October 26, 2021
On October 21, 2021, AMCD members met with Dr. Aziz Barez, an ex-diplomat and Funding Director for the Center for Afghanistan & Central Asia Strategic Studies. To the question of why the US effort in Afghanistan failed, he cited four reasons: failure of the US government, failure of the Afghanistan government, the influence of neighboring countries, notably Pakistan, and the failure of political parties inside Afghanistan. He also noted that while the US supported the Afghanistan government, Amrica’s enemies, notably China, supported the Taliban.
Dr. Barez explained that the US made the same mistake as the Soviets had made in Afghanistan, that is, we pushed someone from the Pashtun tribe to lead and thought that was enough to unify the country. Hamid Karzai was a particularly poor choice despite his perfect English and diplomatic skill. Dr. Barez maintains he was always a member of the Taliban and directed $70 million in US funds to them while serving as President. Karzai also sidelined the non-Pashtun Afghanis and allowed the Taliban to expand. Furthermore, the various political parties funded by the US and neighboring countries did not perform the function of true political parties. Pakistan especially played both sides; while talking billions in US funding, they actively colluded with China, Iran and Russia.
Dr. Barez explained that the US had three objectives: One was to win the war on terror (both the US and Afghan government failed), the second was to expand human rights (in this there were significant gains for women and children) and the third was to create space for a civil society to grow and lessen the appeal of jihad. The people, however, felt that the US intervened in their elections to install whomever the US favored. The people especially felt that their elections were rigged when Karzai was defeated by Ashraf Ghani in a close election that took nine months to resolve during which time the winner flipped back and forth several times. Only 2 million people voted out of a population of 30 million. The US ended up supporting Ghani despite the fact that one of his associates later admitted to manufacturing votes.
Dr. Barez identifies the last mistake made by the US was to negotiate with and sign an agreement with the Taliban under the Trump administration. After that, the US lost faith in the Afghan government we had installed, the Afghan security forces lost the will to fight, and the agreement actually began to align the US with the Taliban against the Afghan government. This re-alignment was completed with the botched US withdrawal which wiped out 20 years of progress in a flash. Dr. Barez personally believes that if Trump had remained as President, this fiasco, which gave $88 billion In military equipment to terrorists, would not have occurred. President Ghani fled to the UAE with $60 million.
Dr. Barez also pointed out that when the Pashtuns took over the government under Karzai, they engaged in discrimination against the other ethnicities. Karzai was successful in painting the Northern Alliance and Tajiks as more dangerous than the Taliban. He removed Shi’a Farsi speakers from the army and replaced them with Pashtuns.
Dr. Barez claimed that Karzai actually worked with the Pakistani ISI to solidify Pashtun control. The Pashtuns comprise roughly 30% of the population and their language is unrelated to the others. US contractors charged the government for translation, then paid for translators. Naturally, US defense contractors made a lot of money on the whole enterprise.
Dr. Barez stated that China wants to exert control economically, especially in the mining of rare earth minerals and control over Afghan communications networks. China wants to take over the role of the US without the military commitment.
Many Afghans see a ray of hope in Ahmad Massoud, who led the resistance to the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in the Panjshir valley. He is now in Tajikistan which has supplied emotional support, but nothing in the way of financial or military assistance. That level of assistance could be coming from France and possibly India in the future.