Afghanistan is gone. Not from the map, but from the consciousness of the West. Forget all the suffering, the fighting, the dead and the billions of dollars. Suppresses people and their fates. At the latest with the start of the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine, the country, in which nothing was good as good as ever and which remained so alien to us, fell victim to the attention economy.
Bad what’s going on in Afghanistan, no question. This oppression by the freedom-robbing Islamist Taliban. But shouldn’t misery and dying in the European-influenced Ukraine concern us much more than the notorious abysses in the Asian “Horough of Darkness”?
One could argue that. It just wouldn’t be sincere. For two decades, the world, the much-vaunted West, led by the United States, has invested heavily to bring a little prosperity and a little democracy to the mountainous region of the Hindu Kush. This mission shouldn’t count for anything anymore? Everything an annoying interlude? Is it best to leave the obviously ungovernable country to its own devices?
However, such an attitude speaks of the arrogance and ignorance that the West displayed right from the start of its supposedly selfless commitment. At no time was there an idea or even a plan as to what was sensible to do, apart from fighting terror and its prince, Osama bin Laden.
In the end, the superpower America and its allies could only get a disgraceful, even embarrassing deduction – and a bitter disappointment for many Afghans.
The United States has fared like other world powers. The British Empire and the Soviet Union also sent their armies to Afghanistan and withdrew again, exhausted by the costly battles. The history of the country is a history of foreign powers.
And a succession of wars and violence, writes the “FAZ” journalist Rainer Hermann in his book “Understanding Afghanistan”. And the story of the failure of foreign forces must be added after reading his compact overview.
Nor can one speak of a nation. Afghanistan is a divided country in many ways: geographically, socially, ethnically and religiously. Language, faith, loyalties, values: almost every valley and every village feels obliged to its own tradition. No central government or occupying power has been able to create anything unifying. All failed to bring the clan bosses and warlords under control.
Anyone who wants to become familiar with the country’s past, which has shaped the present, should read Conrad Schetter’s very detailed introduction. On 175 pages, the Bonn professor for peace and conflict research spans an arc from the 6th century BC to the present in his “A Brief History of Afghanistan” – a time characterized almost exclusively by rebellions, overthrows and violence.
Will this continue under the current rulers? In August of last year, the Taliban took power again and quickly crushed all resistance. It was a triumph that almost felt like a military stroll.
Currently, it is only the jihadists of the “Islamic State” who are questioning the Taliban’s monopoly of power with attacks. It looks like a terrible competition among radical Islamists. But it doesn’t look as if the current rulers of the country have to fear serious resistance.
The Taliban have patiently prepared for Day X for years. Now they are back in charge and reinstating Sharia law, just like they did between 1996 and 2001, before they were overthrown by the Americans. Since the capture of Kabul on August 15, 2021, there has been much speculation about who the Afghan holy warriors are today and what they are up to.
Some observers are hoping that the Taliban 2.0 might take a more moderate stance and grant the people at least some freedom. However, the past few months may have taught these optimists a lesson. Nothing speaks for a more philanthropic regime. Even if the new, young generation of the Taliban seems deeply divided when it comes to education and strict adherence to religious duties.
At least that’s what Ahmed Rashid, certainly one of the best experts on the guerrilla force, believes. Years ago, the Pakistani journalist wrote an impressive standard work with “Taliban – The Power of the Holy Warriors”, which has now been published in an updated new edition.
According to his observation, on the one hand there are the Taliban who were trained in the many Koran schools in Pakistan in exile. These are politically a bit more flexible, maybe also more skilful in the procedure.
On the other side are young men who grew up with nothing but guns and war. These hard-line Taliban abhor compromise and insist on continuing the jihad. They demand a harder pace. However, it cannot be ruled out that many Afghans will even accept paternalism, imprisonment and repression. Because after decades of war, they want one thing above all: peace.
But it doesn’t matter whether they are “moderate” or fanatical: the Taliban, who have been equipped and armed by the Pakistani secret service, have nothing to do with the well-being of the people. The Pashtun fighters demand obedience and preach a Stone Age Islam. Suffering are all those who are at the expense of this extremist interpretation of the Koran.
These are primarily girls and women. Natalie Amiri’s book “Afghanistan – Invincible Loser” is dedicated to them, their needs and their shattered hopes, but also their fight for more self-determination. The ARD journalist traveled to Afghanistan 100 days after the Taliban took power. She listened and watched.
The result is a reportage from the multi-ethnic state that is well worth reading and conveys a lot of atmosphere. Because Amiri lets people have their say. Ordinary people, activists, politicians and, of course, women.
Women like Sahar Ahmadi, who wanted to open a restaurant in Kabul on August 15, 2021, now lives in exile in Italy and would like to return to her homeland. Women who have lost the right to self-determination. Women who have to cover themselves completely with a burqa again. Women excluded from public life. Women who, according to the Taliban’s union of men, are worth nothing.
But Amiri also gives a voice to women like Mahbouba Seray, who hurls all her anger at the bearded men: “You can’t get rid of the 19 million women who we are here. What do you want to do? Kill us all? Cut off our heads? (…) Lock us away? That’s not going to happen!” That sounds defiant, but at the same time desperate. The women of the Hindu Kush are the big losers in the West’s hasty withdrawal.
Like so many Afghans. Because the country suffers not only from its rulers, but also from great poverty. Almost half of the 40 million people are starving. The situation is already life-threatening for more than a million children.
Persistent drought and a catastrophic economic crisis exacerbate the hardship. Just like the lack of grain deliveries due to the war in Ukraine. So it’s long overdue for the West to take a closer look, get involved again, and really rush to the country’s aid. At least we owe that to Afghanistan. Because we have failed people with their hopes for a different life.
Natalie Amiri: Afghanistan. Invincible loser. Construction, Berlin 2022, 255 pages, €22.; Conrad Schetter: Small history of Afghanistan. C.H.Beck, Munich 2022, 175 pages, €14.95.; Rainer Hermann: Understanding Afghanistan. Geography, History, Faith, Society. Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart 2022, 224 pages, €12.; Ahmed Rashid: Taliban. The power of the Afghan holy warriors. C.H.Beck, Munich 2022, 491 pages, €16.95.