Middle East Resources

Afghanistan:  Past, Present & Future

8 September 2021

Bassam Michael Madany

Commenting on the disastrous and humiliating exit of the United States from Afghanistan, Gerald Baker, Editor-at-large of The Wall Street Journal, described the event with these memorable words:

“If you wanted to capture the geopolitical history of the 21st century so far in a single paragraph, you couldn’t do much better than this:

‘Twenty years ago, America fought a brief and successful military campaign to oust from power the people who had enabled a terrorist organization to kill as many American citizens as have ever died at the hands of a foreign power in a single day in the nation’s history. A month shy of two decades later, the U.S. pleaded with that same power not to harm its soldiers, its citizens, and their allies as it scrambled to complete a chaotic and humiliating retreat that left that former enemy—and American adversaries everywhere—immeasurably stronger.’”  30 August 2021

Twenty years ago, most people in the Western world knew very little about Afghanistan. The 9/11 attack on the United States brought that country to their attention. It was the base from which Osama Bin Laden, planned and launched his war against America and the West.

In response, the United States went into Afghanistan to stop any further attacks. It isn’t likely that the US administration had taken adequate notice of the long history of Afghanistan, and the experience of the world powers that had invaded it.

Following the end of the First World War, Afghanistan became an independent nation. Concerned that it had fallen behind the rest of the world, the ruler of Afghanistan Amir Amanullah Khan began a campaign of socioeconomic reforms. In 1926, he declared Afghanistan a monarchy, proclaimed himself king and sought to limit the power of the National Council. His critics rose up against him forcing him to abdicate in 1929.

In 1934, Muhammad Zaher Shah ruled Afghanistan for the next 40 years. In 1973, the pro-Soviet General Muhammad Daoud Khan, became prime minister and sought economic and military assistance from the USSR. Three years later, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev agreed to help Afghanistan, and the two countries became close allies.                                                                                         

In 1976 General, Muhammad Daoud Khan staged a military coup overthrowing King Muhammad Zaher Shah and became president of The Republic of Afghanistan. He embarked on a campaign of modernization. However, opposition came from conservative Islamic and ethnic leaders who objected to social changes introduced by Khan. A guerrilla movement Mujahadeen was created to battle the Soviet-backed government.

The USSR invaded Afghanistan on 24 December 1979, to bolster the faltering communist regime. Early 1980, the Mujahadeen united against Soviet invaders and the USSR-backed Afghan Army, and began receiving arms from the United States, Britain, and China. September 1980 marks the date when Osama bin Laden and 15 other Islamists formed al-Qaida, the Arabic term for “The Base” or “The HQ,” to continue their Jihad against the Soviets.

Following Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Mujahadeen continued their resistance against the Soviet-backed regime of communist president Muhammad Najibullah, who had been elected president of the puppet Soviet state in 1986. The Mujahadeen stormed Kabul, and ousted Najibullah from power in 1992. Three years later, an Islamist militia the Taliban came on the scene and publicly executed former President Najibullah.

After al-Qaida’s bombings of two American embassies in Africa, President Clinton ordered cruise missile attacks against al-Qaida’s training camps in Afghanistan where bin Laden was hiding. On 11 September 2001, Islamist hijackers commandeered four commercial airplanes and crashed them into the World Trade Center Towers in New York, the Pentagon outside Washington, D.C., and a Pennsylvania field, killing thousands of Americans and people of other nationalities.

On 7 October 2001, the United States and its allies invaded Afghanistan.  Hamid Karzai was sworn in as the leader of the interim government in Afghanistan on 22 December 2001. In January 2004, the National Assembly adopted a new constitution, Presidential elections were held. Hamid Karzai was elected, and the nation held its first parliamentary elections in more than 30 years.

Amid continuing fighting between Taliban and al-Qaida fighters and the Afghan government forces, NATO expanded its peacekeeping operation to the southern portion of the country in 2006. The international community pledged $15 billion in aid to Afghanistan in 2008, while Afghan President Hamid Karzai promised to fight corruption in the government.

President Barack Obama announced the dispatch of military and civilian trainers to the country, in addition to the 17,000 more combat troops he had previously ordered.

A victory for the U.S. was accomplished by its Special Forces who overtook a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, and killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden on the 2nd of May 2011. 

NATO officially ended its combat mission in Afghanistan in 2014. U.S.-led NATO troops remained to train and advise Afghan forces. President Obama maintained 5,500 troops in Afghanistan when he left office in 2017. President Trump decided to continue military involvement on 21 August 2017. In 2019 U.S. and Taliban signed an agreement for the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan by May 2021.

A few days before President Biden was inaugurated, the U.S. announced its plans to cut U.S. troop size down to 2,500. President Biden announced his aim to end U.S. troop withdrawal by 9/11.

Things accelerated greatly when on the 5th of July 2021, the United States left Bagram Air Base without informing the new Afghan Commander of the Base. The Taliban occupied Kabul on 26 August 2021. Chaos followed as two suicide bombers of an extremist group caused the death of 169 Afghani civilians and thirteen U.S. soldiers. Four days later, on the 30th of August, the U.S. transported the final contingent of troops from Kabul Airport, officially ending America’s twenty-year-war.

The future of Afghanistan under a medieval Islamist regime is dark. They entered Kabul flying their black banners blazoned with the Islamic Creed: La Ilaha Illa Allah Muhammad Rasool Allah. Their agenda for governing the country is: al-Islam Hua al-Hal, (Islam Is the Solution) However, as the Egyptian reformist Sayed al-Qimni remarked, “we have tried Islam for the last 1400 years, but it hasn’t solved our problems.”

I end my article with excerpts from the late British author, V. S. Naipaul’s “Beyond Belief: Islamic Excursions among Converted Peoplei” describing the impact of the Utopian Islamic worldview on non-Arab Muslims.

“Islam is in its origins an Arab religion. Everyone not an Arab who is a Muslim is a convert. Islam is not simply a matter of conscience or private belief. It makes imperial demands. A convert’s worldview alters. His holy places are in Arab lands; his language is Arabic. His idea of history alters. He rejects his own; he becomes, whether he likes it or not, a part of the Arab story. The convert must turn away from everything that is his. The disturbance for societies is immense, and even after a thousand years can remain unresolved; the turning away must be done again and again. People develop fantasies about who and what they are; and in the Islam of the converted countries there is an element of neurosis and nihilism. These countries can be easily set on the boil.” P. xi

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Beyond Belief: Islamic Excursions among Converted People, is a non-fiction book by V. S. Naipaul published by Vintage Books in 1998. It was written as a sequel to Naipaul's Among the Believers: An Islamic Journey. 1998 Little, Brown and Company (UK), Random House (US)

Note: Afghanistan is a multi-ethnic tribal country: Pashtun form 42% Language: Indo-European; Tajik form 27% Persian as spoken by Tajik; Hazara 9% Shia Muslims of Mongolian descent; Uzbek 9% a Turkic ethnic group.

To watch a YouTube link to Dr. Al Qimni’s defence of his position: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_4c3vhgqFOY