The two countries share gigantic issues. Both are Muslim nations with Sunni sect. As “Angus Hamilton” who was a British war correspondent who had visited in early 20th century both countries, had written two memoirs.
Afghanistan Book in 1906, and Somaliland Book in 1911. He mentioned in his books that, the two-people share many characteristics including “Egalitarian”. “Primordial” which means they are not civilized yet, rather they are tabula rasa, and “Acephalous” which means they don’t have leaders. Though these books are outdated, but these common symptoms are conspicuous in this contemporary era. In 2019-2020, I (Anwar) was studying at Korean Development Institute (KDI) School in South-Korea. During my study, I met several Afghan students in the school. I used to have conversation with Afghans, follow with them sometimes, discuss with them their situation back in Afghanistan. Fairly speaking, they were cultured people, ethically strong, friendly, principled and committed to once lead their country into better direction. We always used to narrate similar situations, and I was feeling at home when I am with them. As we (Somalis) have a problem with callous and relentless elite politicians, who are reckless about the suffering of the innocent and innocuous people, they encounter (Afghans) the same problem.
Afghanistan’s Historical Kaleidoscope
Historically, Afghanistan was never part of the British Empire, but it gained its independence from Britain after the signing of the Anglo-Afghan Treaty in 1919 – a treaty that granted complete neutral relations between Afghanistan and Britain. Afghanistan’s population is around 38 Million. 90% Sunni Muslim, 10% Shia and Sikh. Pashtu tribe is the largest ethnic, and cost 42%, Tajiks 25% and Uzbeks 9%. Its neighborhood is Pakistan (Strategic, Cultural and Ethnic partner), Iran (Common enemy against US), China (Strong economic partner, and contests the region with US), Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and India.
Afghanistan had witnessed different systems after the egregious revolt led by The Hotak Empire against Mughal and Safavid Empires. Mughal empire was founded in 1526 by Babur who was a warrior chieftain and originated from the current Uzbekistan. Babur was receiving a weapon from the Ottoman Empire. Safavid Empire was one of the well-known ruling dynasties in Iran from 1501 to 1736. Since then, the Hotak Empire was ruling the country. After a deadly long-series of wars, the Hotak Empire was supplanted by Durrani Afghan Empire which was established by Ahmad Shah Durrani in 1747. After the Durrani Empire had disappeared in 1823, the Emirate of Afghanistan was founded and pioneered by Barakzai Dynasty. In 1926, the Emirate of Afghanistan was transformed it into the Kingdom of Afghanistan. This Kingdom was ruling the country until 1973 where the last king Mohammed Zahir Shah was ousted under coup d’etat led by his first cousin Mohammed Daoud Khan.
Khan, though he was part of the Barakzai Dynasty, but he wiped out the monarchy system, and didn’t claim himself as “Shah”. Khan had shifted from tradition and pioneered the Republic of Afghanistan, and he became the first president under the Republic of Afghanistan. This republic lasted until 1978. In April, 1978, the Saur Revolution or April Coup erupted, and Khan was overthrown by People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA). Then, the April revolution had had paved the way the creation of a Soviet-Aligned government, and Nur Muhammed Taraki who was the General Secretary of the Revolution Council was appointed as the president.
Since then, Afghanistan was encountering open-ended war, haphazard, chaotic situations and foreign meddling.
Communist backed governments and Anti-Communist Islamic Guerillas were contesting the power. The newly founded government led by Nur Muhammed Taraki headed the soviet for looking for support, and embarked relentless and callous attacks against the opposition which paved the way the rebellion of the devoutly Muslim and the local people, especially Anti-Communist groups. After infighting and coups among the government, and the burgeoning rebellion from the Muslim groups under the name of “Mujahedeen”, the Soviet Union intruded the country in December 1979 with over 30,000 Soviet troops. The Soviet Union deposed the short-lived president Hafizullah Amin, and replaced Babrak Karmal as the new president of Afghanistan.
The flipside, the Mujahideen group was metastasizing the country, and conquering new areas.
The Soviet Union launched ruthless operation including bombing and depopulating in the countryside where the Mujahideen group had strong presence.
