SS#5 – We Need To Talk About Afghanistan

August 2021 will be remembered for years to come for one of the greatest betrayals in human history. The premature withdrawal from Afghanistan by coalition forces has effectively pulled the rug from beneath the feet of millions of Afghan citizens striving for a better future.

The NATO coalition led by the USA & keenly supported by the UK, Canada and many others has “aimed to create the conditions whereby the Afghan government could exercise its authority throughout the country”. Upon completion of that mission in late 2014, the Alliance had the sole objective to help the local Afghan population build the infrastructure for a brighter tomorrow (Resolute Support Mission).

These missions have come at great cost for all involved; over 7,000 days elapsed, with the loss of over 240,000 lives including 70,000 civilians. The financial cost is estimated in excess of $2.1tn (£1.5tn).

Political Popularity Trumps Morals

The endeavours of the Western coalition were of course not completely selfless – the rationale for intervening in Afghanistan was linked directly to the Taliban providing refuge and resources to Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda in the run up to, and immediately following the 9/11 attacks in the United States.

It was therefore politically convenient at that point in time for the US to announce an invasion of the Taliban controlled territory, made internationally palatable by the presence of allied forces from NATO.

The opinion polls soared for George W Bush with his overall approval ratings hitting 90% in late 2001 & remaining consistently over 80% through 2002. There was a similar story in the UK with parliament overwhelmingly backing Tony Blair in a vote by 317 votes to 13.

Following early successful advances from the Northern Alliance backed by the Allied forces, there came an opportunity to strike a deal with the Taliban; they would surrender on the condition that their leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar could remain in Kandahar under supervision from the appropriate military forces. 

However Donald Rumsfeld quickly rejected this offer to effectively end the war before it had gathered momentum. Why? There are many explanations, including;

  • The perception that the offer would result in the leader of the Taliban receiving relatively little punishment. This was politically unpalatable to the Allied forces given the Taliban’s collusion with Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda.
  • Defeating the Taliban in such quick time would raise uncomfortable questions about how such a comparatively weak organisations (Taliban & Al-Qaeda) had caused so much damage and destruction on US soil and evaded capture. A longer effort that saw the complete destruction of the Taliban would be a better “show of force” and deterrent.
  • The economic benefits of war would be lost. War drives employment figures up, and also justifies exorbitant amounts of money to be invested in defence budgets and the development of new military technologies. In effect the US (and to a lesser extent their Allies) could make large advances without much scrutiny.
  • “We don’t negotiate with terrorists.”

The common thread amongst all the above explanations being they would all almost certainly cause significant damage to the approval ratings of Bush, Blair et al.

Mirror, Mirror

Fast forward 20 years, and the narrative surrounding the acrimonious departure of the Allied forces from Afghanistan seems to be avoiding this key thread. Political popularity.

Why was President Joe Biden so quick to reject calls to reverse the Trump administration decision to withdraw from Afghanistan?

  • The perception that the war has run its course – Punishment has been served. Osama bin Laden has been found and executed, and any further action was a waste of much needed money and American (& Allies) lives.
  • To do so would further divide the US politically, and result in the Afghan war and all its previous failings becoming Biden’s War – causing significant damage to chances of a second term in office.
  • The economic benefits have waned. There is no longer any real benefit in this regard and so it becomes purely ideological.

In other words Biden, Johnson and Trudeau et al have calculated that any U-turn here would cause significant damage in the polls. As we have seen throughout this war, ultimately for the ruling elite political popularity trumps morals.


However where Bush & Blair’s gamble initially paid off in the early days of the conflict in Afghanistan, the Allied gamble of 2020/1 has backfired spectacularly.

Criticism has rained down from all sides across each Allied nation. The gains made in Afghanistan now seen as lost. Service men and women, over 3500 of whom made the ultimate sacrifice in support of the mission statements above, seemingly now betrayed – with a catastrophic impact on the mental health of both those who served and the families of those who never returned.

There is now a very real fear of reprisals and the return of terrorist factions to Afghanistan, plotting attacks in the region as well as in the USA, UK & Canada. The complete betrayal and subsequent lack of compassion shown to the Afghan people by each Allied government will now serve as the ultimate recruiting tool for the Taliban and other extremist groups.

