To defeat the Taliban and bring peace to a war shattered country. To strike a blow against international terrorism much of which, it was claimed originated in Afghanistan. To rebuild the infrastructure of the country after a generation of conflict which identified Afghanistan as the poorest and most underdeveloped country in the world. To establish democracy in a country ruled in turn by ‘marxist fanatics’ and medieval Islamic barbarians.
As Britain leaves what does it leave behind? According to most reports the Taliban are as strong as ever and ready to resume military operations while the underlying civil war between the Taliban and Northern Alliance continues. The threat of international terrorism arising from the conflict is far greater now than at the start. The rebuilding of the country has been patchy to say the least when set against the scores of billions of dollars spent while huge amounts have been lost in a massive black hole of corruption.
As for democracy that aim was abandoned a long time ago. Afghanistan has been governed by a succession of weak, dependent, corrupt governments which openly rig elections and buy votes and violently suppress all opposition. The reality is that western intervention has been a disaster exacerbating an already serious conflict and leaving behind a mess.
After the collapse of the Soviet backed government the country was plunged into a civil war between two reactionary groupings—the Northern Alliance in the North and the Taliban in the South. These in turn were collections of tribal, regional and religious groupings each fighting for their own interests.
However, despite the differences the overall aim is the same. The creation of a medieval style Islamic state in which women, in particular, are consigned to the status of mere property of men. In fact, it was the policies on the liberation of women under the previous Karmal/Najibula regime which fuelled much of the western backed ‘war of liberation’ against this government.
The west supported the Northern Alliance because they were a bit less ideological and a lot more corrupt than the Taliban and therefore more likely to accommodate western interests. During the period of the soviet intervention they supported the Taliban and groups like Al Qaeda and here is the crux of the matter.
Western policy towards Afghanistan has never been about helping the people of that country, liberating women or spreading democracy. It has always been about defending western interests and bringing Afghanistan under western control. Thirteen years after the initial intervention this strategy is in tatters leaving a state which has to all purposes collapsed a resumption of the civil war and a shattered economy.
In fact western strategy now is about accommodating the Taliban and brokering a peace between them and the Afghan Government (Northern Alliance) as the best way to ensure stability and protect western interests. The withdrawal of American and British troops is central to this strategy which is why they are being withdrawn although American air bases and rapid deployment forces based outside the country will remain.
When the pro-socialist government of Barbrak Karmal came to power in 1979 it had a clear view as to the road down which Afghanistan should travel. The aim was that Afghanistan would become a modern, secular republic with the ultimate aim of building a viable democracy. There would be an ambitious programme of economic and social development aimed at improving the lives of a poverty stricken population. At the centre of this would be the transformation of the status of and welfare of women.
These lofty aims crumbled in the face of reactionary religious and tribal revolt supported by the west and a soviet intervention which turned the entire country into a war zone. Despite this experience these aims are still fundamental if Afghanistan is to have any future.
The country can have no viable future under the Northern Alliance or the Taliban or any combination of the two. These are movements based of regional and tribal interests and driven by a medieval ideology. Nor can it be based on the cynical accommodation of western interests.
The rebuilding of Afghanistan must be based on promoting the interests of the people of that country, particularly women, through the creation of a modern, progressive and secular government. That this appears far away does not alter the fact. The alternative is a continuation of war, destruction and the final collapse of the country.