by UnHerd
Wednesday, 7
April 2021
Seen Elsewhere
17:48

Selling liberalism to Afghanistan

Washington wanted democracy, but got a bloated NGO sector instead
by UnHerd
US soldiers in Afghanistan. Credit: Moore/Getty Images

“America is back,” declared Joe Biden earlier this year. And with it, a resurrected liberal internationalism that has lain dormant for the past four years. Biden’s cabinet, packed with officials who supported the Iraq invasion, the Libya intervention, and expressed remorse over Washington’s failure to play a bigger role in Syria, now wants America to reclaim the mantle of global leader.

The President has said that he wants to convene a global democracy summit as part of the administration’s push to promote democratic values abroad (though his Secretary of State has insisted that this will not be done through “costly military interventions”) and approach authoritarian regimes “from a position of strength, not weakness“. All of which suggests that the new President will be taking a more active role on the world stage than his predecessor.

Whether the Biden administration has learnt from the Blob’s past mistakes will be put to the test in Afghanistan, where the deadline to withdraw US soldiers from the region is fast approaching. Troops have been stationed in the region for nearly 20 years, and Washington’s failure to get out is a case study in the failures of exporting democracy and, by extension, liberal values abroad. Instead, what has happened, according to a new report in Foreign Affairs, is that liberal values have ‘become a business’ in Afghanistan generating fat contracts for NGOs:

The first group of NGOs moved from Peshawar, Pakistan, to Kabul in the early 2000s. The organizations had previously worked for Afghan refugees in Peshawar and were able to secure funds to implement projects that intended to promote values such as women rights and human rights. The U.S. government spent $787 million to support women’s rights with little result, according to a congressional watchdog which found high maternal mortality rates, widespread gender-based violence, and limited access to healthcare and education for women.
- Ezzatullah Mehrdad, Foreign Affairs

In turn, this business created an artificial — and parallel — civil society:

The business inflicted huge damage to Afghan society. Many of the NGOs went to villages and corrupted the century-old traditions of community service. One practice is known as “assembling”: people gather and work to resolve an issue facing their community. The NGOs paid people for assembling on a project for which they had secured funding. After that, people began hesitating to do community service—asking: Why should we work for free when we can be paid?
- Ezzatullah Mehrdad, Foreign Affairs

Now, Washington now finds itself trapped in peace talks:

As the peace talks progressed, the Afghan government portrayed itself as a defender of liberal values against the extremist Taliban, who seek to build an Islamic emirate. Many fear that the government uses the liberal values as a cover for its attempt to gain the upper hand in power-sharing with the Taliban. “As long as the values serve their interests, the values are defended,” Zawulistani said. “We are dealing with two unprincipled groups that seek to monopolize power.”
- Ezzatullah Mehrdad, Foreign Affairs

The lesson to draw? That the death of liberalism ends not with a bang, but with a bloated NGO sector.

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Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago

I lived in Afghanistan back before this crazy stuff, Like I always say, read about Passhtunwali, this is The Code Of The Pashtuns, and Talib means religious student (means memorizing the Koran in Arabic, although they do not speak Arabic) and Taliban are Deobandi, Pashtun religious fanatics, as created in Whabi financed Salafist madrases during the Russian years to create a resistance army – and it worked. After the Mujahideen ran out the Russians (by our stinger rockets) the Taliban ran off the Mujahideen.

Nyāw aw Badál (نياو او بدل), honour, a slap must be avenged by death would be one way to think of it, death before dishounour would be the Western equivalent.

And this is the one which causes all the trouble with the West Nāmús (ناموس): – Female Honour

Anyway, have a read on it, WIKI will give a report in their wiki agenda way.

And the thought of the creepy Biden and his VP trying to reconcile the Pashtuns with the American Race/Sexual industry and politics is like the most sure way to screw up the region I ever heard of. There is not a single person in the world’s politics more guarenteed to mess everything there totaly up then Harris and her agenda which is 100% against every thing they believe in, and will die for – so expect a vast amount of suffering to come from her twisted hand on the wheel.

Cynthia Neville
Cynthia Neville
1 year ago

Despite agreeing with this author’s arguments I deplore his/her facile reference to President Trump. Ad hominem attacks are the refuge of the dullard.

J Bryant
J Bryant
1 year ago

I shouldn’t find this article funny, but I do.
We tried to export traditional liberal values to Afghanistan (without paying the least bit of attention to their own culture) and they’ve commoditized those values; turned them into profit centers to be paraded when grant time comes around. Meanwhile, back home, those same values are being systematically undermined by a significant percentage of Americans (and Brits, so far as I can tell).
The Afghans must be laughing their heads off.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
1 year ago

We have all known for years that all these NGOs are a giant racket and do more harm than good. The Biden-Harris administration is no different. Meanwhile, according to (I think) Jimmy Dore, some arms firms are suing the Pentagon because the US might pull the troops out of Afghanistan. Disgusting, the whole lot of it.

William Hickey
William Hickey
1 year ago

“As long as the values serve their interests, the values are defended,” Zawulistani said.

Well then, we have exported our values. Our Left-wing values.

Zawulistani could say the same about the Left in America and Britain, which the current debates over free speech illustrate nicely.

The ends justify the means. Whatever works.

Or, as the late great Rush Limbaugh said on his program 25 years ago describing the Clinton Administration, every morning they wake up and wonder, “How are we going to fool them today?”

Last edited 1 year ago by William Hickey
M Spahn
M Spahn
1 year ago

The last thing we need is Blinken and a return of Samatha Power who has more blood on her hands than Carrie at the end of the prom. Clueless, sanctimonious, arrogant imbeciles living out their West Wing fantasies who inevitably make things worse and get working-class mean and women killed in the process.

Sam Hall
Sam Hall
1 year ago

this article was from Foreign Policy not Foreign Affairs