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Progressives are wrong, the ‘forever war’ is not over
The war has not ended, neither has the US interests in Afghanistan or the involvement of its neighbours or regional powers like Russia and China.
Zarlasht Halaimzai
CEO of Refugee Trauma Initiative
17 Sep 2021
People carry the national flag at a protest held during the Afghan Independence Day in Kabul, Afghanistan August 19, 2021. [Stringer/Reuters]
Days after the last US troops left Afghanistan, Afghans who fear for their lives continue sending SOS messages to anyone they think might be able to help evacuate them. The Afghan state has collapsed, the healthcare system is in tatters, prices have soared leaving many hungry, as even the people with means do not have access to their cash.
Reports continue to come of Taliban fighters assaulting and arresting Afghan journalists across the country, making it clear that free speech will no longer be tolerated. In its first decree, the Taliban interior ministry issued a ban on protests without prior approval. There is no describing the fear and the uncertainty that engulfs Afghanistan.
It is hard to imagine that this chaos is what a group of progressive Democrats have lobbied for. Alexandrea Ocasio-Cortes, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are just some of the Democrats who pushed for a withdrawal without considering the consequences.
These are figures who many young Afghans and Afghan Americans would naturally see as their allies. They promote progressive, justice-orientated policies that are anti-racist, and they seem unafraid to speak truth to power. But their rhetoric on Afghans and Afghanistan has left us doubting their agenda.
The most vocal supporter of President Joe Biden’s policy on Afghanistan is House Representative Ilhan Omar, a woman I share much in common with. We are both former refugees from countries that have disproportionately borne the consequences of the “war on terror” and we both advocate for refugee rights.
Her election to Congress was an important moment for all who have defied odds while carrying uncompromising values to get to a position of power. And yet it seems that even these experiences have not inoculated Omar and the rest of the progressive Democrats against the short-sightedness that plagues American public discourse and policy.
Omar’s tweet just as the last US troops left Afghanistan – “Ending wars is good actually” – left me and many Afghans speechless. Aside from the fact that it ignored Afghans mourning the killing of several children by a US war drone attack, just as the final US planes took off, it also betrayed a willingness to disregard the lives of Afghan people.
The war has not ended, neither has the US interests in Afghanistan or the involvement of its neighbours or regional powers like Russia and China. Instead, the abrupt and disastrous US departure signals what many of us who are concerned with ending violence and upholding human rights have been afraid of – privatisation and automation of war. The forever war will continue but it will be less visible and even less accountable to the American public. Biden has already indicated that drone warfare will continue.
The progressive wing of the Democratic Party had an opportunity to engage honestly with the fallout of the biggest failure of American foreign policy in the last 20 years based on their “values” of human rights and justice. The “war on terror” changed the world for the worst, displacing more than 37 million people, leaving hundreds of thousands dead and exacerbating the already fraught dynamics of the Greater Middle East.
In the US, counterterrorism legislation has created massive infringement on civil rights and has been used as a blueprint for many authoritarian regimes around the world to subjugate their minority Muslim communities.
The right way to end the war would have been to take responsibility for the enormous footprint that the US has had in Afghanistan for more than four decades. This would have involved supporting the Afghan state and its institutions, human rights defenders and Afghan women who have done so much to promote justice. It would have meant the pursuit of peace-making through diplomacy and long-term support for the Afghan people.
Instead, the Biden administration backed by the progressive Democrats wanted to wish a new reality into existence – a reality that does not reflect the developments of the past 20 years and the role the US played in shaping the country.
Let me be clear: the Afghan position was never to have American troops stay in Afghanistan forever. What we had asked for was a genuine path to peace that would have included security guarantees and support for the democratic state and would not have handed over the country to a hardline group renowned for its egregious abuses of human rights – a group that has never governed or represented the interests of common Afghans.
What we asked for was long-term diplomacy and support for Afghans who had worked so hard in the past 20 years to establish institutions of democracy, human rights and education.
The value-based approach to power, which progressive Democrats profess, should respect and acknowledge the rights and dignity of all people. It should take note of the power dynamics that have shaped and continue to shape the world today. It should recognise that dismantling the military-industrial complex is a slow, fraught process that has to be conscious of the people it affects the most – people with very little choice in starting wars or ending them.
Instead, progressive Democrats completely ignored the pleas of women, young people and defenders of human rights in Afghanistan, choosing to ally themselves instead with the like of the Koch brothers, towing the simplistic and ill-informed line: end the forever wars.
You cannot snap your fingers and reify a world in which the US has not meddled in other peoples’ fates. Progressive Democrats would have done well to listen to the speeches of Martin Luther King Jr who implored those standing for justice in the US to stand with the people of the world. His stark warning that “mankind must put an end to war or war will put an end to mankind” seems more relevant today than ever. The progressives did not stand for justice or ended a war.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.
Zarlasht Halaimzai
CEO of Refugee Trauma Initiative
Zarlasht Halaimzai is an Afghan-born British writer and CEO of Refugee Trauma Initiative.
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