By Mohammad Mazhari

Geography and history defeated America in Afghanistan: Egyptian professor

August 27, 2021 - 18:41

TEHRAN – A professor of political science at Beni Suef University says the Taliban succeeded to force the U.S. to pull out of Afghanistan because of the strategic location of the country and the tribal nature of the society.

“The strategic location and the mountainous and tribal nature had a significant impact on the survival of the Taliban and their recent victory after nearly twenty years of war with Western powers,” Nadia Helmy tells the Tehran Times.

Helmy describes the composition of the Afghanistan society as “highly private,” but the U.S. has completely ignored this reality.  

Following is the text of the interview:

Q: What can the world learn from the U.S. exit from Afghanistan?

A: The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan will transform the conflict from an international to a regional one. After reading the current scenes in Afghanistan, I believe that the complete withdrawal of international military forces will lead to an even more intense Afghan civil war than it is now. 

The United States during this period was fighting on behalf of others; the Russians, the Chinese and the Iranians entered for Al-Qaeda and took revenge, now these countries should fight this threat on their borders.

The American withdrawal from Afghanistan is real, according to the statements of the Washington Post newspaper itself, as the war on Afghanistan has cost the USA more than 3 trillion dollars that is a visible loss, and there are invisible losses, as well as questioning its international reputation, by withdrawing in front of a small movement not supported by any country, in exchange for a country that led an alliance from 38 countries.

I expect an agreement with the Taliban movement in Doha without the presence of the government resigned.

According to the political developments in Afghanistan, the Taliban fighters, numbering about 60,000, and the various militias, and the rest of the Afghan army, will all (compete for power inside Kabul), thus starting the civil war that may be raged between the Taliban, which controlled by the (Pashtuns) who are forming the majority of the Afghan population with almost 40%, and between what is known as the "Northern Alliance" and consists primarily of Tajiks and Uzbeks in the north, and the Shia Hazaras in central Afghanistan, who are supported by the Iranian side.

The current Afghan government has almost certainly collapsed, especially with the threat of the international community to withdraw its current financial support or finds it very difficult to distribute it for various reasons. It is worth noting here that the former Afghan government backed by the Soviet Union withstood the Soviet military withdrawal in 1989, but it collapsed in 1992 when Moscow stopped its financial support for it.

A prolonged civil war or the collapse of the Afghan central government would surely fuel the regional animosities.

 With the withdrawal of the international coalition, a major geostrategic competition over Afghanistan is likely to erupt between external powers seeking to increase their influence in this country, as happened in the 1990s.

Iran may prefer the Tajiks and Hazaras, while Turkey may prefer Uzbeks, but other countries, such as Russia and India may offer other Central Asian republics, and possibly the United States support for all sides of the Northern Alliance.

In contrast, Pakistan may try to expand its influence in Afghanistan through the Afghan Pashtun community, including the Taliban who represent about 40 percent of the population, and traditionally the largest ethnic group in the country. But it is unlikely that Islamabad would support the Taliban with the same force it did in the 1990s when it sent military officers to help it capture more than 90% of the country. Unlike in the 1990s, Pakistan contains its own opposition organization. Some Afghan experts believe that Islamabad's support for the Afghan "Taliban" would be more deliberate, and would prefer a weak coalition of the various forces present in Kabul.

 On the other hand, one of the main effects of the agreement between Washington and the Taliban is that the latter will no longer rely on Pakistan to provide it with safe-havens. The Taliban understands that the majority of Afghans aspire to a moderate Islamic nation that is peaceful, prosperous, and connected to the region and the world. The moderate elements of the Taliban want India to be a strategic partner and a counterweight to Pakistan's influence. As for foreign fighters in Afghanistan and their ties to India-centric terrorist organizations, such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed, the Taliban have never said that they want to export their "jihad" outside Afghanistan, nor do they want any of them to plan it from inside Afghanistan.

Historically, India has also had links with Afghans through trade and culture, as Afghan youth are associated with Bollywood and cricket. 

More importantly, the Pashtun way of life is older than Islam, and is still predominant among the Pashtun tribes, or the Pathans, as it is known in India.

Given that Afghanistan is a state lacking modernity, with tribal, ethnic, and sectarian loyalties still at play within it, it is more likely that it will not continue as a unified central state. 

Attempts to establish a centralized rule for the country have succeeded only rarely, and for short periods. Afghans are united in devotion to the survival of their country but are divided when it comes to subordination to a central government.  Some decision-making circles in the West believe that the trend or vision that may bring a solution is for Afghanistan to become a “decentralized” state that creates a balance between the center and the periphery, preserves the rights of all components of the Afghan people in political decision-making and the sharing of resources, and satisfies the neighboring countries.

