We are witnessing one of the most important moments since the end of World War II, equal to the Fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the end of the Cold War. The United States may still be ahead of China in terms of its technology and economy, NATO may still exist in name and in grandiose statements, but, in effect, the chaotic surrender to the Taliban in Afghanistan means the end of “Western” domination over global politics.
Having debased the dream of liberal democracy in Afghanistan, having undermined the very moral basis of its civilization by abandoning vulnerable people to their executioners, the “West’s” leading power has shaken the very foundation of international governance – trust. Who will ever again trust the United States and NATO?
A few days short of the 20th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, the political and social forces which offered sanctuary and support to Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda are back in power – with greater self-confidence and more powerful weapons. Not only have they sent another superpower packing (after the Soviet Union in 1989), but they have also captured all the military and technological equipment which the Americans supplied to Afghan security forces over the past 20 years.
The Taliban’s victory is military, cultural and hugely symbolic. It shows that the forces of darkness can easily triumph over efforts to build a society along Enlightenment principles, just as a sword slices through the lacework of decades of education and institution building. It suggests, also, that the importation of “Western values” into such societies is an excuse, that when the foreigners have achieved their aims, or when their stay is no longer worth their while, they depart without a thought for the cost of their intervention. The consequences are doubly destructive: Those who took part in the building of a new society are crushed, as is the last hope for a better future.
The tragedy of the Afghan people is that in the middle of the last century their country appeared to be modernizing. Women took part in education, in public life, in the economy. Today everything is sinking into darkness. The dominance of extremist Islamist forces in 2021 may be a victory for the Taliban but it is a huge defeat for humanity. The irony is that the intervention first of the “progressive” Soviet Union and then the “enlightened” United States, followed by their sudden retreat, provoked the extreme reaction of and nurtured the most conservative forces which today are in power. This also allowed neighboring countries to invest continually in the Afghans’ divisions.
What is left for the rest of the world is to offer support to the Afghan people. And to understand that it is the primary task of every nation to assure its survival. They can trust neither foreign forces nor international treaties and organizations.