Geopolitics

Afghan Lesson Again: Why A Democracy Cannot Be Imposed

Becoming a democracy is not something willed upon a nation, especially by another country.

UK troops pulling out of Afghanistan

Peter Nicholls/PA Wire via ZUMA
Jacques Attali

Upon handing over the keys to 10 Downing Street in 1963, British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan famously said to his successor Alec Douglas-Home: "My dear boy, as long as you don't invade Afghanistan you'll be absolutely fine." It is advice that too few have followed, including Tony Blair sending the British military to participate in the 2001 U.S.-led invasion.

And yet, the first three British failures in Afghanistan should have been a warning: as the Scottish historian William Dalrymple explains in his book Return of a King : the Battle for Afghanistan, the fourth and most recent Anglo-Afghan war was an extraordinary remake of the first, started in 1839.

For example, the Afghan president from 2004 to 2014, Hamid Karzai, belonged to the same Popalzai minority tribe as the puppet appointed by England in 1839, Shan Shuja ul-Mulk. And Mohammad Shan Khan, the military chief who led the extermination of the British army in 1841, was the heir of the same dynasty (the Hotaki, ruling the Ghilzai, one of the components of the Pashtun people) as the main Taliban ruler, Mullah Omar, ultimately assassinated in 2013.

By hand-picking leaders without knowing the reality of a civilization and history, by pretending to impose a democracy using corrupted chiefs and a foreign army, it was clear that the Western coalition that entered the country after the 9/11 attacks had as little chance as 150 years ago to put in place a stable and legitimate democracy.

Many countries are at risk of turning into dictatorships again.

Of course, Afghanistan is not the only country where it has happened. There have been other such failures, in the transition to a lasting democracy, of dictatorships, or colonized or invaded countries: Algeria, Egypt, Russia, Iraq.

And yet, there have also been examples of success: democracies that were sustainably put in place after periods of dictatorships (Spain, Chile, some parts of the former Yugoslavia); others after the occupation of a foreign power (Germany, Austria, Italy, countries from Eastern Europe, Japan, South Korea); others still after a period of colonization (India, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Ghana), sometimes a long time after colonizers left the land.

And today? Many countries are at risk of turning into dictatorships again; or of not getting through it if the West removes its support: what will happen to Mali, if the French army is removed? To Taiwan if the American military shield is removed? To Lebanon, if the much hoped-for help does not arrive? And even to India, where democracy seems so unstable?What can be done to avoid these disasters? How can a constructive lesson be drawn from the Afghan disaster?

Examples from the past show that a country cannot successfully make a lasting transition to democracy by having it imposed from above by foreign powers, without taking into account its history, its cultural diversity, the existence of a national identity, of a civil society, of the desire to live together, of a powerful group determined to fight to hold it in place; and, without the real liberation of women and young people from the dictatorship of patriarchy.

Then it is clear that it is easier to become a democracy when neighboring countries are already democratic; hence the success, even still fragile, in Eastern Europe, in South America, and in parts of Africa.

We cannot build a democracy if we do not give top priority to education, women's rights, the honest participation of everyone in public decisions and the fight against corruption and nepotism.

Nor when international aid is not conditioned on a move towards democracy and human rights, which almost no donor country and no international financial institution does (with the exception of the OECD, which does the competent and discreet job of training and advising even non-member countries).

Finally, when a democratic system proves itself to be incapable of managing long-term issues, or indulges in petty political debates, any democracy, even ours, is threatened.

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A tribute to the 30,000 Iranian political prisoners murdered in Iran in 1988

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Hannah Steinkopf-Frank and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Laba diena!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where Afghanistan's Taliban demand to speak at the United Nations, China takes a bold ecological stand and we find out why monkeys kept their tails and humans didn't. Business magazine America Economia also looks at how Latin American countries are looking to attract a new generation of freelancers known as "digital nomads" in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

[*Lithuanian]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Taliban ask to speak at UN: With global leaders gathered in New York for the 76th meeting of the UN General Assembly, Afghanistan's new rulers say their country's previously accredited United Nations ambassador no longer represents the country, and have demanded a new Taliban envoy speak instead. Afghanistan is scheduled to give the final intervention next Monday to the General Assembly, and a UN committee must now rule who can speak.