The Convenient By-product

Back to the mission statement; to help the local Afghan population build the infrastructure for a brighter tomorrow.

The truly positive by-product of this popularity contest has been the progress made across Afghanistan, be it girls attending schools, women holding office, businesses flourishing, or simply freedom of expression and thought. The green shoots of progress have been clear to see.

Sadly, these green shoots, 20 years in the making, have been all but destroyed in a matter of weeks. The news is a continuous cycle of scenes of desperate crowds at Kabul Airport / various Embassy buildings trying to flee the country, and harrowing stories of the Taliban’s aggression against so called “collaborators”.

The true intentions of the governments of the US and its Allies now laid clear for the world to see – the so called mission statement abandoned and left in tatters, yet each government still claiming a success…

Light in the darkness

But where there was once growth, it shall return. Whilst the green shoots above the ground may have been temporarily destroyed, the roots run deep.

Brave Afghans have been protesting in the streets against the Taliban, celebrating Afghanistan independence day, waving their national flag as opposed to the flag of the Taliban. Brave young girls continue to go to school. Valiant government ministers such as Rangina Hamidi make a stand and refuse to leave their country behind. Courageous female journalists such as Beheshta Arghand continue to hold the Taliban to account.

Beheshta Arghand interviewing Taliban spokesman on live TV

The resolve of the Afghan people, who have been in an almost continuous state of war for half a century, should not be questioned. They will rise from the ashes and create a beautiful tomorrow for their country.

What Happens Next?

It’s already clear to see the Taliban will not live up to their promises of peaceful rule – those seen as having worked for or alongside Allied forces have in some instances been tortured, and executed in others. Citizens attempting to leave via Kabul Airport have been whipped and beaten as they run the gauntlet past Taliban fighters to get to the overcrowded airport gates.

Some commentators are expecting the Northern Alliance to regroup and a civil war to break out in the coming weeks and months in Afghanistan. Others are anticipating China and Russia having a growing influence with the Taliban – China’s Foreign Minister, Wang Yi met with leaders of the Taliban as recently as July in Tianjin. But the prediction most experts agree on is the expectation the Taliban will implement a brutal and bloody regime similar to that of two decades ago, only this time armed with new weaponry left behind by the Allied troops, and having learnt the art of political propaganda.

Whether some or all of the above forecasts are correct, the months and years ahead for Afghanistan are going to be tumultuous. It is vitally important that across the globe we keep helping in any way we can – by applying pressure to our politicians, donating to charities where possible (some suggestions down below), maintaining the current high profile of the ongoing situation, and letting the Afghan people know that we are aware of what is happening and we care about them.

The solution in Afghanistan should not be one decided in the wings of the White House or the corridors of Whitehall – but by the Afghan people. Our role is to help facilitate that solution in any way we can.

The West needs to avoid thinking about this in terms of implementing “democracy” as we know it. The western style of democracy is fundamentally broken – to implement this system elsewhere is guaranteed to result in future failure. Countries such as Afghanistan are not capitalist countries in the West. They are their own country with a fantastic culture and deep history in the East. The identity of the Afghan nation and the structure of the government should be reflective of that.

As the main stream news coverage of the situation in Afghanistan starts to slowly decline over the coming days and weeks, it is our responsibility to make sure the Afghan people remain at the forefront of our thoughts and actions. The cameras will soon stop rolling, and the eyes of the world will move on, but the Afghan people will remain engaged in their battle for survival and a brighter future. I urge anyone reading this to help in any way you can.

Please don’t forget about Afghanistan.

Charities & NGOs

Here are some links to charities and other organisations who are providing support to Afghan people, both refugees and those still in Afghanistan;

And here are some links to charities and other organisations who are providing mental health support to service men and women who served in Afghanistan;

Serendipitous Sundays #2: Stagnant, For All Intents And Purposes.

