding aimed at promoting militancy. Basic Math was taught by counting dead Russians and Kalashnikov rifles.” (Iqbal, 2015) Hence due to the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan and the War on Terrorism, millions of children in Pakistan and Afghanistan (especially Afghan refugees) were indoctrinated and militarized primarily to fulfill the U.S. agenda of global economic and political supremacy.
After the civil war in Afghanistan ended these children were recruited by Islamic religious extremist organizations, and these children became the new face of terrorism and extremism to this day.
The last section of the article will focus on the United States’ engagement in Afghanistan throughout the first twenty years of the twenty-first century, as well as its recent exit from Afghanistan. To stop the rising wave of Islamic terrorism by the Mujahidin and Taliban, the U.S. made bases primarily in Afghanistan after the cold war. NATO forces were also involved. In the last decade, the involvement of the U.S. in the destabilization of Afghanistan was very prominent. When the attacks by the Taliban increased, U.S. President Donald Trump said: “We will fight to win in Afghanistan. America’s enemies must never know our plans or believe they can wait us out.
I will not say when we are going to attack, but we will.” (Histoey.com Editors, 2021). Followed by Trump’s speech, the U.S. adopted an aggressive policy towards the Taliban in Afghanistan which further worsened the situation, and the cost of U.S. aggressive policies was mostly paid by the civilians in Afghanistan. However, in 2021, soon after current U.S. President Joe Biden came to power, he ordered the withdrawal of U.S. troops and evacuation of U.S. military and airbases.
He said: I was the fourth president to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan—two Republicans, two Democrats. I would not, and will not, pass this war on to a fifth.” (History.com Editors, 2021). In the statement of President Joe Biden, there was an admission of guilt and failure. His statement shows that there were four American governments that failed to contain the destabilization of Afghanistan.
In conclusion, the withdrawal of troops from the U.S. further deteriorated the condition in Afghanistan, leaving the country in a humanitarian crisis. The Taliban took over and formed their government. For example, “An estimated 53,000 evacuees from Kabul remain on eight military bases across the country. Thousands more are waiting at U.S. bases abroad to come to the United States.” (Jordan, 2021).
The writer is studying at McMaster University, Canada. He can be reached at @durranimad. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.