qian14_Mario TamaGetty Images_afghanistanschool Mario Tama/Getty Images

The West's Unspoken Failure in Afghanistan

Many fingers have been pointed and many culprits suggested in connection with the West’s debacle in Afghanistan. But there is great reluctance to talk about the most fundamental problem: the absence of a common Afghan national identity and the US-led coalition’s diffidence about nurturing one.

CHICAGO – The United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan has captured the world’s attention. The chaos, distress, and general sadness of those left behind by America and its allies have drawn significant criticism. It seems inconceivable that 20 years of war, tens of thousands of lives, and $2 trillion were not enough to build a new Afghanistan.

Many fingers have been pointed and many culprits suggested in connection with the West’s debacle. But there is great reluctance to talk about the most fundamental problem: the absence of a common Afghan national identity and the US-led coalition’s diffidence about nurturing one.

All functional states have some degree of common national identity. This is most often delineated along religious, linguistic, or ethnic lines, which are sometimes created explicitly for the purpose of nation-building. During the nineteenth century, for example, Prussians created the Germanic ethnic identity and promoted it throughout their expanding territory. The new German language was related to old high German, but did not really exist before the Prussians tried to build a new German nation. Nation-building in France and Italy in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, respectively, proceeded along similar lines.

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