Every day, more news pile itself on top of the other regarding Afghanistan and its crisis, from the United States’ withdrawal amidst the Taliban victory to the reinstallation of its far-right-wing regime. This may confuse many of us who are uninformed on this particular subject and its growth throughout half a century, even to those in favor and against an American military intervention, which I will remind myself to discuss later. It might also concern others due to the recent reinstallation of the Sharia law and its misogynistic structures and what it means for the future of many female Afghans, as well as others in neighboring countries that could also fall under Taliban rule if speculation is proven to be correct. Therefore, allow me to chronicle the factors that led up to the concurring destruction that has ravaged this nation. In it, we shall uncover the Afghan past, its present, and its near-possible future.
Chapter 1: First Wave Imperialism in Afghanistan: Colonialism
Throughout much of its modern history, Afghanistan has been under some foreign influence, even after it declared independence. During the nineteenth century, it would be victim to the imperialist competition between Britain and Russia, known by many as The Great Game, where both empires would struggle for its control over Central Asia as well as the Middle East. Under British rule, it would undergo many wars and protests demanding its political autonomy, often resulting in bloody massacres. This conflict has come to define the later course of Afghanistan’s history, as its independence would soon launch it into a crisis surrounding the question of its political status as a nation; should it remain an Islamic monarchy or transform itself to a more modern regime? Furthermore, British colonialism would soon come to outline its borders through diplomatic treaties with surrounding powers, often at the expense of Afghanistan’s peace, as they would unite opposing ethnic groups under the occupation of land, thus resulting in tribal conflicts. Not to say that distinct ethnic groups inherently cannot coexist within each other—that would mean inadvertently advocating in favor of ethnonationalism—but in a developing country with a people loyal prone to tribalism, the mismanagement of borders could prove far more negative in the long run.
Chapter 2: Second Wave Imperialism in Afghanistan: Domino Theory
Intentional or not, the events during the Cold War merely serve as an extension of this Great Game in the Middle East, instead, only involved in a conflict between ideologies for the preservation of a new world order rather than economic interest. Because capitalism is a globally interconnected economy, the thought of a country revolutionizing itself towards communism threatened the relevancy of this status quo, molding what historians would coin as The Domino Theory; it’s what primarily led to American interventionism in Latin America, Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East and its notorious overthrowals of democratically elected socialist leaders in exchange for fascist regimes that benefited capitalist interests—for an obvious example, Pinochet—as well as needless wars of attrition that truly amount to nothing in the end. Where am I going with this? The Taliban, or in this case, the Mujahideen.
Chapter 3: The Mujahideen
In Afghanistan, there has always been a skirmish between the values of urban cities and the rural country fields, for the cities gravitate towards modernity and progress, whereas the fields insist on the preservation of Islamic tradition and culture; the misogynistic structures of the Taliban regime didn’t come from thin air, they were merely accentuated by a hyper-conservative, hyper-religious government that abused the tenets of a conservative majority to assert their power. This is further accentuated by the steep economic equality between these two sectors, as the cities—home to the elite—are far more prosperous than the poor, ravenous heartland that is home to about four-fifths of the total population. Couple that with the federal government’s inability to centralize authority due to the country’s persistent tribalism, and you have yourself an easily manipulable audience to outrage and persuade towards terrorism.
The Mujahideen offered resistance towards the secular threat of the newly formed Soviet government in Afghanistan and its liberal reforms that addressed gender inequality, which incited mass outrage due to its rift from Islamic doctrine. Furthermore, it promised wealth, security, and a sense of purpose to those abandoned by the government, many of those being young, confused, and oppressed minorities. And, with its unifying religious zeal and conservative principles, it appealed to those living in the heart of Afghanistan. Time has shown us, however, that the Mujahideen—despite its altruistic appearance in domestic and international media—was a terrorist organization armed and financed by the CIA in billions of dollars to, according to former president Carter’s defense attorney, “destabilize the Soviet front in the Middle East and reestablish the United States’ international grip as a capitalist superpower by giving the USSR their own Vietnam”. This was known as Operation Cyclone. In reality, it was but a pawn in a modern continuation of this persisting imperialism, crushing any sense of potential liberation from these international landlords that came with the establishment of the albeit flawed Soviet regime. Furthermore, it sent Afghanistan towards its worst decline in history, transforming it into one of the poorest and most dangerous countries in the world due to its oppression of civil liberties, its expansion of terror through war and destruction, and its development of a narcotics state with negative effects in both domestic and international spheres.
Chapter 3.5: Post-War Afghanistan
Years passed, and our “brave Mujahideen fighters” defeat the cruel Soviet government in Afghanistan, setting the stage for the establishment of a purely Islamic state amidst the end of the twentieth century; and all is apparently well. But of course, 9/11 happened, and now these “heroes” are labeled as terrorists for convenience. It may sound insensitive, as many lives were lost in this tragic incident, but when you compare those deaths to the constant destruction and oppression that the American war machine has imposed on the rest of the globe, you start to think like Malcolm X; that the chickens came home to roost. Shocking as it may be, it is deeply ironic that the United States was to be surprised to have received such outward hostility from oppressed regions in the globe. However, before elaborating on the War on Terror, an interlude.
After the end of the Soviet-Afghan war with the Mujahideen’s victory, there came a crisis when defining the state of Afghanistan. You see, after the debacle that was the Vietnam War, the United States Intelligence operated their anti-Soviet plans without care for the local politics that would ensue after the war was over, and because Operation Cyclone involved several third-party groups, they simply left the country in the hands of Pakistan, who sought to use Islam as a tool to control Afghanistan. This is largely why Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, the more religious faction in the Mujahideen, would come to power in this post-war period since they’d be financed by the Pakistani government for their new regime; that, and their confiscation of weapons to ensure a monopoly of violence in their state. Another thing to add is that there were already present signs of jihadist hostility towards the United States since the 1980s, with many prominent leaders already voicing their distaste towards the country. America, a symbol of capitalism and a federal republic, would obviously become an enemy to the believers of a spiritual, religious state, for in their eyes, their institutions would only represent materialism and the international threat of secularism.
In the second part of this article, I will be covering from George Bush’s American jingoism to the actual Taliban regime. Stay tuned!