12 September 2021 ~ 0 Comentarios

A Strange Taliban

By Carlos Alberto Montaner

The story didn’t begin 20 years ago, on September 11, 2001, but much earlier. But on that day, there was an attack on the United States that Washington could not leave unpunished.

From then on, George W. Bush made some good decisions and some bad ones. Intelligence agencies were quick to find the masterminds of the attack. It was Al Qaeda, led by Osama bin Laden, a Saudi millionaire operating from Afghanistan. Washington demanded that the Taliban, who ruled Afghanistan with a fanatical fist, hand over Bin Laden. Since the Taliban didn’t do it, they formed a coalition with some NATO countries and destroyed the government that protected the terrorists. In Afghanistan, by the way, they received well the Western intervention. Not so in Pakistan or Saudi Arabia, where there is regrettable ambivalence towards the United States.

Among the wise decisions was to involve NATO in the punishment operation. But it became a mistake when they tried to build a democracy in Afghanistan. The US should know that freedoms, democracy and good governance are not imposed from outside with bayonets. Since 1898 the United States has intervened in the Caribbean and Central America more than a dozen times without verifiable positive results.

Democratic republics arise when a percentage of the ruling class is made up of citizens who have certain principles and values. Even the most important element of the American experience was described by Douglass North, Nobel Prize in Economics (without even understanding the scope of his finding), when, starting in 1776, Americans created “the first open access society” that history records, at the time when they were without the protection of the British Crown.

Until then, all societies were “limited access” (like the Afghan society) and were founded on privilege and relationships between political power and economic power that were mutually reinforcing. Today the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Germany, France, the Scandinavian countries and, in general, the nations of the European Union, aim, like the United States, to forge a nation in which the market and the merits – the “meritocracy” – decide individual destiny, and in which privileges are judged very negatively.

Ten years after the attack, Osama bin Laden and four other people were executed by a SEAL commando team. They arrived after midnight at his home in Pakistan (near a Pakistani intelligence base) in several helicopters. After verifying that it was Bin Laden, they moved the body to Afghanistan, and from there to a US Navy aircraft carrier, where he was buried in the ocean. That was the moment, as announced by President Obama at the Lisbon summit (2011), to leave Afghanistan in an orderly manner, in three years, and everyone would be out of Iraq and Afghanistan in 2014. In 2011 the Taliban practically didn’t control any territory in Afghanistan.

But they didn’t leave. Why did Obama make this huge mistake? Was it the advice of the military? After him it was Donald Trump’s turn. During the four years that he was in the White House, determined to bring back the troops, he didn’t leave Afghanistan either, but negotiated with the Taliban to leave the country on May 1, 2021, a few months after winning the elections in November 2020, in his second presidential term. He didn’t win, and left Biden with a hot potato.

Biden defends himself by saying that with Trump’s legacy there was no room for maneuver. I’m not so sure. However, in April he extended the term of the American withdrawal to three months, until August 31. But on August 15, Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani fled, and the Afghan Armed Forces and Police collapsed, producing the horrendous spectacle of the Kabul airport, where thousands of people were left at the mercy of the Taliban.

I’m not surprised by what happened in Afghanistan. At 15 I saw an army fall apart after Batista’s escape. Forty thousand well-armed men surrendered to a few hundred gunmen distributed in the different mountain ridges of the island. I know the enormous differences between Afghanistan and Cuba, but there are also certain similarities. Widespread corruption is one of them. The real and imagined dependence on the United States is another.

American diplomat William Pawley, a businessman in Cuba, visited President Fulgencio Batista in December 1958 to tell him that he had totally lost the confidence of US President Dwight Eisenhower and that he should pass power to a junta to prevent that Fidel Castro came to power. Batista, who knew that the military high command was conspiring, began to secretly prepare his escape. On the night of December 31, he fled to the Dominican Republic, where the dictator Trujillo was waiting for him. There were no institutions or political parties capable of resisting the onslaught. The country collapsed at the hands of Fidel Castro, a strange “Taliban” who had taken refuge in the Sierra Maestra.

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