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US exit from Afghanistan offers us poignant lessons

By Barrack Muluka | August 21st 2021

Dr Barrack Muluka, PhD [Politics and International Relations, Leicester, UK]

In the language of the Kenyan newsroom in the 1980s, Afghanistan was where you went when matters in your country were too hot to handle. Active proxy Cold War competitions between the US and the Soviet Union made for good space. 

We were youthful undergraduates when the USSR marshalled its heavy military artillery into Afghanistan. The world that called itself “the free world” was in shock.

Henry Kissinger warned everybody that humanity was at the threshold of a destructive global war. The respected Hilary Ng’weno, agreed. In an editorial on January 11, 1980, in the Kenyan Weekly Review, he said, “Countries are invading others with impunity.”

He decried the rumble and tumble of tanks and troop carriers across sovereign nations. The Americans came in, in swift gear. They allied themselves to the merchants of death, called the Taliban.

Of course, the Soviet invasion was part of the Leninist-Stalinist commitment to spread communism to every corner of the world, while the Americans were remaining faithful to the Harry Truman Doctrine of rolling back communism. 

The Cold War seemed to have ended at the start of the 1990s. Proxy war grounds were suddenly deserted. The Soviets didn’t need to desert, anyway. The arms race that Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher had subjected them to left their own economy in tatters. They had no extra muscle to support anybody else to reconstruct their countries. 

The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) countries went away. Gleefully, they challenged everyone else to look after themselves. The Taliban ran riot in Afghanistan and in the neighbourhood. Then, suddenly, September 11 happened.

President George Bush Jr. remembered Afghanistan. NATO suddenly returned to the godforsaken country, to look for Osama Bin Laden and “rout out the Taliban.”

A member of the Taliban insurgent and other people stand at the site during the execution of three men in Ghazni Province April 18, 2015. [Reuters]

Twenty-one years later, the US is reading from the same script as it did in April 1975, when the North Vietnamese and the Vietcong rumbled into Saigon in South Vietnam. The resemblances are uncanny.

America’s disastrous exit from Afghanistan, after 20 years reminds the world of the earlier disastrous exit from Vietnam after 20 years. In both cases, unfathomable wastage of human life, destruction of the country and a wasteland of anarchy left behind. 

Taliban takeover of Afghanistan has been coming for a while. Of course NATO knew the war against the Taliban death machine was lost.

Yet, four successive presidents – Bush, Obama, Trump and now Biden – old cheated the world that it was done and dusted. The withdrawal of American troops has contributed little to the present anarchy in the country. America sensed defeat and took to its heels. 

Years to come, historians will be pondering why American intervention everywhere leaves behind wastelands and humanitarian tragedies of untold proportions. From Vietnam to Iraq and Iran, to Syria and Libya, to Guatemala, Nicaragua and Honduras, and to Afghanistan, the scenario is the same.

America has always left behind hell that breeds more hell. The only exception was Germany and Japan, and whose different stories can be told, in the context of the New World after World War II. 

So much for Afghanistan. Hopefully, the world will wake up to its collective responsibility to restore the country. President Ashraf Ghani has fled to exile. It is ironic that he should take off into exile less than a week since I featured him in this column, addressing issues of failed states and exile.

Meanwhile, the rest of the poor world should know that it is on its own. They must guard the rule of law. The big boys come to you to execute their own agenda.

They will leave you in a wasteland and go on with their lives. Political classes that tempt disaster are especially to be watched. Most critical are self-seeking political fear-mongers who blackmail nations with the thought that if they don’t take hold of the levers of power, their countries will collapse. So, too, are those who manipulate constitutions for selfish narrow ends.  

-Dr Barrack Muluka, PhD [Politics and International Relations, Leicester, UK]


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