In October 2001, the first troops in what became Nato-International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) entered Afghanistan to start their longest-ever engagement. The shameful fact is that the 15 year-long action has never had a clear political target and over the years, the soldiers have had their mission vary wildly, jumping from annihilating Al Qaida, to reconstructing a country, to hunting down drug manufacturers, to fighting the Taliban. Soldiers are not good at some of these tasks and, unsurprisingly, they have failed given the deep political confusion surrounding the whole project.
But something has emerged from the rubble and the chaos. There is now a stronger civil society in Afghanistan than there has been for decades, following the turmoil of the 1970s, which led to the Russian involvement and invasion, and then the CIA-backed Mujahideen counter-attack, which led to a decade of murderous warlords and the eventual brutal Taliban takeover in the late 1990s. This sorry history forced many of Afghanistan’s brightest and best to flee their country, to which they have now started to return and commit to trying to build it anew.
The remaining international forces in Afghanistan, and the continuing huge aid programmes to which the government has become addicted, need to recognise that they cannot solve Afghanistan’s problems. That can only be achieved by the Afghans and the ongoing challenge for the Afghan government’s international and regional friends is to recognise that they need to support what all efforts to build a peaceful country based on the constitution. It’s not why America and its allies went to war, but that’s the way forward.