Afghan Paradoxes

While periodicals today are looking back at the last 20 years following 9/11, on the obsession with security, on the emergence of jihad as a world phenomenon, as a conquering ideology facing a decadent democracy that is secular and permissive, a look back at the Afghan escapade is instructive.

An escapade generally referred to as a “total failure,” ending in a “collapse,” coupled with a bottomless pit that guzzled unimaginable sums, which will be paid by generations and generations of Americans.

At a closer look, you can nevertheless see numerous paradoxes that are pushing to make the scope, or the complete nature of this failure, more relative … and this despite the humiliating military stampede in August.

The feeling of catastrophe that has enveloped many Afghans faced with the return of the turbaned leaders reflects, in a hidden way, an ideological victory (partial, but real) of the West, its ideology and its secular liberties. Particularly among young city dwellers.

Kabul, Mazar-i-Sharif and even Kandahar were transformed by the interaction with the Westerners, by the opening to the world. All of these desperate people at the Kabul airport, these children, girls, men and women of the city, saying in essence, “We like the American occupation much better! Don’t leave! Or bring us with you! Because for us, in comparison with what is waiting for us, we are losing our freedom today.…”

The freedom of infusion, though minimal, of secularism, in relation to religious totalitarianism. The liberty to receive others in your home, this window to the world that was also, for all these young people, a breath of fresh air — despite, yes, the military, colonial, and “assisted” context in Afghanistan during this period.

There are also comparative socio-economic indicators between 2001 and 2021 that are quite astonishing. An overwhelming comparison, with dizzying contrasts between today and 20 years ago. What do the statistics — if sometimes questionable — from the World Bank, the World Health Organization, UNICEF or UNESCO say about this country?

Access to drinking water: 25% in 2001, almost 50% in 2021. To electricity: 6.3% in 2001, 84% in 2021. Telephone: 2 million lines in 2001, 40 million in 2021. Schooling of women: 0% in 2001, 83% in 2021. Women in the workforce: 22% in 2021. Diphtheria, diarrhea, rubella, cholera: eradicated or in clear decline.

Where there was nothing but dirt roads, thousands of kilometers of paved roads have emerged in the last 20 years, including a circular highway connecting large cities (it’s true, ruined by the final sabotages and fighting).

Of course, never forget the fragile, partly artificial nature of this, because everything rests on massive transfers, in an economy on an [intravenous] drip and a country virtually under tutelage. Do not forget, in addition, that economically, this model was not viable, tainted by monumental corruption. A Washington Post investigation in 2019 indicated that at least 40% of the money sent never reached the planned target.

Be that as it may, today, the distress of the youths, the city dwellers and the women of Afghanistan is clear and irrevocable. Sociological, psychological, but just as much physical traces, left by the interactions with the Westerners, are not just those called corruption, military blunders, dependence. They were also those called hope, openness … and a better life.

A bottomless pit? Without a doubt….

The statistic of $80 billion (cited two weeks ago) strictly represents the sums “invested” in the army and forces under Afghan command.

But according to evaluations of the total cost, for the United States, of the entire Afghan escapade — with the aid to development (massive, but of uneven efficacy), the spending on infrastructure, the various subsidies; with adding spending on health for the hundreds of thousands of those in uniform who came to Kabul or Kandahar and are now disabled — this sum would be 15 times bigger, or $1.2 trillion.

With this increase: an expenditure of $1 billion a week … for 20 years!

The Taliban need this money today, or at least a part of it. They want it. That is why their spokespeople, faced with the microphones and cameras of the world, are admirably handling doublespeak and have learned to pronounce words like “inclusive” and “openness.”

In a nutshell, what are they saying? You left with your soldiers, and that’s great. The Afghan army, which you tried to mold to your image and with your methods, collapsed: That’s perfect. America is humiliated? Fantastic! And it is well deserved!

But you know what? As far as money is concerned, you generously spent it for 20 years. … We’ll still take it!

A hope: that these anti-totalitarian and urban youths who tasted freedom resist. And that this resistance, combined with the economic dependence of the Taliban in power, forces them to put a bit of water in their wine … or rather, wine in their water!

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