Afghanistan: UK's accomplishment, Karzai's failure
The lamentable state of Afghanistan is the fault of the corrupt, appeasing Karzai government, not British, American or other liberating forces who have done a fine job, under the circumstances
For all the isolationist chatter about the War in Afghanistan, from invoking poor clichés like the warrant for the “world’s policemen” to positing bad conscience comments about dead children, not very many people saw an alternative to a direct invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Need a refreshment as to why?
There had been the worst single attack on the West in living memory; there was a government in Afghanistan which not only licensed and praised this attack, it promised to do everything within its power to obstruct justice.
That government controlled a rogue state, comparable only with Iraq and Iran in terms of its threat to other countries; within this rogue state, aside from the flouting of nearly every international law regarding terrorism, its people were starving, bankrupt and under threat every day by religious barbarians demanding the most literal interpretation of a very old and, in the wrong hands, not very moral book.
Fast forward over twelve years, and British Prime Minister David Cameron declares “mission accomplished”; that the invasion of Afghanistan was a success. Many have already seen fit to criticize this statement. After all, nearly 500 British soldiers are dead, as well as heaven knows how many Afghan civilians, and approximately 10,000 brave members of the Afghan security forces who are determined to reach a level where they can police their own country.
Nearly £50billion ($82 million) has been spent on this war, too. In a time of austerity where the average Brit is feeling the pockets tighten, this figure is all the more ominous. With all this in mind, Cameron’s comments may seem a little out of touch, or insensitive, or both.
But, from the perspective of British soldiers, has the mission been accomplished? It seems that if we isolate the War in Afghanistan rather than muddle the issues with the more controversial invasion of Iraq, it has been a success. After all, the Taliban as a force were crushed and/or scattered swiftly and effectively, to international applause and recognition.
Afghanistan now has its own security service and renewed police force which, for its many faults, is progress of a serious kind. The military victory has led to a more pro-Western regime, in turn supported by this security service, which allows for further pressure on the more foreboding countries which Afghanistan shares borders with, such as Iran and Pakistan.
So, from a British perspective, David Cameron was partially right that the initial mission has been successful. But, from an Afghan perspective, he could not have been more wrong.
Why the disparity here? Well, the diagnosis of most of the problems of contemporary Afghanistan are best framed within national and international political speak, rather than talk about the military.
This is because, much to the chagrin of those on the Left advocating isolationism before the War in Afghanistan, the problems are not a result of the “neo-imperialist” ethic of British and American troops. Rather, the biggest problem for Afghanistan has not been caused by British or American military might; but rather by the government of Hamid Karzai.
Karzai, a tribal militant leading a force loyal to the former King of Afghanistan, was pivotal in uniting Afghans friendly to the Western forces against the Taliban. At the time, Karzai’s assistance both in matters social (such as in winning ‘hearts and minds’) to matters military (in leading allied attacks against Taliban strongholds in Kandahar and Tora Bora in late 2001) was much welcomed.
But Karzai as a politician has left much to be desired; indeed, his governance is the central reason why Afghanistan totters on the brink of falling back into every single one of its old problems as soon as an Anglo-American withdrawal occurs.
There are three problems with Karzai’s leadership, each of which should be treated as a disgrace. I’ll lay them out for you.
Karzai has gone to great lengths to undo the near-mortal blows struck to the Taliban by the firepower of the US, the UK and NATO by navigating a policy of sheer appeasement. There are too many ways to mention here; but how about a few?
How about supporting a Islamist “code of conduct” for women proposed by the Ulema council in 2012, which proposes giving men license to beat their wives? Or how about in April of this year, when Karzai gave permission to Mullah Omar, the previous head of the Taliban from 1996 to 2001, to run for public office once more, which then led to at least 50 people being murdered as a method of voter coercion?
Or how, just two days ago, Karzai let himself be walked over by the Islamist factions of the Lower House of the Afghan Parliament who rejected calls for Hindu seats among their number, in a bid to increase minority representation?
The list is staggering, and no means exclusive to these examples.
ii) Karzai’s corruption
All optimism for Karzai to lead a clean, honest democratic process were quickly quashed when, in the elections of August, 2009, every part of Karzai’s re-election victory appeared dishonest, corrupt and flawed. Across Afghanistan, from Kabul to Herat, polling stations which had never been opened for people to register their democratic choice recorded often thousands of pro-Karzai votes.
This had the worst possible effect; it both made the working class Afghan set cynical about the voting process, and once more appeased the Taliban, who as we all know see elections as un-Islamic, particularly when women can take part in them as well as men.
Aside from the obvious dogmatism Karzai has displayed against collaborating with the U.S. for a future plan for both a solid Afghanistan and a U.S. soldier-free country in recent months, there are blatant displays of anti-Americanism frequently espoused by Karzai himself.
First, there was the pledge to encourage the “Afghanistan” elections; what this means, when you cut back the rhetoric, is a demotion of women to unequal rights to vote, a heavier Islamic influence, and a second-class view of democratic process as a whole.
Second, there is the fact that Karzai often alludes to the U.S. as a “colonial power”, which is quite obviously false to everyone, save for the most irrational critics of U.S. foreign policy. This undermines the seriousness by which the Afghan government treats the aid they receive, and also sends a message to the Taliban that the country is divided, therefore weak.
Lastly (for now), Karzai has a repeated history of failing to mention the UK and the US amongst the list of other countries he honours and pays respect to for supporting Afghanistan, despite those two providing nearly all of the military support and training necessary to train up a serious Afghan Security Service out of the thrifty, brave Afghan recruits.
The entire debate about the state of Afghanistan has been to the neglect of national issues within Afghan itself. The British press is always quick to criticize British and American governments for the problems within the region, at the expense of the truth.
It’s because it is both easy and desirable to frame the issue so that the bad guy is the British soldier with the gun. But the great progress made by those soldiers are neglected so as to simplify the debate and promote both an anti-British and an anti-military agenda.
Whatever has been accomplished in Afghanistan, it has been by the help of the British and U.S. soldiers. To that degree, David Cameron was right. But Afghanistan faces serious internal problems, which could in turn jeopardise its long-term success, whilst crooks and nepotists like Hamid Karzai still control the country.
Richard Elliott is a regular contributor to The Commentator and a columnist for The Backbencher, as well as an irregular contributor to many others. He is based in London
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