Afghanistan has fallen | Hendrik Erz

Afghanistan has fallen

Every generation has their own catastrophic crisis to bear. Be it the French revolution, the two World Wars, Vietnam, the collapse of the Soviet Union or the 2008 financial crisis. For me and my generation, it was Afghanistan. And now, after twenty years – my whole adult life –, all of this is over. Afghanistan is lost, and with it all hope that, after more than fourty years, Afghanistan may return to its pre-war peace.


Afghanistan has fallen. There is no way back anymore. The Taliban have taken over the country, the president has fled the country, and thousands of Afghans now fear for their lives. All of that in the matter of weeks. We’re back to square one, in the autumn of 2001, when all of this started. And this saddens me.

After reading this post, a friend of mine mentioned that this article may come across as very me-focused and ignorant of what is happening in Afghanistan. This article is indeed about me and my experience with the Afghanistan war. I was never there and I am not in danger of being executed by the Taliban. This article is solely about how the Afghanistan war shaped me throughout my life and how the current events have ripped a hole into my life, because a few bad political decisions rendered nil all the decades of efforts of civil society organizations and researchers who have told politicians over and over again that we cannot withdraw from Afghanistan.

I have grown up with Afghanistan. I know more about that country than about many others: city names; it’s shape; it’s economic situation with the large opium industry in the south-west of the country; the geology of the mountainous border region to Pakistan; peculiarities such as the Hawala system. I know about the utter failures of modernizing the country, from pocketed development money to the audacious attempts by international actors to connect the Afghan rural economy to the global financial markets via “micro loans”. I know about the people who have died in the bloody partisan war of the allied forces against the Taliban, about war crimes on both sides, the sluggish peace process which in large parts was conducted in my home town of Bonn, Germany.

Afghanistan was one of the fundamental factors in my scientific trajectory. Most I know about how the global economy works is due to the example of Afghanistan. Most I know about international security has been prompted by my attempts to understand how the war in Afghanistan worked. My Master thesis was in large parts affected by the situation in Afghanistan paired with my impetus to understand the big “Why?”

When people ask me why I study sociology, I commonly refer to 9/11. That day was one of the most significant ones in my life. Not because it was great. But because I can recount every single minute of what happened on that day. I remember the stormy weather on that day, the irregular flickering of the old CRT TV we had in the school’s break room, where we – 10 year old students – sat together with our supervisors who burned the cultural significance of that day into our minds. I will never forget these images for the rest of my life. This is why I study culture: Because some events are so significant that they are burned in the minds of children who can tell you precisely what happened, and that that is bad – despite them not understanding why that is.

9/11 and subsequently the war in Afghanistan forged me into what I am now. And I’m pretty sure this applies also to many others of my generation. You will find remnants of that event and all that followed littered throughout my CV. My Twitter handle is due to my interest in the Middle Eastern culture, I know more about the history of the al-Ikhwan (Muslim brotherhood) and its founder, Sayyed Qutb, than I know about Catholic reformism or the new Evangelical Right in the United States. I can tell you more about the origins of modern salafi-jihadi thought and Wahhabism than about the ideological underpinnings of the two big U.S. parties. I know more names of Islamist scholars than names of German chancellors.

And all of that is now futile. Because of the political short-sightedness of Western politicians who attempted to withdraw from Afghanistan before it could become a second Vietnam. And now? Now we have a 1975 Saigon in color. There are helicopters evacuating ambassadors from the roof of the U.S. embassy in Kabul. The United States frantically move personnel around the country and we see Apache helicopters clearing the Kabul International Airport’s runways from refugees so the military planes can take off. Afghans cling to the tires of the C-5 transporters, taking off into their death. And the German government, allegedly “utterly surprised” by the events is sending all they can spare in a hectic decision into the country to exfiltrate their embassy personnel and – if we are lucky – hopefully some of the Afghans who helped the German troops on the ground and who are now fearing for their lives.

Reports of executions are already legion, the Taliban are slaughtering their way through the ranks of “traitors” to the country, all the while the Taliban leaders are preparing to return to where they had to leave almost twenty years ago.

I cannot put into words the rage that boils within me, I can only attempt to circumscribe it. The Sowjets may have started the mess that is Afghanistan today when they invaded the country in 1979. But the United States and, by affiliation, their NATO partners, bear the responsibility for perpetuating the plight of the Afghan people by training and staffing the Mujahideen who later became the Taliban – those “seekers of knowledge”, the elitist troop of hardline Islamic students gone rogue.

Getting a foreign force out of a country is easy since there are only strategic assets to be lost. But getting a highly motivated, radicalized group of fanatics out of their friggin’ own country is impossible. And that is not only since Carl Schmitt wrote about The Theory of the Partisan. The United States knew exactly what they did by weaponizing the Mujahideen against the Sowjets. They have experienced the force of local partisans before – in Indochina a.k.a. Vietnam, which led to the dramatic images of Saigon just a few years before they decided it would be a good idea to repeat that same shit in Afghanistan.

And now we see them fleeing like cowards, selling it as “having a backbone” to keep their decision to move out of the country. What a load of bullcrap. Everyone knew the Afghan forces would have no chance against the Taliban. Everyone knew the Taliban would re-capture the country once the allied forces withdrew. Everyone knew we could never leave the country. And everyone knew what would happen to the thousands of people who, in the hope of a better life, helped the international troops. Everyone knew. And those who are now apparently “shocked” by what is happening there either lived under a rock for the past twenty years or lie into our all faces knowingly.

Where does the world go from here? I honestly don’t know. I only know that Afghanistan is one factor of who I am today, and now everything is back to square one. We as the West have failed. I pray for the safe flight of all of those Afghans who are on the Taliban’s death lists. And that, maybe, sometime in the future, we may try again and finally allow Afghanistan to return to the prosperity and peace the country experienced before the Sowjet invasion in 1979.

Afghanistan has fallen. But I hope that this is not the end of the story, inshallah.

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