The last 18 months will be remembered for the obvious reasons, however key trends have emerged that at least deserve a footnote in the history books. From a personal perspective, the key trend is not upward or downward, nor horizontal, but rather eerily still. The resolute perception and at times strongly held belief, though often not reality, that progress has halted in its entirety and key areas of life have become stagnant.

Too much time.

Back in February and March of 2020 as the pandemic took hold across the globe, life changed for each and every one of us. In a work setting – entire industries ground to a halt and millions around the world lost their jobs.

For those who remained in employment, new working arrangements were required. Many were required to work from home, whilst others were placed on schemes such as the “furlough” scheme in the UK. Those in key front line roles were to adopt new ways of working to maximise safety whilst ensure critical services were maintained.

But whatever the work situation you found yourself in, the one thing we all had far more of was time… even for those who were required to work longer hours than ever before.

That seems counterintuitive, but unpack it slightly. Once work has finished, even if its later than usual think about these 2 questions;

  • What did you do?
  • Where did you go?

Unless the rules were not adhered to, the answer will be pretty straightforward for most. For me;

  • What did I do? Moved from one room of the house to the other to watch TV and have food before bed.
  • Where did I go? Nowhere.

Now what about free time and weekends;

  • What did you do? Went for a walk or baked banana bread with varying degrees of success
  • Where did you go? Remained within a 3 mile radius of home.

Of course the number of hours in any given day or week remained constant. However with no plans, no social life and no events, the number of truly free hours – hours with no plans, increased significantly. We found ourselves with more free time, whatever our work situation.

The question was, what the hell do we do with it?

Self reflection.

For me, as was the case for many others, I chose to use this time to analyse every element of my life. The starting point of the analysis was a feeling of unhappiness, and so the results were unsurprisingly negative.

I was wasting my time doing things that I didn’t want to do. Getting drunk each weekend, watching a lot of TV / Netflix, ordering takeaways and occasionally going for a walk in the local area. I live with my partner, I was seeing people on video calls each week, and yet I felt so lonely and unfulfilled.

From the outside my life would appear brilliant – a great job with a salary to match, engaged to be married, new house, new car. So what right did I have to feel lonely and unfulfilled? Numbing myself of these feelings seemed easier than accepting and addressing them.

For all intents and purposes, my life was stagnant. I felt as though everything was passing me by as I remained rooted to the spot, out of control and unable to drag myself forwards.

Life’s trajectory.

This all stems from the pressure that we all feel to continually make progress. Through this lens life is continuous motion – either forwards, or laterally initially with the goal of advancing in the near future.

The easiest way to satisfy this urge is through work. We strive for a career in a certain industry and we base our success on that of our peers, either at work or in our social lives. We see promotion and salary increases as progress, without giving much consideration to the destination. We spend far more time making sure we are seen to be moving that the destination almost becomes irrelevant.

And then it hits. The feeling of being stagnant.

Normally this is the time we become restless and strive for the next step just to keep moving. We seek to advance our careers and progress up the chain. In essence, to do what it takes to maintain the trajectory we have set for our life.

Keep busy, work hard, move forward.

But this time it was different. The thought of progression in my career wasn’t providing any sense of satisfaction. It dawned on me that I have spent so much time focussing on progression in my career that I haven’t taken the time to think about where I want to go and what I want to achieve.

Too much time?

If you have shared that feeling of being lonely and unfulfilled, and despite all the success you may have had in life there is still that unavoidable feeling of emptiness, a sense that you are yet to find your purpose, then it may be an indicator that you too have been focussed on the journey and neglecting the destination.

What better time than now to make a change! We all have more time on our hands to define our passions and dreams. We all have the ability to chase those dreams.

The direction of travel isn’t important. Life isn’t a graph, and you are not a business with “growth potential”. It’s about your destination – and as long as you are on your path that’s all that matters.

My journey began at the start of this year. Now in to month 8, I have identified my passions and defined my dreams. You guys are all sharing the journey towards that with me! It’s not easy, but I can promise you it is rewarding.

Remember to stop and appreciate the progress of the journey to date, and review the next leg of the journey ahead. You don’t need to be continually moving to be successful.

Have a good ‘un guys.