Establishing an army or security apparatus to serve the interests of an occupying power is no easy task, not even in the best of times. The US has finally come to this realisation, albeit reluctantly. Recent events in Afghanistan confirm this. Just 14 years ago, the US-funded security forces led by Mahmoud Abbas were routed in Gaza. Like Afghanistan, they disintegrated and fled after they were defeated by resistance forces.
Despite their clear historical and geographical differences, there were definite similarities which underpinned the US experiments in both Afghanistan and Palestine.
After routing the Taliban in October 2001, the Bush administration spurned repeated overtures to include them in a political settlement. As early as December 2001 senior Taliban leaders reached out to the newly installed president, Hamid Karzai, to lay down arms and be included in the political process. Their offers were dismissed out of hand by US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld.
Undeterred by this initial refusal, the Taliban continued throughout 2002-2004 to press Karzai, who in turn lobbied the US to open a political dialogue. All these efforts were dismissed, culminating in a ban by the administration on any contact with the group.
In Palestine, the Bush administration’s attitude toward the resistance, and Hamas in particular, was arguably even more hostile. Ironically, it became even more so after the movement won the 2006 elections, which should have been a catalyst for democratic change.
Like the Karzai government, the Palestinian Authority (PA) was not allowed to engage with Hamas. After the elections, Hamas sought to include its rival party Fatah in a national unity government, but they flatly refused, ostensibly at the behest of the US.
Given its appalling record of derailing the democratic experiments in Afghanistan and Palestine, the US must accept some measure of responsibility for the destabilisation of both countries. To the same degree that the exclusion of political adversaries had undermined national unity, so too the misuse of the security forces has fuelled entrenched grievances and divisions.
In Palestine, Lieutenant-General William Ward, the first US Security Coordinator (USSC), told a US Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the PA’s security sector was “dysfunctional, with separate chieftains [sic] that were loyal to individuals… not having any clear lines of authority and unresponsive to any central command.”
Stanley McChrystal, the retired United States Army general who served in Afghanistan as Chief of Staff of the Combined Joint Task Force and as Commander of the International Security Assistance Force, had a similar view of the country’s security sector: “The Afghan National Army, trained and equipped largely by the United States, are employed primarily at static checkpoints around the country that are vulnerable to Taliban attacks.”
With regard to the Afghan National Police, he recalled it was “riddled with corruption and poor leadership, is used more for the protection of members of parliament and other officials than for its intended purpose of enforcing law and order.”
Herein lies a common dilemma which confronted the nascent security forces in Palestine and Afghanistan. Simply put, they were called upon to be all things to all men. Whereas the Palestinians had the unenviable task of protecting conflicting Israeli and Palestinian interests, all at the same time, so too the Afghans were required to combat insurgents, hunt down drug barons, prevent the growth of opium, and yet coordinate with American forces to seek out Al-Qaeda fugitives in the Pashtun regions. In the end, they achieved none.After all the wars and their accompanying death and destruction, it is still not clear what the Americans really wanted. In November 2003, the immediate post 9/11 period, President Bush told a gathering at the White House that “our commitment to democracy is also tested in the Middle East, which is my focus, and must be a focus of American policy for decades to come.”
Now, two decades on, after the Taliban regained control of all of Afghanistan, Joe Biden incredulously tells the American people, “Our mission in Afghanistan was never to create a unified democracy.”
Remarkably, Gen. McChrystal had a different understanding of his mission in there. Writing recently in Foreign Affairs he affirmed that they invaded Afghanistan “to destroy Al-Qaeda and overthrow the Taliban regime that was hosting it.” And in the same breath, he added that the mission “came to include the establishment of an Afghan nation that defended its own sovereignty, embraced democracy, educated women, and cracked down on opium production.”
Whatever their origins or persuasion, military occupations are innately opposed to freedom and development. Even in their most benign forms, they lead to resistance and prevent democracy from taking root. Palestine and Afghanistan are salient examples. Throughout history, their peoples have witnessed numerous invasions and occupations. After two decades the US has finally run out of stamina. Similarly, they will eventually realise the futility of supporting the Zionist occupation of Palestine.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.