Afghanistan is a country where conflicts and wars have been going on for almost 40 years. Different ethnic and religious groups continue to exist in the country. The United States has used its full range of diplomatic, economic, and aid tools to support a peaceful and stable Afghanistan.
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U.S. policy concerning aid and reconstruction in Afghanistan has been conducted in such a way that the U.S. has provided financial assistance and technical support. Although vital funding was provided to develop Afghanistan’s infrastructure, army, and police, it has not succeeded in restoring Afghanistan’s nationhood.
This raises the issue of why such a significant policy was not effective and what was the mistake of both governments. Therefore, the paper proposes to explore the reasons why the U.S. attempts to restore statehood in Afghanistan have failed. Thus, the gap in the research is the connection between the lack of a clear U.S. plan, mechanisms for controlling aid, and the absence of strong domestic leadership in Afghanistan, which led to the failure of years of U.S. intervention in Afghanistan. Accordingly, the study will assess the financial contribution of the U.S. and identify the main sectors that the U.S. tried to rebuild. At the same time, it will analyze the mistakes committed by the U.S. in the development of statehood in Afghanistan. It will also examine Afghanistan’s domestic authorities, which have to reform state policy and nation-building.
In modern times, there has been no systematic research on the impact of U.S. policy and interventionism on various aspects of the development of Afghanistan. Thus, the paper will be based on a source that explains the concept of nation-building and the role of foreign military involvement in its progress (Keane & Diesen, 2015). The internal non-stable U.S. policy in Afghanistan will also be discussed (Keane, 2016). In accordance with Swenson (2017), the reasons for the failure of democratic legislation in Afghanistan will be disclosed. The study will also include an analysis of the wrong approach to decision-making and governance in Afghanistan (Lebovic, 2019). At the same time, the research will reveal the main U.S. narratives that contributed to the failed policy in Afghanistan (Connah, 2020). Methodologically, the study contains both quantitative and qualitative analyses of this problem and its consequences. Thus, the above sources will be studied to establish the main reasons for the collapse of U.S. policy in Afghanistan. Quantitative indicators will also be provided to specify the U.S. efforts to restore democracy in Afghanistan.
The Concept and Meaning of the Nation-Building Process
State-building refers to the set of processes through which a foreign country, through direct intervention and cooperation with a favorable domestic political elite, seeks to promote a particular political identity and create or rebuild an institutional and material infrastructure nationwide. It is believed that such activities can provide a solid foundation for political stability after a period of armed conflict and civil strife (Keane & Diesen, 2015). In practice, however, this is an impossible task, hampered by numerous ideological and political factors.
As far back as Bush Jr., the United States assumed responsibility for stability and development in two Muslim countries, Afghanistan and Iraq. Since then, much has depended on the ability to win wars and help build independent institutions of democracy and robust market-oriented economies. The lack of institutions of statehood in developing countries is a chain of problems, the links of which are terror, refugees, and extreme poverty. Before 9/11, the U.S. felt safe to ignore the chaos in remote parts of the world like Afghanistan (Lebovic, 2019). Still, the dangerous nexus of religious terrorism and weapons of mass destruction has brought once-peripheral regions to the center of everyone’s concern.
Over the past 15 years, the U.S. has made several attempts to build nations, either for human rights or security reasons. Critics of this activity argue that if it is understood as creating or recreating the totality of cultural, social, and historical ties that unite people into a nation, then it will never work from the outside (Keane & Diesen, 2015). However, there is a need to build the country as a functioning apparatus, creating or strengthening its institutions such as the army, police, judiciary, tax services, central banks, health care, and education.
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This process includes two delineated phases, both critical. The first involves stabilization measures, humanitarian aid and disaster relief, the reconstruction of infrastructure, and the launching of the economic machine. The second phase unfolds following the stabilization process and assumes the creation of autonomous political and economic institutions that will eventually allow for competent democratic governance and promote economic growth (Lebovic, 2019). Presumably, following such steps is possible to attempt nation-building, but the U.S. has not performed so. The U.S. policies have not been clear-cut and have often been muddled.
Causes of Afghanistan’s Fall
Although, figures indicate that the U.S. has spent about $137 billion on reconstruction projects, about 16% of all spending over 17 years. More than half of that, $86 billion, was contributed to developing the Afghan National Army, police, and other security forces. The rest went mostly to finance measures to strengthen the state apparatus and infrastructure and economic and humanitarian aid and counter-narcotics. According to the UN, from 2002 until last September, the U.S. spent about $1.5 million a day (about $9 billion total) on counter-narcotics efforts alone, with total opium poppy cultivation peaking in 2017 (Keane, 2016). This mean that the U.S. is ineffective in dispersing and controlling investment.