The only way to solve the Afghan problem is “neutralizing” it, meaning that regional and international powers refrain from interfering in Afghanistan’s affairs and suffice to stave off the threat of extremism, terrorism and the opium and drug trade emanating from its territory, a danger that enjoys consensus among regional and international parties. 

It was the source of the support that Washington obtained in its war against the "Taliban" and "Al-Qaeda" in the wake of the September 2001 attacks. At the same time, an international effort must be undertaken under the auspices of the United Nations and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to rebuild Afghanistan and provide it with political and security stability, especially if the neighboring countries agree on nominating a president for Afghanistan to adhere to the policy of restraint and fight terrorism, and to benefit from the lessons of history that confirm the failure of unilateral efforts to establish hegemony over Afghanistan in the face of the interference of external forces.

Q: Do you agree with the view that Afghanistan has turned into a graveyard for superpowers like the Soviet Union and the U.S.?

A:  I completely agree that the current situation in Afghanistan has transformed from an international game to a regional conflict.

 Regarding my future expectations, I think that the operation dates back to 1989, the period in which the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan, and the game turned from international to regional as now.

 I can explain it more: The game will be between Russia and Iran on the one hand, and between both Pakistan and China on the other hand, and India's role may be closer to Russia and Iran.

I am referring to a statement by (former) Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif to an Afghan newspaper, in which he said that "it is time to integrate the Fatemiyoun Brigade (Afghan Shia militia) in Syria with the Afghan army.

If it happens, this means that Iran will prepare for the aftermath of the fully American withdrawal, the Taliban military escalation will be the result of a confrontation between regional powers.

But Washington will surely rest and push other forces opposed to it into the current conflict in Afghanistan, and it may preoccupy China, but Beijing is smarter than that, and it may have a role behind the scenes with Pakistan.

I am denying the potential possibility of the emergence of radical organizations, such as ISIS which is trying to activate itself in Afghanistan in the face of the Taliban and the Afghan people, according to some reports.

I believe that the matter is difficult in Afghanistan and does not succeed as in the Arab region because of the references and lack of a serious rival to the Taliban.

Q: Some critics say that the U.S. could remain in Afghanistan to support its government while Biden claims that the U.S. cannot continue to support a failed government forever. Why did the Afghan government and military fail to resist?

A:  I disagree with the analyses that expecting the Americans to remain in Afghanistan due to the huge amount of costs paid by the USA within the period of its existence in Afghanistan. 

The main reasons for the failure of the legitimate government and military in Afghanistan are as following:

1. After the fall of the Taliban regime at the end of 2001, it became clear that the challenges of restoring peace and stability and the reconstruction of Afghanistan are the most enormous and difficult.  

2. Afghanistan is an active state of war for more than two decades, and it is one of the countries affected by the largest amount of mines in the world.  

3. According to the United Nations Development Program), 70% of Afghanistan's population, numbering 22 million, are suffering from malnutrition, and the average lifespan of the individual is about 40 years. 

4. In the period following the international intervention, a great deal of development was achieved, and one of its clear results was that NATO and the international community, besides the Afghans themselves achieved a series of achievements, but not complete.

 5. The Bonn process negotiations, which were officially announced in 2001 after the fall of the Taliban regime, ended successfully after parliamentary elections were held in Afghanistan a few years ago, but they have failed to rebuild strong political institutions.

 6. Despite the pessimistic forecasts, parliamentary elections like the presidential elections in Afghanistan took place in a safe and peaceful atmosphere, due to the American and the international military forces, but the situation is completely different now than before. 

7. The almost certainly success in Afghanistan, due to the assistance provided by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to the Afghan government in the last years, in order to maintain a safe environment, but now, after the withdrawal of the international support inside Afghanistan, the situations are becoming worse than before. 

8. As explained, the political pluralism experience in Afghanistan has begun and taken hold under the supervision of the international intervention, but now we have returned back to the zero point.

9. The government of President Ashraf Ghani has been trying to gradually expand the sphere of its influence and control over all regions of Afghanistan and has managed to attract many of the country's powerful dignitaries and former warlords to the political arena under the supervision and assistance of the USA and NATO forces who were stationed in Afghanistan to protect the Afghanistan political gradual developments, but now, it's not possible to achieve any political progress without the interference of external forces to protect any kind of achievements. 

10. Ensuring that the continued success of the International Security Assistance Force in its mission is an important issue for NATO as well as Afghanistan to achieve stability and bring security within the Afghanistan landscape. 

