Sunday 19 Aug 2018 | 11:14 | SYDNEY
Sunday 19 Aug 2018 | 11:14 | SYDNEY

Afghanistan: The imperial temptation


Bill Bowtell

22 July 2009 15:03

Thomas Friedman’s column on Afghan children was not just, as Sam observed, cloying.

It could have been lifted word for word from any 19th or 20th century European or American newspaper account of missionaries educating natives about European virtues in the exotic and far-flung reaches of Empire. These sentimental articles drummed up domestic political support, and donations, for the ex post facto justification of this or that invasion or annexation of another chunk of real estate deemed crucial to the great strategic goals of the imperial powers.

There were good reasons for invading Afghanistan, but building a secular, American-run network of schools throughout the country was not one of them.

For centuries, western imperialist adventures have been justified – at least to the credulous --  as civilizing missions. Without exception, these periods of zealous expansionism have ended in chaos and strife, not least for those unfortunate locals who cooperated with the imperial power but who were abandoned to their fate when it retired hurt from the unequal contest with nationalist insurgents.

How to extricate ourselves from an endless civil war in Afghanistan, without visiting further death and destruction on its people, should be the overarching aim of Western policy. How to do this by securing at least some sort of decent future for the young women and men who desperately want a better life than that being dreamt up for them by their fathers, and the Taliban, should be the preoccupation of Western policy-makers and commentators.

But one of the unintended and unwelcome consequences of the West’s dismal showing in Afghanistan might — as happened after Vietnam, Algeria, Uganda and all the other retreats from Empire — be to provide a refuge for millions of Afghans seeking the better life we rashly promised, but could not deliver for them in their homeland.

Photo by Flickr user elissapearl, used under a Creative Commons license.