Afghanistan: The Failure of the Liberal Peace Model

The critics of liberal peace may have another proof that the model, “one size fits all”, doesn’t work in conflict-prone, failing, fragile or nondemocratic states. Afghanistan is a contemporary example illustrating how America attempted to implement a liberal peace model to establish democracy and stability. In essence, liberal peace promotes democracy by establishing the rule of law, promoting the free market, and emphasizing human rights, governance, and security reforms. Critics of liberal peace claim that the model has not been very successful, and one of the main reasons for its failure is the limited scope of human security, human rights, and transitional justice in its strategy. Some experts believe that that the top-down approach of human security in the liberal peace model is the reason for its failure, other believe human security is the missing link between the security and development of state formation. The model may have its limitations, and there is sufficient evidence to prove its limitation in failed and fragile states. However, in the case of Afghanistan, America and its allies did not implement liberal peace at all. Supporters of liberal peace may even criticize America and its allies for not implementing liberal peace in Afghanistan. From the beginning itself, the United States had adopted a different strategy in Afghanistan that was destined for failure.

The United States and its allies invaded Afghanistan in October of 2001in response to the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001: an attack that had killed more than three thousand Americans. The intention of the following invasion in Afghanistan was to kill or capture those who were responsible for the September 11 attack. The primary objectives were to destroy the Al Qaeda terrorist network, kill or capture its leadership, and remove the Taliban theocracy government that refused to hand over the Al Qaeda leader, Osama Bin Ladin. The other objectives were to establish peace and security, emphasize human rights, security reform, governance, establish a democratic government so that the Afghan people could select their leader, and rebuild the country. On the surface, that is what the U.S. informed the world concerning the objective of the invasion; however, it may have had other plans that may remain unknown. It was a matter of a few days for the U.S. and its allied forces to control the country; they killed and captured some Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders, but the main leaders managed to flee to Pakistan and Iran.

The U.S., which led the invasion of Afghanistan, lacked a solid military or political strategy for Afghanistan from the beginning; both military and political strategists constantly blamed the former people in charge for their failures. When the Taliban regime collapsed, the West conducted a meeting to host the Afghan political leaders in Bonn, Germany in order to form an interim government until an election would be held in Afghanistan. The first strategic mistake in the Bonn agreement was that the U.S. decided to create a government comprised of all tribal groups but gave the Pashtuns the priority and pushed for Hamid Karzai to become the interim president even when he didn’t receive the majority of the votes. Karzai, by no means, had the appropriate qualifications to lead a failed state, but he was only elected because he belonged to the Pashtun tribe and the Popalazi ethnic group. The West implemented a poor strategy to form a government based on a tribal and ethnic group affiliation. This approach enabled the tribal and ethnic leaders to appoint their kids, relatives, and unqualified individuals to the highest government posts. Inherently, incompetent leaders cannot run governments, and ultimately states run by such leaders become corrupt and fragile. There were several qualified and accomplished Afghans that could have changed the country’s future including Dr. Abdul Satar Sirat, who won most of the votes in the Bonn meeting. However, the U.S. insisted on Karzai. 

On the military front, the ineffective American strategy was to fund and provide weapons to warlords who had committed the most heinous crimes against Afghan people between 1992 and 1996, to fight Al Qaeda and other terror networks. These warlords lived in exile during the Taliban regime, and they were now given a golden opportunity to become rich and powerful privately and politically. With full support from the U.S., the warlords played a double game, pocketed millions of dollars from the Americans, took people’s lands and property by force, expanded private militias that further weakened the government authority, and obtained large U.S. army contracts. They were receiving money from the U.S. while secretly working with terrorist groups and the Taliban. During the initial years of the occupation, one such warlord who took millions from the Americans to capture Bin Ladin also took millions from Al Qaeda, allowing its leader to safely cross the border to Pakistan while the U.S. was hunting for him in the same region.

