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Home / Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Afghanistan a victim of US 'democracy trials'

By Wang Wei | China Daily | Updated: 2021-09-24 07:28
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US President Joe Biden speaks during the 76th Session of the General Assembly at UN Headquarters in New York on September 21, 2021. [Photo/Agencies]

While addressing the 76th Session of the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, US President Joe Biden defended his decision to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan.

Biden said:"We've ended 20 years of conflict in Afghanistan. And as we close this period of relentless war, we're opening a new era of relentless diplomacy; of using the power of our development aid to invest in new ways of lifting people up around the world; of renewing and defending democracy; of proving that no matter how challenging... the problems we're going to face, government by and for the people is still the best way to deliver for all of our people."

In stark contrast to Biden's beautiful words, the truth about the US is ugly. On Sept 18, 2001, the US Congress authorized then president George W. Bush "to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations and persons".

Shortly after that, Bush launched "Operation Enduring Freedom" to end the "ghost rule of al-Qaida in Afghanistan", saying the conflict would be "a lengthy campaign unlike any other we have ever seen". Ironically, Bush made a deterministic prophecy, as the campaign became the US' longest war.

After two decades of futile intervention, Biden was determined to pull US troops out of Afghanistan. Yet the chaotic US withdrawal led to a lack of confidence in the Afghan government. In fact, the situation in Afghanistan began going out of control as soon as the news of the complete US withdrawal leaked to the public.

Amid the chaos and uncertainly, the Taliban entered Kabul on Aug 15, and the Ashraf Ghani-led Afghan government fell without resistance.

The reality is that the US was defeated, politically and psychologically, by the "medieval thugs". It became the second superpower to withdraw from Afghanistan with a bloodied nose. The US failed to establish Western-style democracy in Afghanistan despite nearly 20 years of occupation and spending more than $2 trillion.

Since 2001, one of the common tasks of US presidents has been defining the different missions in Afghanistan. In May 2003, the Pentagon said "the major combat in Afghanistan was over. Focus for the US and its international partners has turned toward reconstructing the country and installing a Western-style democratic political system".

As part of the ambitious "Great Middle East Initiative", the Afghanistan democracy experiment received great attention. An election was held in the country on Sept 17, 2005, following which a government was formed. And in spite being known for "widespread corruption", the government satisfied the US' need for justifying its actions.

In November 2011, then US secretary of defense Leon Panetta said:"Afghanistan is on a much better track in terms of our ability to eventually transition to an Afghanistan that can govern and secure itself. Obviously, there is greater success in the Afghan military and police. The Afghan military is engaging in operations."

But the situation in Afghanistan was just the opposite. According to an investigation report in 2013, "it's not a proper democracy; it's not safe; the vast majority of people here are still poor and illiterate; and it's still got the Taliban, al-Qaida and a lot of narco-traffickers in play".

Later, the Barack Obama administration adopted a "good enough" view toward Afghanistan, which was a "recognition that attempts to cultivate a Western-style democracy were mostly hopeless and the United States' role should be limited".

Worse, in early 2016 the "unity government" faced a serious political crisis, forcing then US secretary of state John Kerry to visit Kabul and try to rescue the collapsing regime. Yet even Kerry couldn't help solve the problem. The tense rivalries within the government were never reconciled, and accountability seemed to be an unknown word for the government officials.

That's why previous US president Donald Trump asked his officials to directly negotiate the withdrawal deal with the Taliban-which signaled the marginalization of Ghani, who fled Afghanistan when the Taliban entered Kabul.

US occupation was never good for the Afghan people. Instead of nurturing a healthy democracy, the US created a corrupt government, which undermined Afghanistan's socioeconomic development.

According to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, even before the Taliban takeover, the Afghan people were already "experiencing one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world". Guterres said:"Today one in three Afghans do not know where their next meal will come from. The poverty rate is spiraling, and basic public services are close to collapse."

Apparently, the US' check for establishing modern democracy in Afghanistan couldn't be cashed.

No wonder Biden recently said "there wasn't anything more we could do to build Afghanistan into a stable democracy".

The author is a research fellow at the Institute of American Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. The views don't necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

If you have a specific expertise, or would like to share your thought about our stories, then send us your writings at opinion@chinadaily.com.cn, and comment@chinadaily.com.cn.

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