11. While the process of building the state of institutions in Afghanistan was still somewhat behind, it continued to progress with the help of the international community and the efforts of donor countries, but, now most of the European and Western powers refrained from donating to the Taliban movement considering them as an illegal terrorist organization, according to the international powers.

12. The International Security Assistance Force has expanded its presence to western Afghanistan, and this force was considered as an indispensable partner in helping to maintain security and achieve stability throughout Afghanistan, through the continuous deployment of this force in thirteen provinces and with the assistance of nine regional reconstruction teams, but, after their withdrawal from Afghanistan lands, the disorder has become increasingly popular under the Taliban regime. 

13. In addition, the International Security Assistance Force has participated in the reconstruction and disarmament efforts of the former militias, and the seizure of heavy weapons, as well as taking the necessary confidence-building measures. But, this isn't recognized now under the Taliban regime and without the participation of the international community.

"The Afghan government supported by the U.S. did not have sufficient political legitimacy."

Q: What were the U.S. main goals in Afghanistan? Fighting terrorism or democratization? 

 A: The geography and history defeated American politics in Afghanistan, for the following reasons:

1. Geography has its impact as an important element in influencing political events, and history should also inspire the American and international community decision-makers, in order to take the most appropriate of alternatives. 

2. The strategic location and the mountainous and tribal nature had a significant impact on the survival of the Taliban and their recent victory after nearly twenty years of war with Western powers.  

3. This brought to mind the victory of the Afghans over the Soviet Union and the latter's withdrawal in February 1989. 

4. It's important to point out here to US President Joe Biden who has already commented on his decision to withdraw from Afghanistan by saying that: "He does not want his forces to remain in a cemetery of the former empires."

 5. But that is not all in Afghanistan, because it should be noted here that the States is not built through force alone like the American agenda, and the promises of democracy through the American and international military intervention that have failed in many places, including in the Middle East (West Asia) especially in Iraq, Yemen, and Syria.  

6. The nature and composition of the Afghanistan society, which is highly private, must also be understood, but the USA has completely ignored this reality.  

7. It is also necessary to take into account the changing interests and priorities of regional and international powers and the implications of this for political developments in Afghanistan have surely affected the USA's failed strategy at Afghanistan.  
8. Therefore, what happened in Afghanistan by the wrong adopted policy by the USA cannot be fully understood during this short period, nor can it be expected what will happen to things, whether with regard to the way the country is governed in the new Taliban era, or its regional and international relations. 

9. The American existence period in Afghanistan has failed to bring political stability after overthrowing the Taliban movement.

10. The American democracy in Afghanistan was fragile and not based on effective political and security institutions. Rather, it remained protected from foreign forces at best.  

11. This means that the USA has completely ignored and failed to rebuild strong political governmental institutions in the capital Kabul to build effective methods of governance, and the ongoing struggle for power between the various political currents.

 12. The USA was not interested to build an effective well-trained Afghan army, and was unable as well to form regular forces that could extend its control over the country, and remained hostage to Western military assistance, not to mention the intersection of loyalties and tribal affiliations, which affected also the ability of these forces. 

13. The Afghan government supported by the USA did not have sufficient political legitimacy, while it was not able to present itself convincingly to the Afghan people and provide them with the necessities of a decent life.

14. The USA has failed to understand the real extremely complex structure of the Afghan society, which is dominated by a tribal character on the one hand and a religious affiliation on the other, which contributed to creating political nervousness among the supporters of the Taliban and their cohesion despite the painful blows dealt by the Western coalition forces over the past two decades.

15. In addition, the mountainous nature has contributed to finding safe havens for the Taliban fighters, gathering their forces, and also strengthening their relations with some neighboring countries to form a coalition against the USA itself.
 
16. The inability of the USA to read the scene inside Afghanistan and among its regional extensions, as the close ties that bind the Taliban movement to some of the neighboring regional powers, whose role in the movement’s continuation cannot be ignored, whether it is the ideological and ethnic ties between it and the Taliban, and its sharing of interest with some of these forces to weaken the Western military presence, especially the American one.

 17. The American increasing cost of the war in Afghanistan and the critics from Washington against the American military presence have formed strong pressure as well on the USA. 

18. As well as changing of U.S. foreign policy priorities in terms of seeking to optimally employ military and political resources to contain both the rise of China and Russia's attempt to revive its international role. 

19. Therefore, the continued U.S. involvement in the so-called "endless wars" is no longer a priority for the American decision-makers themselves. 

20. The wrong strategy by the USA at Afghanistan that has neglected the reality of that crises sometimes constitute opportunities that can be exploited in one way or another to influence political and regional developments, in this context the transformation of Afghanistan and its surroundings into a "turbulent region" will have future repercussions on that region and effect on the USA in the long-run. 