The U.S. continued to financially and politically support Hamid Karzi to get him elected as the president of Afghanistan. The international community poured hundreds of millions of dollars into rebuilding Afghanistan. He was elected president twice, both times in fraudulent and controversial elections. He was a weak leader who lacked the most basic leadership skills; he was unable to unite a divided nation and rebuild a failed and fragile country. He maintained a cabinet of incompetent and corrupt advisors based on personal, tribal, and political affiliations. His government was unable to provide the basic needs of the Afghan people while he had access to hundreds of millions of funds from the international community. While the U.S. turned corrupt and immoral tribal leaders and warlords powerful by providing funds and weapons, Karzi increased their political legitimacy and power by forming a government with them. His cabinet members were appointed based on personal and political connections with unqualified people, including the warlords whose forces contributed to the destruction of Afghanistan when the mujahedeen took over in 1992. The few qualified and hardworking cabinet members were forced to resign because they would not accept bribes or refused to follow tribal leaders’ and warlords’ orders. During the last twenty years, several government posts were for sale; the higher positions were accompanied with a higher price tag and were mostly negotiated at the houses of the tribal leaders, warlords, or national assembly representatives. Cabinet members, tribal leaders, and warlords created fake schools, fake hospitals, fake soldiers, and fake police officers in order to obtain funds from the international community. Corruption was present at virtually every level of the Afghan government on a massive scale: from salaries paid by international donors for Afghan soldiers and police who did not exist, to the theft of U.S.-military-provided fuel. Several cabinet members and high government officials, once living on basic incomes, became multi-millionaires owning multiple homes, businesses, and government contracts. Karzai’s brothers and family turned into multi-millionaires owning banks, companies, and mansions in Afghanistan and outside Afghanistan. The U.S. continued to support Karzai despite having solid evidence of corruption and robbing by members of his cabinet, his family, tribal and ethnic leaders, and warlords. The International community and Karzai had the best opportunity to rebuild Afghanistan and bring peace and stability. However, owing to Karzai’s lack of leadership, poor decisions, and bad policies, apart from forming an army and poorly trained police force, his government failed to accomplish anything substantial during his 14-year tenure.

Rather majority of the accomplishment took place in the private sector; especially in education, communication, and media. Moreover, various NGOs were able to make noticeable accomplishments in Afghanistan but constantly ran into challenges with the powerful government officials. The West had countless opportunities to revisit its strategy for Afghanistan while the country was falling into the hands of the corrupt, incompetent leaders and criminal warlords. They continued to make false promises, and the international community continued to pour money into these people. Consequently, they continued to control the government, commit more crime, corruption, and loot the government posts. The government was increasingly became fragile on a day-to-day basis, which enabled the Taliban resistance to regroup its forces, gain momentum by getting the trust of locals and support from neighboring countries, Pakistan, Iran, and Russia, to achieve their motives in Afghanistan.

In 2014, without thoroughly considering the strategy, the U.S. supported Ashraf Ghani, a
U.S.-educated Afghan who worked at the World Bank and taught at a few universities in the U.S, to become the president of Afghanistan. Ghani ran against Abdullah Abdullah, a medical doctor, a corrupt member of the Northern Alliance, and a close associate of Ahmad Shah Masood, in a long-disputed election. The disagreement was eventually mediated by John Kerry, the Secretary of State, who pressured both leaders to agree on a political solution and establish a unity government. Under the unity government, half of the government posts went to Ashraf Ghani as the president of the country while the other half to Abdullah Abdullah as the Chief Executive. Both had access to international funds directed for Afghanistan and utilized them to gain political power in the government sector. Furthermore, the unity government created chaos in the government and additional opportunities for corruption; officials appointed by Ghani would only accept Ghani’s orders, and those hired by Abdullah would only take Abdullah’s order. Prior to and during the election, both leaders attempted to receive support from the warlords and powerful corrupt tribal leaders. The corrupted warlords and tribal leaders obtained another opportunity to access more funds from the international community and high government posts where they appointed their kids, relatives, and ethnic group members, including in the Afghan embassies and consulates around the world.

Ghani was an autocrat and constantly thrived on controlling all levels of the government. He may have had the intention to fight corruption and administrative crime by controlling, but as an economist, it was crucial to take into account that one person is unable control all government agencies. Most importantly, to fix corruption, it is necessary to fix the core of the issue. During his first term, the government became fragile due to the constant disagreement between him and his Chief Executive, Abdullah Abdullah. The unity government was another ineffective solution from the West to the Afghan people, particularly from the U.S.. During the period when the unity government was proposed by the U.S., unemployment reached its highest point; corruption, crimes, suicide bombing increased; and women began feeling unsafe at the workplace or outside their homes. Several young, educated Afghans fled the country for neighboring countries or Europe for a better life; some joined the Taliban resistance in order to get paid on time. Many government employees, including frontline police and soldiers, were not paid for months because of the difference between the unity government’s two leaders. Ghani and Abdullah continuously blamed each other for the problems in the government sector for five years. They were not pleased with the damage they did to the Afghan government and decided to run for election again in 2019.