As a result, in 1982, an egregious displacement was witnessed in the country, closely 3 Million Afghans refuged to Pakistan as Asylum seekers, while 1.5 Million others fled to Iran. Since then, the United States engaged supporting and arming the Opposition group “Mujahideen” via Pakistan. Additionally, many Muslim fighters joined voluntarily under the mantra “Afghan-Arab Mujahideen” the war against the callous Soviet Union. After the copperhead opposition groups had received weapon and ammunition from different countries including United States, they became resilience. The Soviet Union lost the battle more than 15,000 Soviet forces and more than this were injured.
In 1988, U.S, Soviet Union, Pakistan and Afghanistan have signed an agreement citing the withdrawal of the Soviet Union from Afghanistan in 1989, while Afghanistan should remain non-aligned country. in 1992, Najibullah, the president of Afghanistan who was leading the country since 1986 was ousted by rebel groups.
After Najibullah was get rid of from the seat, a transitional government was formed by the rebel groups under the name of “Islamic Republic”, and Burhanuddin Rabbani was appointed as the president. But, that government didn’t last long because, Rabbani refuted to transfer the power as agreed in the power-sharing agreement among the rebels. As a result, other rebel groups embarked opposing Rabbani’s leadership, and fought against him. This political quagmire paved the way the eruption of Taliban group. In 1994, students “Taliban” who represent the largest ethnic in Afghanistan “Pashtun” emerged and joined the battle. On 1996, after two-years of all-out battle against other rebels, Taliban led by Mohamed Omar has vanquished others and captured the capital city of Kabul.
After five years of Taliban rule in Afghanistan, in September 2001 attack in the U.S was witnessed. The former president of U.S has demanded Taliban to hand-over Osama Bin-Laden who was alleged the mastermind behind the attack. Taliban naively has rejected the extradition of Osama. As a result, Bush has announced the invasion of Afghanistan. U.S has employed several strategies to defeat Taliban’s rule in Afghanistan including: –
- Overthrowing the Taliban’s administration;
- 2002-2008: Was marked by US strategy of defeating Taliban militarily and re-building core institutions of the Afghan state with puppet leaders;
- A turn to classic counter insurgency doctrine began in 2008, and accelerated with US’s pre-Obama’s 2009 decision to temporarily increase the US troops presence in Afghanistan.
America has succeeded the first strategy, but failed drastically the second and third ones. Because, US has pioneered puppet governments under the corrupted leaders. Hamid Karzai has become the first puppet president during America’s invasion in Afghanistan from Dec 2001-2014
And then Ashraf Ghani 2014-2021. These two-puppet governments were marked an egregious corruption, comprador elites, mismanagement and lack of long-term vision of handling their own issues rather than depending on foreign support.
After 20 years of US presence in Afghanistan, what went wrong?
America’s aim wasn’t to state building as the incumbent US president Biden has announced after his troops absquatulated from Afghanistan in August. In this regard, America’s ill will led this ill-fated result. America has spent in Afghanistan’s lame-duck governments more than 2 Trillion US Dollars. US has lost the battle in Afghanistan closely 3 thousands of her troops. Closely 400 thousands of Afghanis have been died and nearly 6 million displaced during America’s presence in Afghanistan. Additionally, US has trained more than 300,000 Afghan soldiers. More than 14,000 US forces were present in Afghanistan.
Approximately, Taliban’s troops are around 80,000 to 100,000. Afghanistan’s forces are three times much more than the Taliban forces, but they didn’t fend-off, but folded to the Taliban instead. Many security experts opined that, there was weak political leadership in Afghanistan’s successive governments since 2001. Rich Outzen, who is a retired US Colonel who also has worked in Afghanistan has expressed that, the failure of Afghan’s troops was “Low morale, Lack of sustainment support and weak political leadership”. He added also that, there was rampant corruption in logistics and contracts.
Additionally, Murat Aslan who is a political scientist at Turkey’s Hasan Kalyoncu University opined that, lack of air support was the biggest factor of Afghan forces’ fiasco. He adds that, “A country like Afghanistan, scattered across the Hindu Kush Mountains, the ground forces were heavily dependent on this air support, which could only be provided by the US”.
