AAPI Convention 2022


Afghanistan: The failure of democracy, the US and the free world

But the democratic world, mainly the US, already lost its battle for democracy in South and Central Asia by allowing the collapse of the the Afghan Republic, writes Fahim Sadat for South Asia Monitor

Fahim Sadat Jun 13, 2022
Afghanistan parliament building and Taliban leaders (Photo: Twitter)

Democracy vs. autocracy is the fight of our times. From the start of his presidency, US President Joe Biden pitted democracy against autocracy. He stated: "Democracy doesn't happen by accident. We have to defend it. Fight for it. Strengthen it. Renew it." 

Alas, when it came to Afghanistan, President Biden failed from the very first day. On August 15, 2021, Afghanistan fell into the hands of the Taliban in the presence of the US Army, stationed in the country’s capital, including the Kabul International Airport. A later address by President Biden at the Munich Security Conference was notable, especially for this statement:

“We are in the midst of a fundamental debate about the future and direction of our world. We’re at an inflection point between those who argue that given all the challenges we face – from the fourth industrial revolution to a global pandemic – that autocracy is the best way forward, they argue, and those who understand that democracy is essential – essential to meeting those challenges.” 

US role 

The outcome of the high-stakes battle between autocracy and democracy remains uncertain. But certainly, the fate of democracies in modern times depends largely on the actions of democratic countries, especially the United States, as the most powerful country militarily and economically.

In 2001, when the US led an international intervention in Afghanistan, Afghans foresaw a better future, a pluralistic society governed by rule of law, a country of fair elections, having a greater voice in the government, better economic conditions, and greater freedoms guaranteed in a just constitution that protects freedoms, human rights, women's rights and girls’ education.

But by August 15, 2021, after 20 years of development, it appeared that democracy had failed in Afghanistan. And it failed in the presence of the Americans and their international partners. This result would not only kill the aspirations of the pro-democracy groups of Central Asia, Russia, China, South Asia and the greater Middle East but it also strengthened the claims of the autocracies that they alone can deliver.


In retrospect, a thriving democracy in Afghanistan would have had an enormous impact on the people and governments of the region. An experiment with free media and free speech had already concerned the neighboring dictatorships. It seemed like an exemplary journey for Afghanistan; social media would have played a key role in shaping the dialogue about the success of Afghanistan as a thriving democracy versus the abusive autocratic governments in the region.  

Afghanistan would not have had a perfect democracy any time soon but even a flawed democracy in a region surrounded by dictatorial governments would have proved an exemplary success in the war between democracy versus autocracy for the democratic world.

Afghanistan was making progress albeit slow. For the first time in its history, the peaceful transfer of power from one elected president to another elected president was successfully taking place. An emerging civil society was establishing itself and women were starting to play a considerably important role in the public domain. Millions of children were attending schools and hundreds of thousands of Afghan professionals were returning from abroad with modern skills and knowledge acquired.

Afghans lost 

In the past 20 years, the US also needed to have made a stronger, more positive case for democracy in Afghanistan. This meant fully ensuring Afghanistan’s stability and further strengthening the country’s democratic institutions to deliver its promised dividends for Afghans through democracy. The warlords should have been weakened, anti-corruption mechanisms needed further strengthening, local governance should have been improved, and transparency and accountability should have been institutionalized.

And the double standard role Pakistan played should have been considered seriously. This would have made Afghanistan an example or beacon of post-conflict democratic development, an example strongly portrayed as the success of the democratic world versus autocracy. But most importantly, the US should have shown persistence.

One of the greatest lessons of military history is that persistence matters. It often matters as much as strategy, skill, armament and technology. In the case of Afghanistan, the US did have a strategy and skill as the strongest and battle-tested military and armament including the likes of F16s jets.

Cold War 

No matter what, the US would have hardly lost the war if it hadn’t lost interest. It was important to persist and not lose interest because this loss of interest at a time when the autocracies of the world are strengthening themselves, creating great mechanized armies, building powerful fleets of warships, and swarms of bombing planes, openly repeatedly declaring their hostility to all forms of democratic government was a huge miscalculation on the side of the US and the liberal world.

The incipient Cold War between China and the US is inevitable. The democratic world is in a new Cold War, it’s off to a slow start for now. 

But the democratic world, mainly the US, already lost its battle for democracy in South and Central Asia by allowing the collapse of the Afghan Republic. The chaotic withdrawal and the catastrophic scenery of the Kabul Airport are the liberal world’s most visible failures. 

The failure of democracy and of the free world in Afghanistan will be remembered by generations in Afghanistan and the wider region.  

(The author is a freelance perspective writer specializing in Afghanistan's conflict and peace analysis. Views are personal. He can be contacted at sayedsadat722@gmail.com) 


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