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Afghanistan - A sombre reality.

Actualizado: 9 nov 2021



Afghanistan, once a political buffer state between the Soviet Union and the USA during the Cold War, now a rogue state and misogynistic dystopia ruled by a despotic regime, instilling a humanitarian crisis and revealing the true instability and disunity within global politics, this article shall provide a political and historical analysis as to how this happened while explaining the consequences of pulling economic and military resources from this now rogue state and what the future holds for Afghanistan.


Afghanistan first became a focal point within Cold War geopolitics between 1978 and 1979 after the Iranian Revolution when Ayatollah Khomeini led a 444-day siege of the US embassy in Tehran, forcing the Shah of Iran to flee, therefore succumbing to the new and emerging doctrine which is now known as Islamic fundamentalism. The Soviet Union was concerned that nearby Iran would influence Afghanistan (which was considered to be within the Soviet sphere of influence) and its governance/ideology, potentially becoming an Islamic state which could have a knock-on effect for nearby Soviet satellite states, therefore potentially encircling the communist Soviet Union with new and emerging Islamic nation-states.


However, this just wasn’t merely a politically motivated invasion… The OPEC Oil Crisis of 1973 as well as the 1979 Oil Shock shook the stability of the global political economy as well as Bretton Woods Institutions, it had a destabilising impact around the world, particularly in the West. Despite this, the Soviet Union saw Afghanistan as an opportunity to extend its influence into the Middle East and utilise their oil reserves. Nonetheless, after staging a coup in 1978 and establishing a communist regime within Afghanistan, many Afghans felt alienated, their culture was torn apart by these egotistical socialist non-Islamic reforms, which resulted in a civil war in the Spring of 1979 between the Mujahedeen and the Soviet forces, an expense which cost the Soviet government $8 billion per year.


As with all proxy wars within the politico-ideological Cold War, the US was bound to become involved. After the Iranian Revolution, the new Iranian regime was highly anti-US and pressure was put upon US oil assets once more, they became more sensitive to changes within the Middle East, especially within Afghanistan, and President Carter was unwilling to let the USSR get away with another subsequent intervention and implementation of a totalitarian regime within another country in the name of communism, which is why he permitted the CIA to provide weapons, funds and training to the Mujahedeen, deployed a trade embargo upon the Soviet Union, ended all diplomatic ties with the USSR as well as withdrawing the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks [SALT] II agreement from the US Senate.


Therefore, we can see a pattern emerging, of states using their hard, soft and smart power to influence smaller states (as seen throughout the entire Cold War period) and change the geopolitical standing. The result of the damaging Western and Soviet imperialism eroded cultures, destroyed livelihoods and encouraged violence, political disunity, human rights violations, genocide, and we are still seeing the effects of the damaging involvement in Afghanistan to this day, with more than ‘240,000’[1] Afghan civilians being internally displaced, ‘47.3% living below the poverty line’[2] and in fear from a radical, misogynistic regime that the international community could have worked together to protect.


After the Cold War, the next global event relating to Afghanistan that shocked the globe was the tragedy that was 9/11. This was the most significant threat the West had faced from Islamic fundamentalist groups since the 80s with Afghanistan. As such, in response, the West launched a humanitarian intervention in 2001 with the aim of eliminating the threat that Al-Qaeda posed to the ever-globalised world, with their aim of preventing further human rights atrocities, genocide and crimes against humanity, with the deluded belief that by establishing the conditions for liberal democracy within Afghanistan, foreign intervention would create a safer world (one with lesser terrorism), the ending of a human rights culture based on the violation of female rights, and create a society grounded in principles such as tolerance, equality and inclusivity.


Despite this optimistic idealism, Afghanistan culturally and politically is remarkably different to states within the Global North as they govern themselves on completely different principles to the West, disregarding the concept of diplomacy and human rights as they are the products of an Atlantic-centric paradigm and we cannot hope to understand them on a deep and cultural level such as the significance of ethnic, tribal, and family alliances/tensions within the region, nor can we expect Afghanistan to understand our western monoculture. With this point in mind, it is fair to compare modern-day Afghanistan to Vietnam in the 60s and 70s, with the US and its NATO allies making a huge military commitment to establish its presence within towns and cities, but it is another to ensure the long-term security of Afghan citizens and other nationals and the force of Islamic fundamentalism within southern and eastern Afghanistan was far more embedded and resonant within local cultures than western imperial attempts to encourage gender equality and upholding human rights, and this served to undermine western attempts to build trust within fragile and marginalised communities.


As we have seen within the last month, after 20 years of prolonged struggle, conflict, and violence, and spending $5.8 trillion, US and NATO ally troops finally withdrew from Afghanistan after Biden’s announcement in April stating how the USA achieved their objectives 10 years ago after the assassination of Osama bin Laden, leader of Al-Qaeda and they have prevented Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven/sanctuary for Al-Qaeda, with Biden stating that “reasons for staying have become increasingly unclear”. While this is true, the USA and its allies are leaving behind another regime, who has a reputation for harsh enforcement of laws, committing crimes against humanity as well as acts of genocide, starving Afghan civilians, destroying livelihoods, not forgetting a history of misogyny and discrimination crusade against women.


Therefore we can see there needs to be a re-evaluation of Western policy in regards to intervention as throughout history in conflicts and interventions within the Global South countries such as, Korea, Vietnam, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya, and now Afghanistan, attempting to instil Liberal values and democracy upon nation-states that are either still suffering the consequences of colonialism or that are so politically, culturally, and historically different from the homogenised Western world, that any implementation of western values ensues states in civil war, with them teetering on collapse, and their political system in disarray. However, this is not just applicable to the US, it also applies to the UN itself and the ‘Responsibility to Protect' (R2P) doctrine established in 2005, whereby if states fail to protect its citizens from atrocities and crimes against humanity, UNSC should recommend and authorise humanitarian intervention, a policy that has only served to hinder a global liberal cosmopolitan and has in some cases, caused autocratic states to become failed states. Although we are seeing a more globalised, interconnected world, multilateral, intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations, and non-state actors need to find more tangible solutions to dealing with states who act in defiance of international norms than military intervention and need to stop this futile attempt to homogenise the world and accept that there will always be differences and tolerate such cultures as to be in line with liberal values, unless such cultures entrench the violation of rights and discrimination, otherwise the West faces a humiliating hypocritical realisation in years to come.


We are now seeing a paradigm shift in global politics, with the US now declaring the end of the era of it being the ‘world policeman’ state and entering a foreign policy strategy that relies less upon focused military intervention due to the rise of non-state actors such as ISIS spreading throughout Syria and Iraq, but the question is, who or what will become the next ‘world policeman’, could it be China perhaps? although they are notoriously known for suppressing basic freedoms and their campaign against Uyghur Muslims, could it be the United Nations? However, in order to take on this role they would need significant reform as this institution is based on western and liberal values and those who wield significant power belong to the Global North and subsequently use it to promote realism and national populism once again, or should it be left to a non-governmental organisation such as Human Rights Watch? Although they are not subject to the multitude of checks and balances that national governments and IGOs are currently scrutinised for. But one thing is for certain, we cannot continue to rely on a policy of intervention, it takes us back to the days of the Cold War where geo-strategic self-interest took priority. Diplomacy, the embracing of cultures and building relationships with not just states, but other non-state actors is needed to fully utilise the ever-globalised and interconnected world we now live in, as when diplomacy ends, war begins.





Bibliography: [1] https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2021/08/20/afghanistan-internally-displaced-crisis/ [2] https://www.adb.org/countries/afghanistan/poverty