Should we leave Afghanistan?

Mustafa Haidari had imagined his future. Around eight years ago, he successfully completed his civil engineering studies at the University of Balkh in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e Sharif. Shortly thereafter, he moved to Kabul and worked with Western NGOs. They appreciated his work and expertise and paid him good money. Today, Haidari is no longer working as an engineer, but as a taxi driver. Many of his former clients have already left. They are no longer interested in Afghanistan. Haidari’s current job is now among the most dangerous in the country. “I get by, but driving a taxi is dangerous. As soon as you leave the house, you don’t know if you will return alive,” he says. The reasons for this are obvious. For some time now, the Afghan capital has been hit by so-called sticky bombs. They are cheap and easy to obtain. On the black market, it is said, they are available for around twenty euros. Compared to other bombs, they do relatively little damage. But they still kill and can hit anyone. In recent days and weeks, taxis have also become the target of unknown perpetrators. “I don’t know who’s behind this, but they scare the whole city,” says Haidari.

Almost twenty years after the start of the NATO invasion of Afghanistan, Kabul is as insecure as it has been for a long time. Terrorists, criminal groups and state actors contribute to this. Attacks and targeted attacks are part of everyday life. Amid all the chaos, Washington wants to reduce its troop numbers. Already in January, a troop reduction to 2,500 soldiers took place. This is primarily related to the US-Taliban deal that the US administration signed with the Islamic militants in the Gulf Emirate of Qatar almost a year ago. “I don’t understand what this deal has achieved. Afghans continue to die, " says Mohammad Sakhizada, a trader and former wrestling coach from Kabul’s Dasht-e Barchi district.

While Sakhizada describes life in Kabul, a sports event for physically disabled people takes place around him. Young men and women, mainly members of the Shiite Hazara minority, warm up and walk back and forth. Friends and relatives cheer her on. Despite the considerable mass of people, hardly any safety precautions are visible. A handful of soldiers and policemen are present. They make a disinterested impression. “That’s all there is. Be glad that we are here at all, " says one of the soldiers. He introduces himself as Kabir and comes from Kabul. It was not he and his colleagues who were responsible for the poor security measures, but the organisers. They had bypassed bureaucratic rules.

Dasht-e Barchi has been the scene of several brutal attacks in the past, primarily against the Hazara. Last May, IS extremists attacked a maternity hospital and killed thirteen people, including two newborns. Other destinations were schools and sports clubs. In all cases, the security forces were blamed for the failure. Corruption and the Lack of discipline would facilitate their infiltration by extremists. They too are a legacy of Western commitment. After all, many of them have been trained by NATO countries over the past two decades.

Many Afghans, however, do not expect much from the foreign troops, but rather hope for an orderly retreat that leaves no chaos. “Even when more soldiers were present, we hardly saw them. They barricaded themselves in their bases and went only with bulletproof device among the people. Uncertainty still prevailed” " says Shamsullah Khan, who sells sanitary ware. “Every day, young soldiers are killed. Why all this?”, he asks pessimistically after reading another death message on his smartphone. “In twenty years, NATO troops have not managed to create peace in Afghanistan. I think they failed, as did all those who were here before them,” says Khan.

What this means for the future of the country remains unclear. Both the Taliban and other actors are increasingly preparing for escalation. According to reports, the infamous warlord and former vice president Abdul Rashid Dostum bought forty new pickups for his militia. “He is preparing for more war,” says a local journalist, who does not want to be named. NATO is also partly responsible for the strengthening of men like Dostum. She has courted and enriched numerous Warlords for years – and now, it seems, she leaves the country entirely to them again.