21. The USA has failed to bring democracy to Afghanistan after its withdrawal and contributed to the weakening of the chances of creating prosperous economic and political spaces as well.
22. This vacuum by the USA will be covered by the upcoming new projects of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative or by Russia's pursuit of creating an economic and security belt with some countries in Central Asia and Eurasia, and most of these countries are enemies and competitors to the USA itself. 

23. It is important to read the repercussions of this for the regional powers in particular, and the way of dealing with the current realities in Afghanistan that become under the influence of some regional rival powers against the U.S. policies with the help of the Taliban movement, and this new situation has been exploited in a way that harms the security of the region in one way or another, which will have an effect on the future influence of the USA itself and its allies as well like India.

"The U.S. has failed to understand the real extremely complex structure of Afghan society."

Q: What are the differences between Biden and Trump and in general between Democrats and Republicans when it comes to Afghanistan?

I have reached out to a final analysis that both the two American presidents Trump and Biden, who are affiliated with Republicans and Democrats, aren't able to comprehend and understand the elements of special power prevailing today. So, I can analyze that the failed strategy of President Trump in Afghanistan and his successor Biden, due to many reasons, as follows:

1. The two American presidents (Trump and Biden) have failed to understand the current transformations accompanying the structure of power in Afghanistan and the rise of the rival regional powers, like China and Russia.

2. Both Republicans and Democrats in the USA have encouraged the other regional competitors to the USA to succeed in Afghanistan on the account of the USA. I am mainly talking here about the rise of Chinese and Russian powers and the challenges they pose to the American hegemony.

3. So, the failure of the USA in Afghanistan may conflict with the American Democratic President Biden’s principle of America’s return to lead the world and restore the role of democratic alliance, and we saw this on his last visit to Europe.

4. Most importantly, the region suffers from problems of rebuilding power, a state of chaos and military interventions, and a weak regional power structure, which encourages other powers to intervene.

This scenario if occurring will surely harm Biden’s administration interests.

 5. The extension of Russia’s strong influence in the region will raise the question about what are the scenarios that can be envisaged for the American decision-makers under the Biden administration.
The U.S. policies will be negatively affected under Biden’s principle and administration by many different various following scenarios, such as:

- First Scenario: represented in the regional forces rushing to fill this void, which is the most likely in front of Biden’s administration.

- Second Scenario: the scenario of acceleration of non-state actors, such as the Taliban in Afghanistan, which is a strong scenario.

- Third Scenario: the stabilization of the Russian presence. Here, Russia is a major player and restores the dream of Soviet imperialism in the region, which is a scenario based on the ground, and this scenario is the worst-case scenario in front of Biden’s strategy to restore the American democratic policies with allies in the world.

- Fourth Scenario: on the other hand, the Arab potential involvement in the current issue in Afghanistan, which is forcing Arabs to form and build a joint Arab force, which will mainly consist of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Jordan, and Iraq, as an attempt to protect the Arab lands from the extensions of the Taliban movement in the region. This expectation may negatively affect American politics in the (Persian) Gulf states, as they will never trust the American military presence and the American presence and military bases in the region. 

- Fifth Scenario: the scenario of Arabs re-building of self-powers depending on the Arab military capabilities itself. This means that the Arab countries will allow the competitive powers against the USA itself and Biden’s administration to intervene against the American interests in the Arab world, specifically the (Persian) Gulf states. 

- Sixth Scenario: the long-term run scenario in the Arab world after turning back  the Taliban movement, according to my own analysis is that:

Israel and the United States may seek to build a regional military alliance led by Israel in the face of the Iranian threat. But, this scenario if occurs may not succeed, due to the Arab fears and the Arabs refraining from cooperating militarily with the Israeli side.

 - Seventh Scenario: which is based on the Arab realistic vision to achieve and bring the stability of the region away from the assistance of the USA and Biden’s assistance.

- Eighth Scenario: according to my own view, all other adopted scenarios after the withdrawal of the USA from Afghanistan will mean more conflict and increase the possibilities of both Asian and Arab regional war, which will harm the American influence in both Asia and the Middle East (West Asia); additionally, the expectation that the USA will lose its allies in Asia and the (Persian) Gulf states over the USA. 

 And I believe that mentioned scenarios may be the upcoming political and military repercussions of the U.S. decision to withdraw at a time of rapid regional and international power shifts, which necessitate a rapid Arab and Asian movement against the Taliban extremism extensions in the Arab world and the Asian region itself.

 

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