The catastrophe that broke out in Afghanistan can be explained by the fact that there is still no state there, despite 20 years of U.S. presence and intervention. Together with the police and other security forces, the Afghan army outnumbered the Taliban and had the most modern weapons. Still, they easily gave up and laid down their arms as soon as Taliban troops showed themselves on the horizon. The reason was that they had no idea what they were supposed to defend. Diplomat and journalist Harry Tiido believe there never was an Afghan state, except as an international project to prevent terrorism and an attempt to build democratic institutions (Connah, 2020). The U.S. fiasco in Afghanistan symbolizes defeat in one of those wars that cannot be won and their variants that only feed the illusion of possible victory.
The West did not consider the local specifics and decided to build a state there at all costs, and it was a big miscalculation. The power in Afghanistan has always been strong only on the local level, while the central leadership has consisted of the agreements between different tribes, which follow exclusively domestic values. The U.S. missed this point and made an unsuccessful attempt to build a strong, central authority state. Maurizio Molinari believes that although Afghanistan has been very heterogeneous and diverse for millennia, NATO has assumed that the army should represent a single state (Connah, 2020). However, this is far from reality, and no military intervention would help to realize imperialist ideas. The fundamental problem was the incredible corruption and distrust of institutions, which in the history of Afghanistan have never actually been a pervasive and influential force.
It is worth noting that people’s opinions on this issue differ. Still, the common denominator is the claim that the attempt to build a nation in Afghanistan was doomed to failure from the beginning. No outside power can force conflicting tribes to submit to the central leadership (Keane, 2016). The U.S. involvement in Afghanistan shows that effective assistance cannot be purely technocratic. To have a reasonable chance of success, efforts to advance the rule of law must engage with local foundations of the legitimate rule of law, which are often rooted in nonstate authority, and support reliable domestic partners, including high-level government officials.
The Problems of U.S. Government Mechanisms
The problems the administration has faced in Afghanistan are not the result of some miscalculations but a predictable side effect of an ill-conceived institutional structure. The United States had a problem with establishing leadership and the strategy in Afghanistan. U.S. government mechanisms held different views, leading to inconsistent policies and the collapse of nation-building (Swenson, 2017). They needed to bring in a central body, permanently staffed, to manage current and upcoming nation-state-building activities. This coordinating group should be endowed with sufficient authority to keep conflicting government agencies in check in the event of a crisis. Furthermore, any permanent institution engaged in nation-building must liaise with similar agencies in other countries.
Despite positive experiences in operations in Somalia, Bosnia, and East Timor that have made the global community better able to do ‘construction’ work, it cannot sustain the accumulated expertise of individual organizations. The rebuilding work should be done solely under civilian control – beginning the transition from a stabilization phase in the region to building independent institutions that will eventually allow the United States to withdraw (Swenson, 2017). The questions of how soon power should be transferred to local control, what the sequence of political reforms should be, where and when assistance can be reduced cannot be left to the Defense Department. It is due to the fact that this institution will always insist on a rapid withdrawal of armed forces.
Thus, the Afghan Army, the police, and other security forces outnumbered the Taliban and had the most modern weaponry. However, they surrendered city after city and laid down their weapons when Taliban troops appeared on the horizon. The reason was that they had no understanding of what they were supposed to protect. The state of Afghanistan simply does not exist; since all the years of U.S. interference, it became nothing more than an international project to prevent terrorism and attempts to build democratic institutions. Accordingly, it can be argued that the priority should have been given not to military force and security but the development of the culture and consciousness of citizens. It can do by disseminating information about history and literature because these factors form citizens’ national identity. Presumably, if the people of Afghanistan had formed a national idea, they would have been able to fight off their enemies even with less police and weaponry.
Connah, L. (2021). US intervention in Afghanistan: Justifying the unjustifiable? South Asia Research, 41(1), 70-86. Web.
Keane, C., & Diesen, G. (2015). Divided we stand: the US foreign policy bureaucracy and nation-building in Afghanistan. International Peacekeeping, 22(3), 205-229. Web.
Keane, C. (2016). US nation building in Afghanistan. Taylor & Francis. Web.
Lebovic, J. H. (2019). Planning to fail: The US wars in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Oxford University Press.
Swenson, G. (2017). Why US efforts to promote the rule of law in Afghanistan failed. International Security, 42(1), 114-151. Web.