Who Is To Blame For Making Ordinary Afghans Unhappy? – OpEd


The 2024 World Happiness Report has at least let loose a grim fact that needs global political and academic attention. The fact is Afghanistan has retained its status as the unhappiest country in the world for this year too. Afghans love independence and desire to be the architect of their own destiny as has been evidenced in their resolve to force the external powers out of the country from the British and Russian Empires to the then Soviet Union onto the American exit in 2021.

The significance of the country’s geostrategic location for balance of power politics as well as energy politics led the external actors to meddle in its internal affairs to such an extent that after their shameful exit also the country’s independence in real sense remains a distant dream. The Graveyard of Empires has turned into a graveyard of the country’s radical elements.

Radicalization of Afghan Society

The American support for insurgency against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in 1979 and the Pakistani assistance to the American containment strategy by training the insurgent groups in Madrasas which was not only geared to satisfy its crave for more financial and military assistance from the US to offset the power deficit compared to India but the endeavour was also directed to secure strategic depth against India in Afghanistan with the assistance of such forces provided legitimacy and a rationale for functioning to radical groups. Other external actors such as Saudi Arabia supplied funding to these groups and a triangular alliance was formed among US, Pakistan and China to contain the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. All these efforts while undercut and undermined the Soviet grip over Afghanistan, they radicalized Afghan society irreversibly.

When the Americans intervened in Afghanistan in 2001under the banner of ‘War on Terror’, another phenomenon of radicalization of Afghan society became existent. To take on terrorism, the US forces relied on Afghan Warlords who were by no means less violent and less power mongers. Decades of protracted war first aimed at obliterating Al Qaeda and then gravitating towards defeating the Afghan Taliban was partially successful so far as substantially weakening the Al Qaeda group was concerned but the Afghan Taliban remained resilient enough to dissipate the American forces’ resolve. The Americans shamefully withdrew from the country with a mammoth death tolls of Afghan civilians, security personnel and US soldiers turning it into a persistent graveyard.

The War on Terror against the Afghan Taliban engendered a sustained power vacuum in which other radical elements such as ISKP- the Afghan version of ISIS spread their tentacles, launched attacks and inflated the graveyard. Many other radical forces also found sanctuaries in the atmosphere of lawlessness including the insurgents with the objectives to cause instability in Central Asia and India. With the aspiration of getting international recognition, the Afghan Taliban in the Post-American withdrawal scenario has ensured only dislocation and relocation of different radical elements rather than their dismantlement. 

Balance of power politics and Energy politics

No external actor was ever prepared to see its contenders spread their influence in Afghanistan. The balance of power politics between the Russian and British Empires in the 19th century, the Soviet Union and US during the Cold War and the US on the one hand and many regional powers on the other in the post-Cold War era constantly kept Afghanistan embroiled in global power politics.

Afghanistan’s location as a bridge between the Eurasian Heartland on the one hand and the Indian Ocean at the other end of the spectrum swayed the external actors to juggle for an upper hand in the country to maneuver continental and naval strategies. In a similar vein, once the Central Asian states endowed with rich deposits of natural resources emerged as independent international actors following the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Russia to retain its monopoly over energy politics and Iran and US to capitalize on the emerged situation carved out plans to contain and bypass each other to gain an upper hand in the pipeline politics to supply energy resources from the Central Asian region to the world market.

Afghanistan as a bridge between the Central Asian region and Indian Ocean became vital to these external actors’ strategies. This energy politics had a negative impact on the evolution of Afghan political scenario as the actors chose different sides in the Afghan war and reconciliation efforts and made any kind of political resolution to the conflict increasingly intractable. The Afghan Taliban and ISKP sought to manipulate such external dynamics in their favour and the Afghan graveyard continued to swell.

Geography as a Bane

While Afghanistan’s geography has been a source of attraction for external powers, it has been a bane for the country itself. It has no direct access to the Indian Ocean and to the world market. It has been heavily dependent on Pakistan for trade and commerce. Pakistan, on the other hand, used this dependence in its favour by meddling in the internal affairs of the country in its search for strategic depth against India and by colluding the political fabrics of the country.

The radical elements used to receive training and arms in the Pakistani side of the border and then get infused into the Afghan society. An independent Pashtunistan which could have allowed Afghanistan an outlet to the Sea was suppressed by Pakistan within the larger umbrella of Islamic Fundamentalism such as Jihadi forces including the Taliban. Under the current Taliban regime in Afghanistan, Pakistan far from securing strategic depth against India has pandered to radical elements itself which was evidenced from Tehrik-i-Taliban’s attacks in the Pakistani mainland- the group allegedly found sanctuaries in Afghanistan. This has resulted not only expulsion of many Afghans from Pakistan, it also led to Islamabad’s efforts to strangulate trade and commerce. Without legitimate domestic revenue sources and restrictions put in place on the Afghan banking system, millions of returnees from Pakistan pose difficult economic challenges to the country.

Other challenges complicating lives of ordinary Afghans

The Afghans are deprived of statehood let alone restoration of normal functioning of socio-economic institutions. While the Taliban have been seeking international recognition for their rule to be considered legitimate, there has been hardly any progress on the ground except diplomatic outreach of a few neighbouring countries. The last UN sponsored Doha Conference on Afghanistan on February 18-19, 2024 collapsed with the Taliban’s decision not to join it. This has further complicated and pushed the process of international engagement with Afghanistan to uncertainty.

Crucial issues related to daily lives of ordinary Afghans such as women’s rights, girls’ education (1.4 million girls have been excluded from secondary school), need for basic food and nutrition, need for continuous water supply as climate change effects have led to water crisis in the country and protection from contamination from mines and explosives, freedom of movement along with protection from forced displacements require swift attention to improve lives of ordinary Afghans.

Measures to rein in gender-based violence, child labour, early marriage which have increased due to the Taliban’s gender discriminatory decrees must be in place to restore normal social life in the country. In the atmosphere of war and destruction, mental health and psychosocial support must be rendered to the Afghans. Exclusion of women from larger society has been not only hindering the implementation of the humanitarian assistance programmes but the section is largely bereft from receiving these services. Political interference needs to end as this has cast negative impacts on such programmes. The entire judicial and legal system needs to be secularized and insulated from political intervention. The private sector of the economy must be revitalized.  

All the external actors who got involved in Afghanistan for balance of power politics and/or energy politics and various internal radical groups who maintained diversified equations with these external actors to become powerful entities within the country bear certain onus for making the Afghans unhappy. 

(The World Happiness Report is prepared with the combined efforts by Gallup, the Oxford Wellbeing Research Centre, the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, and the WHR’s editorial board. It was launched in 2012 to support the United Nations’ sustainable development goals).

Dr. Manoj Kumar Mishra

Dr. Manoj Kumar Mishra has a PhD in International Relations from the Department of Political Science, University of Hyderabad. He is currently working as a Lecturer in Political Science, S.V.M. Autonomous College, Odisha, India. Previously, he worked as the Programme Coordinator, School of International Studies, Ravenshaw University, Odisha, India. He taught Theories of International Relations and India’s Foreign Policy to MA and M.Phil. students.

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