Pakistan may be an easy scapegoat, but the culprit behind the current situation in Afghanistan is the US, which created a political order that prioritised its counterterrorism agenda over the Afghan people.
There has been a surging trend among pro-Western and pro-Kabul social media users in recent days to #SanctionPakistan. The logic goes that, without Pakistan’s allegedly erstwhile support for the Taliban, the powerful insurgents would not have had the capability to topple the fragile house of cards that the United States-led occupation forces built following their invasion in 2001.
Presumably, and should Pakistan be subjected to sanctions, then this would only be punitive and would still fail to stop the Taliban’s inexorable advance.
But this is an illogical position to adopt. For those lamenting Afghanistan’s current condition and its imminent return to the dominion of the Taliban, there is but one culprit to blame – the United States of America.
A rump state is no state at all
It would be the pinnacle of blissful ignorance for anyone – particularly the Afghans themselves – to buy the fable that the US led an alliance of NATO countries halfway across the globe in 2001 to topple the Taliban and to give “hope” and “democracy” as a gift to the Afghan people. This rhetoric has become so tired that it is a wonder that it is still being peddled, whether in reference to Afghanistan or Iraq, the two countries most utterly destroyed by the depravity of the American “democratic” experiment.
As writer Anand Gopal tweeted (rather wisely in my estimation), the United States set up the post-2001 Afghan state to serve its counterterrorism agenda and not in service of the Afghan people. That much should be blindingly obvious to anyone who has watched Afghanistan crumble year on year for the past two decades. Yet we are now supposed to believe that Pakistan is responsible for the mess of Afghanistan?
Pakistan did not install a corrupt kleptocracy that is so fantastically out of touch with regular Afghans that it held two simultaneous presidential inauguration ceremonies for two bickering politicians.
Pakistan also was not responsible for allowing the relatives of narcotics traffickers like Fawzia Koofi to take public office and support her criminal relatives into ascending the ranks of public power.
Pakistan was most assuredly not responsible for the disastrous state of the Afghan National Army, a force of supposedly 300,000 men under arms yet which is plagued by “ghost soldiers”, with officers claiming the salaries of men who do not even exist.
The above is not to argue that Pakistan has absolutely no ties to the Taliban, as they clearly do. Unsurprisingly, Pakistan as a neighbouring country has a great interest in what transpires in Afghanistan and likely maintains contact, both overt and clandestine, with all manner of factions. That said, Pakistan has been known to torture Taliban commanders and capture them and let them die behind bars.
Perhaps knowing this encouraged Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to make his first official visit to Pakistan where he laid a floral wreath at the Shuhada Monument in honour of fallen Pakistani servicemen – the same people allegedly behind the Taliban.
One might argue that Ghani was trying to curry favour by getting the Taliban’s “masters” in a good enough mood to tighten the leash. Yet even if that were the case (which is highly doubtful considering Pakistani measures taken against the Taliban), the argument that Islamabad is to blame for Afghanistan’s woes neglects two full decades of an American rump state being created and built up around Kabul, constructed around a selfish political elite who care nothing for regular Afghans.
This political elite did precious little after Australian special forces perpetrated vicious and heinous war crimes against the Afghan people, and in fact Ghani signed the treaties that gave these criminals immunity from Afghan law.
This is also the same rump state that will not protect its own female police officers from being raped by their senior commanders, allows for sexual favours to be exchanged for government positions and exposes female aides to routine sexual harassment.
Perhaps the need to blame someone else has Pakistan as an easy scapegoat. But it is crystal clear that it is impossible to blame the Pakistanis for the litany of failures outlined above that all happened under the watchful eye of Uncle Sam.
Call for an end to American imperialism
Of course, all the above – from ghost soldiers to corrupt politicians and traffickers in public office – is replicated in none other than Iraq which is another country that suffered extensively under the boot of American military occupation and “state-building”.
The parallels between the two occupied countries can often be striking, despite their very different peoples and contexts. This is unsurprising considering the United States often tried to apply the same approach to both countries and failed miserably each time.
Rather than creating an oasis of democratic stability, Iraq is now a haven for terrorists and is Iran’s playground while the Iraqi people are suffocated under the sheer weight of the corruption now manifest at every level of public life.
In Afghanistan, the Taliban is on the cusp of attacking Kabul itself despite fantastical declarations 20 years ago that the group’s days were numbered.
The reasons why the US failed in both Afghanistan and Iraq is because the political systems it created and imposed were created in bad faith. Washington only ever wanted to deal with a pliable elite, not a truly representative government.
In Afghanistan’s case, the Taliban as an insurgent force would have found fighting a war for two decades impossible without local buy-in. Guerrilla warfare often requires the assistance of local populations, and those local populations would have been less forthcoming were it not for the fact that they never felt as though Kabul represented them, but rather represented America’s imperial interests. It is for that reason that we now look at maps of Afghanistan and see a sea of Taliban power surrounding a small Kabul island, and that has absolutely nothing to do with Pakistan.
It would therefore be more productive to focus less on pillorying Pakistan, and more on targeting one’s ire on the United States as, without them and their intervention, Afghans would never have been in this position in the first place.