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April 21, 2021

A trail of destruction

Opinion

April 21, 2021

The foreign occupying troops are all set to withdraw from Afghanistan after years of presence in the war-torn country. Though many supporters of the invasion point out the achievements of foreign intervention -- the emergence of new cities and towns during the 19 years, the rising enrolment of girls in educational institutions and the increasing participation of women in various walks of life -- critics are not impressed. They assert that the occupation of the country seems to have yielded no significant results and has instead brought death and destruction to the hapless Afghans who have been yearning for peace for many years.

The machinations of regional powers, animosity between various ethnicities, tribal conflicts, sectarian tensions, hegemonic designs of global powers and incompetence of ‘puppet governments’ in Kabul all contributed to the mayhem the country finds itself in.

The occupation turned out to be very costly for Washington; the US Defence Department revealed that the total military expenditure in Afghanistan (from October 2001 until September 2019) had reached $778 billion. The US State Department and other government agencies also spent a whopping $44 billion on reconstruction projects. In addition to that, Washington is believed to have spent billions of dollars in Pakistan, which was used as a base for Afghan-related operations. Some critics claim that the US spent over two trillion dollars on the occupation.

Many believe that the US seems to have achieved no major goal at all. For instance, a significant amount of this was spent on counter-insurgency operations but the insurgents are more powerful now than they were years ago, and seem to be dictating peace agreement terms. Washington claims to have spent about $143.27 billion on reconstruction activities in Afghanistan but large areas of the country stand in complete ruin with the dearth of schools, hospitals and other infrastructure needed for a decent life.

It is also claimed that around $88.32 billion was spent on building up Afghan security forces, including the Afghan National Army and the police force but the number of desertions and the incapacity of the forces speak volumes about this spending. Nearly $36 billion was allocated for governance and development, while smaller amounts were also allocated for anti-drug efforts and for humanitarian aid. The Afghan government is also seen by some as very corrupt. In October 2020, the US Congress was informed by the watchdog responsible for the oversight of reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan that about $19 billion had been lost between May 2009 and December 31, 2019.

Despite spending this colossal amount, the mighty state lost over 2000 soldiers, most of whom were from the bottom layer of social stratification. Around 20,660 were also injured in action. Thousands of other foreign troops were either killed or wounded during the occupation as well. Foreign troops suffered physical and financial losses but it was the Afghan people that were the biggest casualty of this conflict, with some estimates suggesting that more than 100,000 people lost their lives during the conflict.

The conflict proved to be catastrophic for the nascent Afghan National Army with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani revealing in 2019 that more than 45,000 members of the Afghan security forces had been killed since he became president five years earlier. A Brown University research in 2019 claimed that more than 64,100 Afghan military and police personnel had lost their lives since October 2001. According to the UN, nearly 111,000 civilians have been killed or injured since it began systematically recording civilian casualties in 2009.

Large areas of the country are still being controlled by the Taliban. They are running their own administration and dispensing Justice. Poppy production, which was confined to a few provinces before the invasion of foreign troops, has spread to almost all provinces of Afghanistan, wreaking havoc not only with the lives of the people living in neighbouring countries but in the US and the Western world as well. Afghanistan is again among one of the top producers of poppy.

The years-long occupation did not resolve the issue of refugees, with more than three million Afghan refugees still living in different parts of the world. The specter of a civil war is also now haunting millions of Afghans, which is likely to trigger the exodus of more people. Many fear that the Afghan army will collapse and the country might plunge into a new civil war that will not only affect the people of Afghanistan but the neighbouring states as well. It is quite probable that regional powers will start intervening in the internal affairs of Afghanistan, stoking more chaos and instability.

So, the occupation of Afghanistan should make it clear that foreign intervention is never helpful. Vietnam lost 3-7 million people during the occupation of that tiny country by the mighty American forces. The occupation of Iraq also proved to be catastrophic with some estimates that more than two million Iraqis perished during the foreign intervention and the sectarian strife that was fanned by this illegal invasion of the country. The intervention also led to the creation of ISIS. The foreign intervention in Syria also devastated the country, leading to the killings of more than 555,000 people besides rendering over 11 million souls homeless. It also caused a loss of over 200 billion dollars because of infrastructure destruction.

The interference of regional and other powers in Libya also destroyed the country. The US went to eliminate terrorism and extremism in Afghanistan but today the monstrous existence of radical elements can be felt not only in parts of Asia but Africa, Europe and North America as well. Many critics believe that much of it was caused by the intervention in Afghanistan and the illegal war that was imposed on the people of Iraq.

Today, the US is leaving a trail of death and destruction in Afghanistan. The much-vaunted billions of dollars’ reconstruction projects seem to have demonstrated no miracles. Large parts of Afghanistan are still in ruin. The condition of schools, hospitals and other institutions is not impressive either. It is true that a few Afghans have immensely grown rich because of the massive corruption that was allowed by the occupying forces but the vast majority of the people are still living in poverty. The country has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world; millions of children are also the victims of food insecurity.

So, it is clear that the sole superpower is leaving behind nothing but a trail of death and destruction and the specter of a civil that is likely to multiply the problems of Afghans. It is time the Afghans showed a firm belief in sorting out their differences themselves. They should come up with a mechanism that accommodates all the ethnic and religious entities of the country. They all should make a firm pledge that they would decide the fate of their nation through the ballot and not the gun that has plunged the country into chaos and invited foreign aggression and interference.

The writer is a freelance journalist.

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