Understanding U.S. Imperialism In Afghanistan

On 15 August, Kabul fell to the Taliban. For many this resembled the Fall of Saigon, and attention across the international community turned to Afghanistan. Earlier this summer, President Biden decided to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan. This provided reasonable suspicion for many that the Taliban would take advantage of a weak Afghan state and seize control of the country, which has indeed now come to fruition. It is of utmost importance to hold the United States and the Biden administration accountable for the damage that they have caused, both while U.S. troops were actively in Afghanistan and post-evacuation. This issue is of course extremely complex, and it would not be possible to fully cover all of the factors. For the sake of a deeper understanding of one important aspect, this article seeks to understand and highlight how U.S. imperialism has impacted and furthered the rule of the Taliban in Afghanistan. It is important to note that this article does not condone any force or violence inflicted by the Taliban, but rather seeks to delineate the immense flaws of U.S. imperialism and its threat to peace internationally.

It is necessary to outline how American involvement in Afghanistan has contributed to and enabled the Taliban’s rise to power. The U.S. ‘response’ to the Taliban was to use the military: send troops into Afghanistan under the assumption that the U.S. military can shut down any groups that are causing harm (in this case, the Taliban and Al-Qaeda). Historically, whenever the United States chooses to respond to events militarily, nothing good tends to come of it. In fact, most of the time, conflicts are only worsened.

It is of course important to think critically about how mass deployment of the U.S. military could possibly further peace. This may sound like an obvious question, but it is one that has consistently flown under the radar and is something that has been ignored because it is almost expected, at this point, that the United States will respond with military force. This certainly does not mean that the events of 11 September 2001 were okay and something to ignore. However, the lengths to which the U.S. has gone to ‘protect U.S. interests’ and act as the ‘savior’ in Afghanistan are very clearly inflammatory and have only increased the opposition to the U.S., in turn empowering the Taliban.

The problem here, that the Taliban has been able to maintain such a foothold in Afghanistan, has persisted because U.S. imperialism and military deployment has always been inherently flawed. There was never any real, tangible, productive attention given to peace, and attention has never genuinely been paid to civilian Afghan lives and communities. The United States has played it off as ‘protecting American interests’ and protecting Afghan civilians from the Taliban, along with other foreign policy goals that concern the spread of democracy. However, when has the United States’ efforts to spread democracy ever truly ended with a sustainable democratic future for the countries that the U.S. military has occupied? The short answer is very rarely – American foreign policy goals have been entirely self-serving, and that has not stopped with Afghanistan. This is just imperialism re-imagined, something that the Taliban has been able to effectively play into and capitalize on. The Taliban was able to gain political traction because they could disguise their actions as counteracting the foreigner, the colonizer, the United States. This should come as no surprise to the Biden administration and other officials in Washington.

It is not likely that the U.S. government will do this, but it should donate a significant amount of money to grassroots and mutual aid movements in Afghanistan that are dictated by the Afghan people. When the media talks about U.S. aid to Afghanistan, that aid largely goes to the Afghan government, and as reported by Forbes, the Afghan government is extremely dependent on American aid. It is clear that the government in Afghanistan is weak and cannot properly serve civilians. It is also important to note that aid should not just be donated via aid organizations. Generally and historically speaking, aid organizations can be very out of touch with the communities they claim to seek to help, operating more as organizations that enter a crisis situation only to impose their own power. It is urgent that the voices of Afghan civilians are centered, listened to, and that their requests and demands are fulfilled. Community members know firsthand what the community needs – it is necessary for them to be given the agency to provide for their community, and this must be recognized. This is more of a short term approach for mitigating the immediate crisis at hand. The goal of this approach is to shift how the U.S. responds to conflicts it has created or worsened and to hold the U.S. accountable going forward, despite the unfathomable damage that has been inflicted.

In terms of longer term initiatives, a legitimate and sustainable government that can serve all civilians’ interests is evidently needed. According to a UN Peace and Security report published 16 August 2021, the Taliban has already begun searching houses and attempting to find people on their target list. The Taliban has seized Afghanistan, but they clearly cannot be the group in power for a long time. The new government should be informed by and emphasize multiple political interests. This way, officials can represent the myriad interests of the population. Usually, monopolizing political power does not work, and it has not worked and is not currently working in Afghanistan. This is what the international community should focus on helping Afghanistan accomplish. It should not be a process guided by foreign policy interests and goals but rather by listening to civilians and choosing political officials that are committed to working against corruption and working with other politicians.

In conclusion, as much as it is necessary to hold the Taliban accountable for the tragedies that they have perpetuated, it is essential to hold the United States accountable for its imperialist actions. The Taliban’s actions cannot be examined in a bubble – the U.S. has played into the rise of the Taliban, and the United States’ constant involvement in other countries and regions distinctly reflects imperialist foreign policy goals. It is clear that the U.S. should not have an extensive military presence in Afghanistan, but it should also have been obvious that with the removal of such a strong force, Afghanistan would immediately become unstable. That said, it is vital that community-based efforts led by Afghan civilians are supported. Communities of care that are resilient and sustainable, and will not be perceived by Western countries as ‘in need,’ are the most promising way forward in Afghanistan for the international community.

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