The Platform

Afghan girls' coats hang outside a school in Kabul in 2006.

Afghanistan has been a mess for decades and while the Taliban are primarily to blame, everyone has a responsibility to help the country.

In 2001, the U.S. pledged to bring Afghanistan into the realm of democracy and help modernize the war-torn country. After two decades, Afghanistan is again in turmoil, and while a significant reason for the country’s turmoil can be blamed on the Taliban, the burden also falls heavily on the U.S.

For decades, the U.S. and its partners provided military and financial assistance to Kabul and this aid became a crutch and helped fuel a corrupt system. Data from the World Bank shows that Afghanistan relied almost entirely on foreign assistance for running its day-to-day affairs. When this international assistance was scaled back to any degree, the Afghan economy suffered as a result. For example, in 2015, when the U.S. provided less financial support, the country’s GDP suffered as a result.

The United States and its partners should have realized that a state needs functional institutions and an economy that can function more or less independently of foreign assistance. From 2001 to 2021, this was not Washington’s primary objective. Instead, the U.S. spent over a billion dollars on sustaining an unsustainable economy that couldn’t survive independent of foreign assistance while ignoring corruption and not focusing enough on development.

Washington’s failures in Afghanistan had ramifications for the Afghan people and for the region. If the country’s descent into failed state status just had an effect on Afghans the story would end there but the country’s descent into chaos and violence after the Taliban took over in 2021 also affected its neighbors.

For decades, Pakistan has acknowledged that the Taliban are a significant stakeholder in Afghanistan, but the U.S. never accepted this reality until much too late. However, with that said, Pakistan had been a haven for the Taliban as the group planned and carried out attacks against U.S. and Afghan troops and civilian targets like schools. But Pakistan’s role in supporting the Taliban can’t be ignored.

In 2021, Manjari Chatterjee Miller, of the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote: “It is important to note Pakistan’s government and military are not monolithic institutions but rather groups with competing interests. With that in mind, it is true that these groups were generally in favor of a Taliban victory. After the Taliban took over Kabul, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan declared that the Taliban were ‘breaking the chains of slavery’…Pakistan is playing a risky game in supporting the Taliban. Its goal to contain Pashtun nationalism and counter India by having a Pakistan-friendly government in Afghanistan does not account for either the quirks of the Taliban or the warring religious fundamentalist forces within Pakistan.”

As the instability within Afghanistan worsens this is especially problematic for Pakistan due to the number of Afghans who will attempt to flee over the border into the country. According to the UNHCR, since 2021, over 600,000 Afghans have fled to Pakistan, with the total number of Afghan refugees in the country numbering well over 3.7 million. For a country like Pakistan which faces a never-ending economic crisis, feeding and housing Afghan refugees will prove difficult.

Most observers would agree that Afghanistan is an unbridled mess and whether Hamid Karzai, Ashraf Ghani, or for that matter the Bush, Obama, Trump, or Biden administrations are to blame doesn’t matter for Afghans who are suffering under the brutal theocratic rule of the Taliban.

Washington’s failures in Afghanistan opened the door for the Taliban, leaving the entire region at their mercy. Now the question is whether all sides that played a hand in the country’s failure can find any common ground to fix all that ails the country.

Ali Haider is currently a Customs Inspector with Pakistan Customs. Ali has a keen interest in global affairs.