Afghanistan, graveyard of accountability
20 years of blood, sweat and tears erased within a single day. Mountains of invested dollars went up in smoke. Kabul fell.
On the 15th of August in the afternoon, the country’s legal infrastructure did not exist anymore. The structures and the authorities – be it political, economic, legal or moral – just vanished.
As if they never actually existed.
The government shut out the lights, walked out of the building and to the airport. Police and troops just dissolved into the ground. Only remain memories of the dead.
For weeks, news channels had been building up for their “Fall of Saigon” moment. You could smell it in the comments, the references and the anticipated pictures of evacuation. No Huey chopper, no soldiers riding on BMP personnel carriers across the Friendship border bridge. In the end, only airport refugees and the dogs got evacuated.
And the French brought a little drama … with their usual flare (yeah, yeah, joke).
The post-mortems had the same contrived, bored tone, with an air of inevitability to all of it.
Shrugs instead of outrage
Just google “why did Kabul fall”, if you need to, to pick and choose the reasons. Corruption, mission creep, vision chaos, … Ultimately, what strikes everyone, is the shallowness of what had been built: a Potemkin Village of Western democracy built on trillions of Dollars.
For most, it sounds like hindsight 25/25.
Still, however corrupt, however chaotic and dispirited, the Southern Vietnamese army fought to the last kilometre, the last hour. The South Vietnamese state did not just vanish before the Northern Vietnamese army showed up.
Excuses were rolled out by the wheelbarrow
Corruption, chaos, incompetence and lack of respect for local institutions,… just whip out the late 1980s on the Soviet exit. Copy paste mostly.
We seem to take for granted the disappearance of personal accountability
However, none of this quite explains why apparently no-one in the country fought for the political, legal or even cultural system. Even crippled, the Afghan system could have worked, however badly. It could have been shored up, at least partly. Of course, this would have required a minimum of backbone, literally and figuratively.
Still, despite having money, weapons, structures, numbers and support, Kabul fell in days … and no one went out and defended it. Only Panjshir lived up to its reputation! Another way to put it is: no-one locally felt accountable enough to hold out for it.
It seems that it was not worth dying for
Maybe not worth living for either.
It cannot be dismissed as simple cowardice. Everything we know since generations about Afghanistan shows that it has nothing to do with individual courage.
2500 years after Alexander the Great, 200 years of colonial wars in Afghanistan should be enough to discard the notion. Could it be that the system itself dilutes the sense of individual responsibility? Could it be that the system itself reduced the individual accountability of its representatives? It sounds pretty much so to me.
Think about it.
If you were a jail officer in Kabul on the 15th of August, what did you see before locking the doors on your Taliban prisoners?.. You turn around to your sergeant, your sergeant turns to the prison chief, the chief looks to the Minister of Justice, who in turn looks to the President… He, however, is already running on the tarmac towards his private helicopter!
No blame, no criticism, no word from nobody on the literal self-dissolution of the state.
At the very least, surely, the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani should be held accountable. How come there is no blame for an individual who is ex-World Bank, who was feted for a 2005 TED Talk, the founder of Institute of State Effectiveness, the professional expert on failing states? Himself, he is so righteous, he had no problem blaming, admonishing and giving lessons to his countrymen fleeing the country in 2016.
Yet, silence in the news, channels, analyses. Silence from all the international structures and organisations.
Where is the usual vocal outrage?
Running, with or without bags of cash, without a word or a backward glance. Is it really acceptable, normal, natural even, that the elected President of a country walks out of the building, without a word to his government or nation, and just up sticks?
You expect that from a Ceausescu, a Ghaddafi, maybe, but not from a freely elected paragon of the global system.
It is the stuff of movies and cartoons. A thousand memes in the right hands. Yet 20 years of blood, sweat and tears vanished just like that, with no personal accountability for it.
The issue for me is not the individual behaviour, be it error of judgement, mistake, cowardice, however ridiculous, revolting or abhorrent. It is how this demonstrates that we seem to take for granted the disappearance of personal accountability.
With great power comes no responsibility.