• Four corpses found on Belarus border with Poland: The discovery of bodies of four people on Belarus-Poland border who appear to have died from hypothermia are raising new accusations that Belarus is pushing migrants to the eastern border of the European Union, possibly in retaliation over Western sanctions following the contested reelection of the country's strongman Alexander Lukashenko. The discovery comes amid a surge of largely Afghani and Iraqi migrants attempting to enter Poland in recent weeks.

• China to stop building coal-burning power plants abroad: Under pressure to limit emissions to meet Paris climate agreement goals, China announces an end to funding future projects in Indonesia, Vietnam and other countries through its Belt and Road initiative.

• Turkey ratifies Paris climate agreement: Following a year of wildfires and flash floods, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced at the UN that Turkey will become the last G-20 country to ratify the emissions-limiting accords. Turkey already signed the agreement in 2016, but has yet to hold a vote in parliament.

• Mass evacuations following Canary Islands volcano: More than 6,000 people have fled the Spanish archipelago as heavy flows of lava have buried hundreds of homes. Four earthquakes have also hit the Canaries since the Sunday eruption, which could also cause other explosions and the release of toxic gas.

• Rare earthquake hits Melbourne: The 5.9 magnitude quake struck near Melbourne in southern Australia, with aftershocks going as far Adelaide, Canberra and Launceston. Videos shared on social media show at least one damaged building, with power lines disrupted in Australia's second largest city. No injuries have been reported.

• The evolutionary tale of tails: Charles Darwin first discovered that humans evolved to lose this biological trait. But only now are New York scientists showing that it was a single genetic tweak that could have caused this shift, while our monkey relatives kept their backside appendages.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

"The roof of Barcelona" — El Periodico daily reports on the latest delay from what may be the longest-running construction project in the world. Work on the iconic Barcelona church La Sagrada Familia, which began all the way back in 1882 as the vision of master architect Antoni Gaudí, was slated to be completed in 2026. The Barcelona-based daily reports that a press conference Tuesday confirmed that the deadline won't be met, in part because of delays related to COVID-19. Officials also provided new details about the impending completion of the Mare de Déu tower (tower of the Virgin), the first tower of the temple to be completed in 44 years. Although it is currently the second tallest spire of the complex, it will become the highest point of the Sagrada Familia, reaching 172.5 meters thanks to an illuminated "great cross."

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Latin America, the next mecca for digital nomads

Latin American countries want to cash in on the post-pandemic changes to the fundamental ways we work and live, in particular by capitalizing on a growing demand from the new wave of remote workers and "youngish" professional freelancers with money to spend, reports Natalia Vera Ramírez in business magazine America Economia.

💻🏖️ Niels Olson, Ecuador's tourism minister, is working hard to bring "digital nomads" to his country. He believes that attracting this new generation of freelancers who can work from anywhere for extended visits is a unique opportunity for all. Living in a town like Puerto López, he wrote on Twitter, the expat freelancer could "work by the sea, live with a mostly vaccinated population, in the same time zone, (enjoy) an excellent climate, and eat fresh seafood." For Ecuador, the new influx of visitors with money to spend would help boost the country's economy.

🧳 While online-based freelancers already hopped from country to country before COVID-19, the pandemic has boosted their current numbers to around 100 million worldwide. The Inter-American Development Bank estimates there could be a billion roaming, digital workers by 2050. Some European countries already issue visas for digital nomads. They include Germany, Portugal, Iceland, Croatia, Estonia and the Czech Republic, but in the Americas, only four countries make the list, namely Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Panama and Costa Rica.

💰 In August 2021, Costa Rica approved a law for remote workers and international service providers, intended to attract digital nomads and make its travel sector more competitive. The law provides legal guarantees and specific tax exemptions for remote workers choosing to make the country their place of work. It allows foreign nationals earning more than $3,000 a month to stay for up to a year in the country, with the ability to renew their visa for an additional year. If applicants are a family, the income requisite rises to $5,000.


➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

$2.1 billion

Google announced yesterday it will spend $2.1 billion to buy a sprawling Manhattan office building, in one of the largest sales of a building in U.S. history. The tech giant plans on growing its New York workforce to more than 14,000 people.

📣 VERBATIM

It is sickening and shameful to see this kind of president give such a lie-filled speech on the international stage.

— Opposition Brazilian congresswoman Vivi Reis in response to President Jair Bolsonaro's inflammatory 12-minute speech at the UN General Assembly. The unvaccinated head of state touted untested COVID-19 cures, criticized public health measures and boasted that the South American country's environmental protections were the best in the world.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Hannah Steinkopf-Frank & Bertrand Hauger

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