Furthermore, the latest Doha Agreement in February, 2020 between US and Taliban has demoralized and freaked-out Afghan’s troops. Because, this agreement was giving a huge support to Taliban, and was stated in the agreement, the withdrawal of US troops within 14 months. With all these conspicuous failure, Afghan’s forces became ghost soldiers.
Somalia’s Historical Kaleidoscope
Similar to Afghanistan, Somalia had experienced different Empires including Sultanate of Mogadishu, Ajuran Empire, Darwish Movement, Hiraab Imamate, Geledi Sultanate and so on. But, in 1960 Northern regions of Somalia, the current Somaliland gets its independence from British administration, and Southern regions, the current Somalia gets its independence from Italy, and both Northern and Southern regions amalgamated and became One Nation (Somalia). The Somalis across the horn of Africa is approximately 30 million, but in Somalia is around 15 million. There are two regions Somali region in Ethiopia, and North-Eastern region in Kenya which the British colony had given to the neighboring countries Ethiopia and Kenya.
Somalia’s neighbors include Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti. After two successive presidents from 1960-9, Somalia experienced its first coup d’état in 1969 led by former president of Somalia Mohamed Siyad Barre. During Barre’s era, the former Soviet Union was supporting his government. Barre’s government long-lasted until 1991. On January 1991, president Barre was overthrown by plenty of the armed to the teeth militias. Since then, the country has undertaken haphazard, anarchy, religious extremism, piracy activities and civil war.
In 2000, the first post-civil war government of Somalia was formed in Djibouti. Since then, the international community was offering supports to Somalia. In 2004, the second post-civil war government was established in Kenya. The warlords who were controlling much of the South-Central regions including the capital city of Mogadishu refused the elected government to land in Mogadishu. In 2006, the Islamic Courts of Union emerged in Somalia, especially South-Central regions. The ICU obliterated the warlords who were controlling most of the South-Central regions, and replaced Islamic rule under their leadership. The international community several times facilitated a mediation among the ICU and the elected government, but all the attempts ended-up futile. On December 2006, the former transitional government along with Ethiopian troops after a bitter war against the ICU intruded Mogadishu, and forced the ICU fighters to leave the capital city.
The ICU fighters engaged a fierce battle against the government, especially Al-Shabaab who separated from the ICU, and captured several districts around the presidential palace. The federal government demanded an African peace-keeping forces to defend and protect the weak government which paved the way finally the deployment of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) troops in March 2007. Since then, AMISOM troops was increasing incrementally. The current AMISOM troops in Somalia are approximately 20,000.
On the other hand, US, Turkey, UAE and others offered military trainings to the Somali National Army, and Turkey is doing so as I write. Somali National Army is estimated around 30,000. With all these enormous troops both Somali National Army, AMISOM and foreign experts, yet the security is volatile. Somalia is encountering the same problem that Afghanistan has faced including external muddled meddling, the government is dominated by comprador elites, shenanigans and callous politicians who tended jackpotting state-owned resources, political patronage, nepotism and cesspool of corruption is ubiquitous, especially logistics and contracting.
Difference between Afghanistan and Somalia
Taliban dominates by the largest ethnic in Afghanistan “Pashtu”, while Al-Shabaab in Somalia conglomerates different tribes. Somalia has several clan-based regional administrations who are resisting Al-Shabaab. The biggest supporter of Taliban was Pakistan, while the case in Al-Shabaab is yet contentious. Though Al-Shabaab collects innumerable taxes from the community, especially the businesses. Taliban has opened its office in Doha-Qatar in 2013. Since then, the talks between US and Taliban has been going on under the broker of Qatar, while Al-Shabaab and US have never had talks, if, not publicly. Taliban was only fighting against the occupiers US forces, while Al-Shabaab implements several attacks in the neighboring countries, especially Kenya. But almost, Afghanistan and Somalia share tremendous characteristics.
In Somalia, open-ended disagreements, dichotomy among the politicians and constitutional crisis jeopardized and paralyzed the country. As I write, the conflict and loggerheads are mushrooming, and so far, there is no way-out.
As a caveat, if the Somali government doesn’t take as a wake-up call what happened in Afghanistan, then, the similar scenario is potential in Somalia.
Anwar Abdifatah Bashir. Lecturer @Somali National University and Horn of Africa Affairs Analyst.
Anwar Abdifatah firstname.lastname@example.org