by Ershad Noorzai Balkhi * – Modern Diplomacy, OtherNews
In the world of politics, there is a complete distinction between means and ends. There is a dichotomous view that says these two are not related to each other. You can get the end by any. Means and once you get to the end, then you can abandon the means if you wish to. As it says, “the end justifies the means” Gandhi as a political thinker was strongly against such a theory. He saw this as a “great mistake”. Gandhi argued that to achieve something good, we need the right means. He saw the distinction. between the means and the ends as an illusion. One way he explained the end and means was by comparing it to the seed and the tree. What seed we plant, that tree we get. We cannot plant apples and yet hope to get an orange tree. In politics and power-related issues, policymakers only focus on the end and do not pay attention to means. It’s no wonder that we are in a big mess, and this big mess can be seen in its best manifestation in Afghanistan.
The experiment of achieving the end goal by any vicious means in Afghanistan was started by the US in the 1980s. To achieve its end goal of defeating the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, the US supported Islamists and terrorists and used them against the Soviets in Afghanistan. They invested billions of dollars to bring Jihadists from all over the world, building training camps for them in Northern Pakistan and sending them to Afghanistan to fight both the Soviet Union and the Afghan leftist regime. The result of this policy for Afghanistan was devastating. It turned Afghanistan into a proxy war between two global powers and turned the Country into ashes. It destroyed all the infrastructures of Afghanistan. Hundreds of thousands were killed by the end of the war one-third of the Afghanistan population had become refugees around the world. The other major sacrifice Afghanistan was forced to make for this war was uprooting the secular regime in Afghanistan and handing the country over to the Islamists, which continues today. In other words, the US brought the Islamists to power in Afghanistan by destroying the secular regime.
Funded by the US, the ISI Pakistani intelligence service systematically wiped out all secular, leftist, in Afghanistan. They wanted Afghanistan to be ruled solely by extremist Islamists, and it might take decades or centuries for Afghans to be able to regain a secular Government. It was also during the proxy war between the US and the Soviet Union, with the help and money of American taxpayers, that warlords were created in Afghanistan, which has become an obstacle for state-building in Afghanistan since then. For America, the means and ends did not leave them without receiving the fruit of what they had planted. The tragedy of 9/11 was the consequence of what they had planted in Afghanistan.
With millions of dollars flowing to the Pakistan army as an ally of the US in this project, Pakistan became even more delusional with this experiment and joined the US in it. Pakistan saw two benefits in supporting Islamists in Afghanistan. In the short term, they were getting billions of dollars of money from the US as a gift to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan by training Islamists inside Pakistan and sending them to Afghanistan. For example, in the Reagan administration, Pakistan was given 3.2 billion dollars in aid as a reward to help the anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan. The aid was mainly given to the Pakistan army, which made the military of Pakistan a very powerful institution and created a parallel state in Pakistan, weakening democracy in this country forever. The long-term interest of Pakistan in supporting Islamists in Afghanistan has been of the strategic depth policy.
Since its establishment, Pakistan has wanted a puppet Government in Afghanistan and that was only possible through Islamists and spreading Islamic radicalism. Pakistan’s illusion is that they thought, and still think, that they can build thousands of madrasas in their Country to preach extremism and then send terrorism to Afghanistan and still expect their Country to be safe from that same extremism. Like expecting to swim without getting wet. As a result, Pakistan has ceased to be a safe Country since choosing to support terrorism in Afghanistan, and every day it becomes a less safe Country. The creation of T.T.P (Tahrik Taliban Pakistan), the Pakistani Taliban is the fruit of decades of Pakistan’s support of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Even though the T.T.P has been attacking Pakistan’s State and military in the years since its establishment, Pakistan has brought zero change in their policy towards supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan. Instead, they started dividing the Taliban into the good and bad Taliban. Good Taliban are the ones who fight in Afghanistan and the bad are the ones who fight against Pakistan.