Once again, the 2019 election was fraudulent and controversial; both leaders claimed victory and tried to establish their governments. This time, the international community decided that Ghani would become the president and Abdullah would lead the Taliban’s peace process. Although it took the U.S. months to convince Abdullah, he agreed with one condition in the end: to have a separate budget for the peace process and that Ghani would have no control of the budget. Ghani pushed for his condition to decide on behalf of the peace negation team. Money and power were always the basis of these leader’s disagreements. The struggle between the two leaders continued and took months and millions of dollars to agree on the members of the peace negotiation team.

Only a few members of the peace negotiation team were qualified to be members; the remaining were unqualified individuals who were introduced by warlords and tribal leaders. Ghani followed the footsteps of Karzi and surrounded himself with corrupt and incompetent people, and most of the members hired for government posts by him were based on tribal or ethnic group affiliation and personal friendships. During his second term, he wished to create more opportunities for the young generation and replaced a skilled and experienced workforce, both in the military and nonmilitary sector, with young inexperienced leaders to fight the war against the Taliban or run government offices. This strategy was the beginning of the fall of Ghani’s government because he and his team didn’t thoroughly consider the process of replacing the older workforce with a younger generation. Ghani highly depended on two of his close aides: Dr. Fazili, his Chief of Staff, and Dr. Mohib, his Security Advisor. Both were corrupt, incompetent, and autocratic. They tried to control most of the government’s decisions, government employee promotions, and hiring. They constantly aimed to weaken young leaders by creating obstacles in the process or report false information to the president in order to ensure that they keep them under their control. Both were appointed to those posts based on their tribal and personal associations without any qualification required to run such important posts. Mohib was a significant factor in the division and weakening of the security sector that fell apart within hours of the U.S. leaving Afghanistan. The U.S. and its allies exited Afghanistan. Ghani and his close associates fled the country. Furthermore, the tribal leaders and warlords fled with hundreds of millions of dollars, and the Taliban, whom the West removed and replaced, have presently regained control of the country.

With minimum-security under a corrupt government and extremely poor conditions, the young Afghan generation had significant accomplishments in technology, media, sports, social media, education, and construction during the past twenty years. While there were noticeable accomplishments in the private sector, there were none in the government sector. Only a handful of government leaders, tribal leaders, and warlords with close ties to Ghani, Karzai, and Abdullah managed to acquire money while the rest of the country lived below the poverty line. Afghans have consequently been the victim of forty years of war by foreign powers, corrupt leaders, and selfish neighbors. 

Mr. Biden, yes, America does not need to fight a war the Afghans do not want to fight. The trillion dollars you are talking about were misused by the incompetent people you made your puppets and our leaders. The U.S knew about every crime committed against the Afghan people by your puppet leaders, but you decided to ignore it for twenty years. You sold Afghanistan to Pakistan, who may very soon see a Pakistani Taliban uprising. The religious fanatics now believe that continued and firm resistance can defeat any army as the Taliban did to the army of 40 plus countries. The people of Afghanistan won’t forgive you; they won’t forgive their corrupt leaders, they won’t forgive the international community for abandoning them, and they certainly don’t forgive their neighbors and their turns will come too.

Thank you, International Community, for replacing the Taliban with a weak, corrupt, and puppet government to only replace them with the same Taliban. As an Afghan, I would like to thank every service member who served in Afghanistan; we acknowledge that you were in Afghanistan to do the right thing and appreciate your service. The political leaders of your country and the corrupt leader of Afghanistan brought us the last twenty years of misery. We are all sorry for all the lives that were lost in accomplishing nothing. We are all victims of corrupt, incompetent, and selfish leaders who will do anything to gain political points, even if it will destroy thirty-five million people. The world leaders have committed one of the biggest crimes against humanity in Afghanistan, and history will judge them for generations to come.

Most people know of the Taliban because of their strict religious code of conduct, human rights abuses, especially women rights abuses, public killings, support of terror networks, and being a puppet of Pakistan’s intelligence services. They are back in power after twenty years and have an opportunity to prove to the Afghan people and the world they have changed. They are no longer the Taliban of the past, and that they value and respect the accomplishments of the past twenty years. Even though Afghanistan had a corrupt government, important reforms were made, like the freedom of the press and women’s rights during the last twenty years. Taliban must respect and defend those reforms, establish an inclusive government that includes all political parties, and appoint people to important government posts based on qualification. They must prove that they are not puppets of the neighboring countries and that Afghanistan’s national interest is their number one priority. Otherwise, they will face the same fate of corrupt, incompetent, and authoritarian governments in Afghanistan and other countries.

Ebad Mobaligh
Ebad Mobaligh
Ebad Mobaligh is an entrepreneur, IT professional, community organizer, and a doctoral student with American Military University’s Global Security program. He loves playing and watching soccer. He lives in the San Francisco area with his wife and four children.