There is an Afghan proverb that says, “never wash blood with blood.” Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the United States and its allies tried to clean up their wounds by doing just that. They also lit a fire hose of aid money to help rebuild a country torn apart by decades of war.
It did not work.
On August 15, two decades after the war began, the Taliban entered Kabul virtually without resistance and took control of the country in the last days of the US occupation.
To most observers, the speed of the Taliban’s takeover was shocking. But a former Afghan ambassador to Canada says he saw it coming.
“I saw this train wreck, if you will call it that, or this collapse,” Omar Samad told Global News. “I kept warning Afghan leaders and those with whom I have been in contact and through my interaction through the media and my writings that if we do not quickly find a political solution, we will lose all opportunities and that the Taliban can eventually gain full control of the country, which is exactly what happened. “
Admittedly, there were some gains. Education rates and professional opportunities increased, especially for women. But Samad says these gains were mostly felt in cities, while rural life remained largely unchanged – except for the constant bloodshed, which killed at least 250,000 people, including 70,000 civilians. The estimated cost of the war: more than $ 3 trillion.
“The result, the return on investment should have been very, very different from what we have,” says Samad. “What we should have done is talk to people who understood their country, their society, their history and the obstacles and opportunities, and then come up with strategies that worked in a way in the middle of all this – a kind of middle ground. We did not do that. “
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Confidential documents obtained by the Washington Post in 2019 confirm Samad’s opinion on how things went so wrong.
“We were devoid of a basic understanding of Afghanistan – we did not know what we were doing,” Douglas Lute, a three-star army general who served as the White House’s Afghan war czar under the Bush and Obama administrations, told government interviewers. in 2015.
“What are we trying to do here? We did not have the foggy notion of what we were doing.”
In the same crowd of documents, an unidentified former U.S. State Department official criticized efforts to quickly install a Western government that was completely foreign to Afghanistan.
“Our policy was to create a strong central government, which was idiotic because Afghanistan does not have a history of a strong central government. The time frame for creating a strong central government is 100 years, which we did not have.”
Samad says this bad strategy failed to bring about meaningful change.
“This is where the problem is: we relied on bad strategy, on bad advice, on bad advice,” Samad says. “And basically, at the end of the day, we did this spinning wheel project that made a lot of money for a lot of people, but it really didn’t create much on earth.”
What it created was a lot of hope in the beginning, and now, despair for millions, especially women.
“My life has become just eating, sleeping and repeating,” says 20-year-old ‘Aisha’. She spoke to Global News from Kabul, where she is hiding because of her visibility as an athlete. The Taliban ban women from competing in sports. “The world has left us in disaster under Taliban rule.”
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SE: TNR Extra: Extended interview with Omar Samad – Part 1: How the world should react to the Taliban in power, and is a different entity than the one that ruled in the 1990s.
TNR extra: Omar Samad extended interview part 1
The fundamentalist Islamist movement started as a pair of religious Taliban, or students, in the 1990s. From 1996 to 2001, they ruled most of Afghanistan. Their regime was particularly restrictive for women – they were banned from public life, and there were beatings and public executions for a wide range of crimes.
When they returned to power in August, Taliban officials promised that this time it would be different. But they immediately restricted women’s rights to movement, dress, education and work. They have beaten protesters and journalists and summarily executed people accused of crimes ranging from kidnapping to theft. The bodies of alleged criminals have been hung in public, a graphic warning to anyone who does not obey the Taliban.
“In the beginning, they said they forgave everyone,” says ‘Leeda.’ She spoke to Global News from a safe house in Kabul, where she lives under threat because she worked as a photographer with foreign organizations. “But now we see how they forgave, for it is only a word. How can anyone trust them? No matter what they say, it is all false.”
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Samad admits that some worrying stories are popping up. However, the country is also on the brink of economic collapse, and he claims that the Taliban know it can not retain control of the country if it repeats its brutal repression of the 1990s and is cut off from desperately needed international aid.
“I also think they have learned some homework. They are more worldly. They have been exposed to the world much more than they used to, ”he says. “And so we all hope that this will result in some degree of flexibility on their part.”
It remains to be seen if that happens. The early return is not encouraging, and it has led several countries, including the United States, to cut aid money. In late August, a planned $ 450 million payment from the International Monetary Fund to help Afghanistan deal with the COVID-19 pandemic was delayed so far. Canada continues to honor its humanitarian obligations for the time being.
Samad says staying engaged is the best way to keep an eye on the Taliban.
SE: TNR Ekstra: Extended interview with Omar Samad – Part 2: US strategy, corruption, and where the money went
TNR extra: Omar Samad extended interview part 2
“I think the more presence you have in Afghanistan, if the international community is engaged, if the international media is still engaged, if there are some UN agencies working, we will have a window into Afghanistan, and we would know what the Taliban are doing and whether they are changing or not. “
He says the worst outcome for Afghan citizens would be to leave them completely isolated again.
“If you close down and you close the country and you isolate the country and you cut its lifelines, of course we are not only endangering the livelihoods and lives of Afghans, but we are also closing the door in some ways and basically saying: You can do, what you want and we do not see or listen, which is exactly what we did in the 1990s. “
There are many unknowns:
The ‘If’ world remains engaged.
‘If’ The Taliban are more moderate this time.
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