Musings on Afghan Democracy

The last Canadian evacuation flight left Kabul earlier today. Twenty years of foreign policy initiatives have vanished almost overnight.

That the Taliban so swiftly conquered Afghanistan came as no surprise to me. If we learn nothing from the history of Afghanistan ,it is that foreign  interventions are not successful in the long run.

So now we are left with a lot of “what ifs” and “what went wrong.”  I’m not sure we will learn much from the post-mortems, both official and unofficial taking place in the next few months.

The violence continues in Kabul, especially near the airport, where suicide bombers killed more people today. It will probably be months before the new “normal” comes into effect.

In Canada the Taliban victory has become an election issue. Our soldiers who served have lamented the lack of support given to those they served with.

That lack of support is highlighted by government promises made to those Afghanis who provided translation and other assistance to the Canadian military. Promises made earlier this month to bring 20,000 people from Afghanistan have turned out to be hollow. The number will be closer to ten per cent of that. Should the Canadian government be blamed?

My impression is the promise was made with the best of intentions – but little understanding of the reality of what was happening in Afghanistan. Given the speed at which Taliban forces were approaching, you would think Canadian politicians might have been more cautious in making promises.

Having worked in the political realm, I know just how ignorant many, if not most, politicians are when it comes to foreign affairs. Which makes sense when you think about it: voters care about their own neighborhoods, not what is happening “over there.” As a result, we elect people who aren’t ready for global challenges, and all too frequently don’t ever get up to speed. Most Canadian voters are not going to cast their ballots next month with Afghanistan at the forefront of their minds.

Is that how it should be?

Twenty years after the ouster of the Taliban by NATO forces, they have roared back into power. They could not have done so without support from a sizeable chunk of Afghanistan’s population. How many of the 38 million people living there applaud the change of government? They got rid of the British, they got rid of the Russians, now they have gotten rid of the Americans and the government they put in place. I wonder if some people, knowing the excesses of the Taliban, still prefer the home-made devil to the foreign one.

Looking at world affairs, it seems to me that it is almost impossible to impose democracy. Yes, it worked in Japan, and arguably in South Korea. But there are still around 50,000 US soldiers in Japan, and almost 30,000 in Korea. How long would democracy survive the withdrawal of these forces?

The much touted Arab Spring did not bring democracy to the Middle East. Can you think of anywhere democracy has been successfully imposed by outside forces? Should it be surprising then that the Taliban is once more in control in Afghanistan?

Do I have a solution to offer? Not really. There is no quick fix. And countries that don’t realize that should probably stay out of foreign wars to help the people of “Country X.” Maybe democracy might have taken root in Afghanistan after a century of American occupation – but we’ll neve know.

Maybe with a hundred years of education there might be more of an acceptance of the democratic ideal. Too bad nobody has the patience to find out.


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