Simon Jenkins writes: Ten years of western occupation of Afghanistan led the UN this week to plead that half the country’s drought-ridden provinces face winter starvation. The World Food Programme calls for £92m to be urgently dispatched. This is incredible. Afghanistan is the world’s greatest recipient of aid, some $20bn in the past decade, plus a hundred times more in military spending. So much cash pours through its doors that $3m a day is said to leave Kabul airport corruptly to buy property in Dubai.
Everything about Afghanistan beggars belief. This week its leader, Hamid Karzai, brazenly signed a military agreement with India, knowing it would enrage his neighbour, Pakistan, and knowing it would increase the assault on his capital by the Haqqani network, reported clients of Islamabad’s ISI intelligence agency. Meanwhile, in Washington, the Pentagon is exulting over its new strategy of drone killing, claiming this aerial “counter-terrorism” can replace the “hearts and minds” counter-insurgency. Down in Helmand, visiting British journalists gather to recite the defence ministry’s tired catechism: “We are making real progress on the ground.”
The opening decade of the 21st century has been marked by two epic failures by the western powers that so recently claimed victory in the cold war; failures of both intellect and leadership. One is the inability to use the limitless resources of modern government to rescue the west’s economy from prolonged recession. The other is the use of an attack on America by a crazed Islamist criminal as an excuse for a retaliatory war embracing a wide swath of the Muslim world. The decade-long punishment of Afghanistan for harbouring Osama bin Laden has been an act of biblical retribution. The demand that it also abandons the habits of history and adopt democracy, capitalism and gender equality was imperial arrogance.
What happened in Afghanistan in the autumn of 2001 has spawned an industry of hindsight, with over a hundred titles of wisdom after the event. We learn of the post-9/11 arguments within the Taliban, many of them old CIA allies. We learn of the possible role of Abdul Haq in Kabul, of Pakistan’s intelligence double-dealing, and of the Kandahar jirga of October 2001 which came close to evicting Osama bin Laden.
Yet every counsel of caution in dealing with Afghanistan was disregarded in America’s rush for vengeance – even the warning of Donald Rumsfeld that America “had no dog in the Afghan fight” and should avoid nation-building after a punitive raid. A great surge of imperial eagerness seemed to overwhelm Washington, London and Nato, as if the whole of western liberalism were craving a role in the world.