The war in Afghanistan finally came to an end this summer in August, after international troops from the US and UK began leaving the country. It only took a few weeks for the Taliban to take complete control of the country. Which was something that the US had claimed was one of its primary goals for the war in the first place. After twenty years of conflict, the country seems to be springing backwards to how it stood before 9/11. Over the past few months, questions have been raised about the causes of the war. Why did the US deem it necessary to occupy the country? What they may have gained from the war other than global power and security.
The current situation
Afghanistan’s population is one of the youngest in the world: 63% of the population are under 25 and over 50% of Afghans were born after 2001. This young country has grown up under American occupation, living in a world vastly different to the generation before them in the late 20th century. Now their world has drastically changed with the new control of Afghanistan by the Taliban. We have to thank the withdrawal of American troops earlier this year for this.
Afghans over the age of thirty recall when girls and women weren’t allowed to have an education. And some reminisce of when thousands of Hazara Afghans were murdered in the late 1990s. The social landscape in Afghanistan has already changed in ways similar to the previous Taliban rule. Women have been told to stop working, and are being forced to wear niqabs, instead of being given choice. In just the last few weeks, Afghan women have been protesting the new restrictive dress code the Taliban are enforcing. They have been taking to the streets and social media in traditional, colourful dress resisting rules. The placements the Taliban are now enforcing in Afghanistan are a drastic change to how younger Afghans have grown up.
Afghanistan has not had a perfect history in the 20th century, the country had much potential in becoming a successful country in its politics and economics. Having removed itself from Soviet influence in the 1970s, Afghanistan once looked much more like a western country. However, it’s important to consider that Afghanistan and other countries outside the global west are not primitive or barbaric. People misconstruct countries identities simply because it does not fit our western standards of what a free country looks like.
While many people in Afghanistan and around the world think the future of the country is bleak, young people in Afghanistan still hold hope for the future. Some of these hopes are shared in the Wbur series ‘The Longest War’. The young people hope for peace, braveness, the self-sufficiency of their country. A country that women, children, religious and ethnic minorities are able to feel safe in. These hopes are remarkably similar to the hopes young people have for their own countries in the global west.
Young people in Afghanistan are making their voices and opinions on the long presence of the continuous wars. Music has become a way of expressing beliefs and opinions for young Afghans such as the rap duo AK13. The group are made up of Jawad Sezdeh and Seraj Amiri.
Their music has western influences but is distinctly Afghan in the themes that they speak of in their music. For these young people, music has two goals. It's their way of fighting back against the regimes in power and a way of sharing their culture with the rest of the world.
Over in the west, particularly in the US, young people are aware and critical of American involvement. In contrast, American politicians have spent the past 20 years installing fear. More recently, young people in the west have felt that America’s main concern with Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq was not to prevent future terrorist attacks, but rather a focus on control and profit.
There are many reasons why the US would really want to wage war on Afghanistan. Despite what the US government most believe the war has nothing to do we future terrorist attacks.
In his video, Russel Brand breaks down the shocking amount of money that private sector defence companies in the US gained over the last 20 years. The US military and defence budget are over $700 trillion, more than twice as big as any other country. Another sector the US has lost control over by removing troops in Afghanistan is the opium market.
Even over the past two decades, the Taliban has had some sort of inclusion in the opium market. This includes farming, transporting and selling goods. The United States’ attempts to limit the opium market in Afghanistan has cost the country $8 billion since 2001. After the takeover in August, Taliban spokesmen have claimed that they will make the country free from narcotics. He may prove difficult because of how integral the narcotics trade has become to the economy in Afghanistan.
According to media in the US, the American public has been strong supports of the war over the past 20 years. But looking slightly past the media shows that this is absolutely not the case. Around a third of Americans aged 18 – 24 ‘definitely’ think the United States made a mistake by sending troops. Another survey shows that two-thirds of Americans did not think that the war in Afghanistan was worth fighting. Media in the global west also predominantly focus on what the situation in Afghanistan means for them and looks at the impact of the conflict and Afghans around the world.
This style of reporting on the war makes the people of Afghanistan seem like passive victims to their fate. Which simply isn’t the case. We’ve already seen how young people are using music, social media and fashion to share their opinions and protest.
For me, the war in Afghanistan was a vague backdrop to my childhood. I can’t remember when I began to understand what was going on around the world. I can remember when I began to truly understand the weight of the situation several years ago. And it indirectly became something that influenced my interest in politics. However, while the occupation has influenced me, I cannot begin to imagine how a young person’s life in Afghanistan might look like.
For years, the war in Afghanistan has been used as a pawn in a political game. And all while the lives of Afghans have been disregarded. A few weeks ago, the Met Gala took place in New York; as well as celebrity guests, political figures also graced the red carpet.
Carolyn Maloney dressed up to support women’s rights for the Met Gala In NYC. Others like Rana Abdelhamid remember when as a nine-year-old she watched Maloney dress in a burqa in support of the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Maloney used the burqa to justify what would turn into twenty years of occupation and violence. An image that was “very terrifying” for Abdelhamid, who is now running for Maloney’s House seat. While I find the images and stories coming from Afghanistan distressing. I can’t imagine how it feels to see the constant images and media coverage of my home country. People are being attacked and occupied by foreign forces and more.
While it may seem that Afghanistan has reached a point of no return, we in the global west must be careful to not do several things. First, we must not write Afghanistan off as a failed country. Second, we must remember to listen to Afghans and lift up their voices and opinions, instead of injecting our own into the situation. The war in Afghanistan may have ended, but the fighting is far from over. Now, the US government, as well as other states involved, must be held responsible for the damage that has been done to Afghanistan over the past two decades. Especially since in the past few months troops were withdrawn from the country, leaving a country that they damaged to try and fix themselves.