Most European countries appear to be groveling from a collective sense of guilt and failure in Afghanistan. Conversations with those in lead positions betray a state of unbelievable shock, accompanied by an extreme two-pronged public pressure.
Firstly, demands for censure of all those who blindly followed the United States kept doling out funds without questioning Hamid Karzai and his successor Ashraf Ghani.
Secondly, pressure on governments to “relocate all those who helped us in our war on terror mission”.
Almost all European “allies” are out but several thousand Afghan-Americans — almost all of them placed there either in the name of media or INGOs — are still holed up in Afghanistan. Many of them don’t even possess passports.
Although the European Union has increased its humanitarian assistance manifold (up to one billion euros) this project is still stymied by political considerations, largely divergences of approach between the US and the European nations.
For over 20 years, the US led global community cuddled, cajoled and coalesced Afghan political elites and their associates in business without questioning as to where hundreds of billions were going? Presidents — Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani — went about their businesses uncensored by donors for two decades?
They took the Euro-American indifference to corrupt practices as a “blank cheque” and conveniently found refuge in deflection and deception i.e. holding guns to Taliban, terrorist groups and Pakistan bashing. Holding it responsible for Afghanistan’s ills. Almost all of those who peddled anti-Pakistan parochialism now sit in comforts of Americas and Europe.
A senior official at the US Special Inspector General’s Office for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) had once made a startling admission during our meeting in Washington in 2016.
“We know which Afghan leader has how many funds stashed where, but political expedience prevents us from making that public,” the official had said in a stark reminder of how contradictions of geo-politics cloud the reality.
And the latest statement by John F Sopko , the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, highlights this paradox again.
“Why did the US-backed Afghan regime crumble? Corruption; ghost soldiers; the dependence of the Afghan military on US airpower, US contractors, and other enablers; and incompetent Afghan leadership,” Sopko said while addressing Military Reporters & Editors Association Annual Conference Arlington, Virginia on October 29, 2021.
“….we all know that US agencies have not made honest reporting easy for SIGAR — or for you about America’s longest war. We have a recent example of this bureaucratic inclination to try to restrict public information,” he told the audience.
Sopko also alluded to another big issue which is a source of “shame and guilt” at least in Europe, if not in the US: US agencies such as USAID and Department of Defense asked SIGAR to remove references to former President Ashraf Ghani and many others from its 53 quarterly reports. Interestingly, SIGAR has consistently pointed out the massive corruption within the Afghan government, holding them responsible for the fall of Kabul to Taliban but US institutions now want to protect same — including Ghani — from possible threats.
Thirdly, most European nations don’t see any problem with a quasi recognition of, or at least a full-throttle engagement with, the Taliban but Washington remains the major stumbling block. It refuses to unblock the over $ 9 billion of the state of Afghanistan, and hence has choked bank-based transactions to and from Afghanistan.
Fourth is frustration with the American policy contradictions. The Biden administration is allocating hundreds of millions of dollars for issues such as IDPs and drought in the name of humanitarian assistance. Yet, its indecision — willful or because of systemic weaknesses — is only precipitating the real crisis i.e. functioning of state institutions.
All this has instilled a sense of guilt and shame across Europe, at least among the leading nations of the EU. “We failed and kept our eyes shut to the rulers in Kabul,” a frustrated European diplomat told me recently.
Unlike the US, still driven by geopolitical considerations, major EU members want to step in to avert the looming humanitarian crisis. They are also keen to call out Russia and China for their commitment to Afghanistan. Why don’t they join the EU with big funding to help the needy Afghans is the expectation echoing in Brussels right now.
For them high on agenda is the concern about unregulated immigration, the Daesh-led violence and the resultant insecurity not only in Afghanistan but also in the vicinity around it — all being precipitated by dithering in Washington. European diplomats wonder whether it is a calculated geopolitical game plan directed at China and its allies.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 6th, 2021.
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