Iran, the other neighbour of Afghanistan, has never had the same sentiment and relationship with the Taliban as Pakistan does. Pakistan’s relationship with the Taliban has been one of pure romance and platonic love, so to speak. Iran’s relationship with the Taliban has been a love-hate one. This relationship can be divided into three stages. The first stage is the 90s era. In the 90s, Iran was strongly against the Taliban, and they were supporting the anti-Taliban resistance. This enmity led to the surprising welcome of the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. It was one of the rare times that Iran had an agreement with the US in regional politics. The Taliban were the common enemy of Iran and the US. As time passed on, and as the US and Iran’s relations got worse, Iran turned to using the Taliban as a proxy war against the US in Afghanistan. Iran’s support of the Taliban after 2001 has never been consistent and strong, but it has always been a means to pressure the US. Iran as a Shia State is in a strong clash with the extremist Sunni/Wahabi ideology of the Taliban, and the Taliban is a threat to Iran’s Islamic ideology. However, Iran started to support the Taliban to achieve the end of damaging US interests in the region. It is again one of achieving the end with the wrong means and without thinking about the outcome of their actions. Since the Taliban came to power in Afghanistan in 2021, the relationship between them and Iran has gotten bad, and the Taliban has become a headache for Iran and it has made Iran a less safe Country.
Russia as a regional power was fighting against the Islamists in the 80s and 90s in Afghanistan. They had always seen the Islamists in Afghanistan as a threat to their national interest and security. Because of that, Russia welcomed the overthrowing of the Taliban in 2001 in Afghanistan. But, after a decade the policy of Russia towards the Taliban shifted. They also started using the Taliban to invoke damage to the US in Afghanistan, and against the ISIS presence there as well. Just like the good old days when the US was using terrorists to defeat the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, Russia started to use the exact tool against the US trapped in Afghanistan.
The most radical of all policy changes towards the Taliban is that of the US. To the US that the Taliban were terrorists and put prices on killing certain leaders of the Taliban. In the war against the Taliban, the US has lost over 2000 of their soldiers in Afghanistan. However, the US started to change their policy towards the Taliban and tried to see them again as a means to achieve their interests as they did in the 80s. The narrative of the White House towards the Taliban evolved from evil terrorists to local rebels and partners. The US reached an agreement with the Taliban in Doha while violating the bilateral agreement they had made with the Afghanistan State and went against the Government they had built in Afghanistan. This deal came while many were warning that this is an unwise policy. H.R. McMaster went even further and said Donald Trump’s deal with the Taliban is partnering with the Taliban and it goes against the Afghan government. In other words, they betrayed their allies in Afghanistan by turning their back on them and making an agreement with their enemies.
The agreement of the US with the Taliban to leave the Country and cut support to Afghanistan’s armed forces led to the collapse of Afghanistan’s democratic state built by the West over two decades. The rationale for handing over Afghanistan to the Taliban was to use the Taliban against ISIS in Afghanistan. Ironically, the US is using terrorists to keep Afghanistan safe. It is a much cheaper way to fight ISIS and cut Russia and Iran’s influences. Yet it is another illusion that, sooner or later, will turn into a catastrophe. Unfortunately, once again the Afghans will be the ones paying the cost of such illusions.
Looking at the last four decades’ history of Afghanistan, we can see one common approach of all global and local powers towards Afghanistan-using any means necessary to reach their interests in the Country and the region. Everyone has been blindly supporting terrorists and even their enemies to get what they want. This policy does not assign any value to the people of Afghanistan. When the US started supporting Islamists in Afghanistan in the 80s to use them in a proxy war against the Soviet Union, the people of Afghanistan had zero value. Human rights and women’s rights were never concerns or interests of the US in Afghanistan. In the same way, the regional Countries have given zero value or respect to the lives of Afghans. Everyone’s policy in Afghanistan has been to pursue their interests by any means possible. Even though everyone involved in such policy-making has been hurt and suffered the consequences of their actions, they still push on to secure their interests and goals by any means.
To solve the problem in Afghanistan and envision a future for Afghanistan that is safe and peaceful, we need to look for policies that look for the right means to achieve the right goals in Afghanistan. In these goals, the human lives of Afghans should be respected, and the Country and people of this Country should not be seen as means to achieve the interests of others. The Country should be seen as a place where over thirty million people live, and they are humans, not stones. The people deserve to be respected and their human rights should be preserved.
On the cover photo, Afghan woman in hijab in Kabul ©279photo Studio/Shutterstock.com
* Ershad Noorzai Balkhi is PhD candidate at the University of Helsinki