Afghanistan- A Lesson in Nation-Building Robert A. Levine
Afghanistan was a series of blunders right from the beginning. Our goal in invading this primitive Islamic nation, or rather a conglomeration of Islamic tribes, was to hunt down Osama Bin Laden and members of Al Qaeda to punish them for 9/11. We also wanted to make certain that Afghanistan would no longer be a sanctuary for extremist Islamic Groups intent on damaging America and killing Americans. At the onset, there was little thought of transforming this anarchic undeveloped country into a modern Western liberal democracy with universal education and equal rights for women. After Bin Laden was killed, we should have left Afghanistan
However, somewhere along the way our objective changed and our leadership decided that Afghanistan was ripe for conversion to a modern nation that subscribed to Western ideals. What a mistake that was. In addition to being a society where people’s major allegiance was to clan and tribe rather than a central government, corruption and payoffs were rampant at every level. To get a job, one had to give kick-backs to the person hiring, whether it was in the government or private businesses.
Salaries in the government and in the military were often not paid or only partially paid to lower level workers or enlisted men. In fact, many of the fighting men often went hungry because the purveyors of food may not have been paid, with the money kept by high-ranking officers or government officials. In addition, ammunition for Afghan Army weapons were frequently minimal or unavailable, with payment again stolen by higher-ups. Sometimes, ammunition and weapons were sold by these higher-ups directly to the Talaban or through intermediaries for cash. Fuel for vehicles was also in short supply at times. Yet the American military expected the Afghan soldiers to fight the Talaban to the death when they were not being paid and necessary supplies were lacking.
Leaders of the military were also incompetent, usually obtaining their jobs through family or political connections, most unwilling to put their lives in danger when leading their men. Many of these officers knew nothing or little about military strategy or tactics. When American soldiers joined the Afghan soldiers in battle, it provided the latter with backbone that their leaders could not or would not provide. American air support was another factor that bolstered Afghan soldiers, knowing that drones or planes would come and aid them whenever they ran into trouble in battles with the Talaban.
Government corruption was ubiquitous and any project that would benefit the populace had to pay bribes to officials at all levels. Education was available for both boys and girls, but the quality of the teachers and administrators was variable because of the low salaries and the necessity of kickbacks.
Besides the Talaban, warlords and bandits put up roadblocks on the roads or the streets of the cities, making travelers and shopkeepers pay for protection and safe passage. And most Afghanis were wedded to their traditional ways of life and did not necessarily favor modernization. Though they were happy to have and use cellphones and running water and even television, they did not want their way of life changed by ideas of equality of men and women, or women working at more prestigious jobs than men. Society was governed by a strong patriarchy where wives and daughters followed a husband or fathers’ orders and only men were barely literate and allowed to go to school.
So notwithstanding the messages of progress sent to Washington by the top military and diplomatic brass, the complete collapse of the Afghan army in just days and its unwillingness to fight should not have been surprising. Hunger, lack of supplies, unpaid salaries, lack of leadership and the absence of Americans and their air support made collapse a foregone conclusion. The speed with which the Afghan government and army disintegrated was not expected, but it should have been. When the president of the country cuts and runs instead of trying to rally his forces, you know that there never was any hope of building a strong modern society, even after twenty years of effort. www.robertlevinebooks.com Buy The Uninformed Voter on Amazon and Barnes and Noble