Afghanistan: doomed from the outset

Europe's media focus not just on the consequences of the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan but also on the root causes. What were the goals of this international mission, how was it viewed by the Afghans, and what is the impact of the rivalry between the major powers?

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Upsala Nya Tidning (SE) /

They didn't know what to defend

The disaster in Afghanistan is rooted in the fact that the state does not actually exist, according to Upsala Nya Tidning:

“The Afghan army, together with police and other security personnel, outnumbered the Taliban and had state-of-the-art equipment. So why then did they lay down their arms city by city as soon as the Taliban troops arrived? Probably because they didn't really know what they were supposed to be defending. The state of Afghanistan simply no longer exists, except as an international project to prevent terrorism and try to build democratic institutions.”

Cyprus Mail (CY) /

This mission was a grave mistake

The US presence served no purpose whatsoever, comments the Cyprus Mail:

“Nothing was achieved, the much vaunted 'nation-building' exposed as little more than a Western fantasy that delayed the inevitable takeover of the country by the Taliban for a few more years. There was never any compelling argument for invading Afghanistan. ... It could not be classed a 'terrorist state' and it was never at war with the US or Nato, which also became involved in the war, and it had no strategic importance. That the Taliban had offered refuge to Osama bin Laden was no rational justification to stay there for almost 20 years, especially the 10 years after bin Laden was killed.”

Orient XXI (FR) /

Unstoppable spiral of terror and war

Terrorism cannot be defeated, says Middle East expert Alain Gresh in Orient XXI:

“It is not an 'enemy', but a form of action that has been used throughout history by movements as diverse as anarchism, Zionism, the Irish Republican Army (IRA), the Basque Eta or Al-Qaeda, but also - and this is much less talked about - by states (France in Algeria or Israel in the Middle East). It is doubtful that this tactic will ever disappear. The American defeat in Afghanistan is therefore above all a sign of the fiasco of one of these unwinnable wars in their various manifestations - from the Sahel to Kurdistan, from Palestine to Yemen - that feed what they claim to fight. How long will it be before we learn the right lessons from this?”

De Morgen (BE) /

Victims of geopolitical rivalry

The situation in Afghanistan is another example of the failure of international politics, laments De Morgen:

“Afghanistan would have benefited more from a peace agreement with a reconstruction mission led by the United Nations. ... The Americans and Europeans have had 20 years to reach a consensus on this in the Security Council because the permanent members China and Russia also have an interest in a stable Afghanistan. But unfortunately, the major powers won't give each other any leeway in the competition for raw materials - including those in Afghanistan. The consequence of this rivalry is that they will soon have to deal with creating security zones for the displaced and refugees from Afghanistan, and perhaps even with a new war on terror.”

Eesti Päevaleht (EE) /

Nation-building was bound to fail

The international community failed to comprehend something fundamental in its mission in Afghanistan, diplomat and journalist Harri Tiido explains in Eesti Päevaleht:

“The West's disregard for the locals and the desire for nation-building were big mistakes. Power in Afghanistan has always been local; the weak central power consisted only of an agreement among the tribes. Now they have tried to establish a state with a strong central authority like the British and the Soviet Union did in the past. The result is the same. The tribes that are in conflict with each other cannot be artificially subjugated to the central power.”

News247 (GR) /

Taliban closer to the people

Political scientist Sotiris Roussos explains in News247 why the Taliban had the upper hand against the Afghan government:

“The elites who ruled the country lacked a social base and had no ties to large sections of the population. ... By contrast, the Taliban, although they by no means represented the majority of the Afghan population, had close ties to large sections of the Pashtun ethnic group, and had deep roots in certain regions and social classes. ... So on the one hand, we have a government and a state that was built solely on the basis of the American military presence, and on the other hand we have a popular movement that may be barbaric and have extremist views, but which is nonetheless a grassroots movement that has fought and survived for 20 years.”

Večer (SI) /

Traditions were ignored

Nato's mistake was to ignore Afghanistan's tribal traditions, analyses Večer:

“Although Afghanistan has been so diverse for millennia, they united the army. But because they did not speak the language, the Tajik and Uzbek soldiers were perceived in the Pashtun villages as occupiers paid by foreigners. For thousands of years, Afghans ran their villages, towns, tribes and nations autonomously and independently of Kabul. If a ruler from Kabul sent his envoys to the province, the envoy would fall on their knees before the provincial ruler - unlike the Europeans. In short, Western states have suffered another heavy defeat because they tried to implement their imperialist or colonialist mindset.”

La Repubblica (IT) /

Self-liberation is the only answer to jihadism

The Afghan people did not defend themselves against the advance of the Taliban, observes Maurizio Molinari, editor-in-chief of La Repubblica:

“Afghans have no confidence in their government, and this means that twenty years of massive foreign aid have not been enough to engender rejection of jihad inside the country. ... We should bear in mind the powerful lesson of what has happened in Kabul: jihadism can only be eradicated if Muslims in the individual countries find the strength and courage to reject it out of their own choice and conviction. It is a moral and political strength that must come from within themselves and that not even the most powerful army can ever replace.”

Jyllands-Posten (DK) /

Not everyone wants to be like the West

The situation in Afghanistan is also a bitter defeat for the West, Jyllands Posten concludes:

“The West has overestimated itself, the irresistibility of its values and its belief that everyone wants to be like us, regardless of history, culture and identity. ... It is time to head back home. There is panic across the board in Kabul at the moment. Western countries are evacuating their embassies. It is a defeat for everything we in the West believe in. And sadly, it also reveals our declining ability to defend what we believe in.”

Hospodářské noviny (CZ) /

West's export of democracy has failed

Hospodářské noviny observes that the international mission in Afghanistan did not reach a decisive goal:

“The Western allies failed to at least help a society based on entirely different traditions, religions and ways of thinking to become a functioning state. ... The fundamental problem was and still is the incredible corruption and distrust felt towards the institutions of a state that has never played the role of a genuinely omnipresent and influential institution in Afghanistan's history. In Transparency International's 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index, Afghanistan ranks 165th out of 180 countries assessed - and that's after having improved a lot in the last decade.”

NZZ am Sonntag (CH) /

Home-grown problem

Afghanistan has missed out on seizing the opportunities of the past 20 years, criticises the NZZ am Sonntag:

“Despite billions in funding and training from the US and Nato, the government was unable to build an army that could stand up to the Islamists. ... And the government preferred to engage in a battle for influence with the tribal leaders in rural areas rather than join forces with them against the Taliban. Corruption and mismanagement were taking their toll on the already weak state. It's no wonder young men flocked to join the strict but purportedly righteous God's warriors in droves.”

The Daily Telegraph (GB) /

Interventions have their limits

The Daily Telegraph says it is astonishing that US troops were in Afghanistan for so long:

“This is not to suggest that President Biden's decision to pull the plug on two decades of attempted nation-building is wise or just, simply an acknowledgement of the limits that the western democratic system places on overseas military commitments. The US-led mission in Afghanistan has encompassed multiple Republican and Democrat presidencies and for twice as long as was the case in Vietnam. ... With another crucial election always being around the corner, it is surprising that it has taken until the Biden presidency for the White House to play the 'bring the troops home' card.”