When Empires Leave

Twenty years ago a person leaped from a skyscraper in the hope of flight, as fire engulfed everything above and below.

As an army transport plane ascended into the skies above Kabul, a spec fell off the fuselage. The spec was a young Afghan footballer clinging to freedom only to find death in return.

These moments of humans suspended in air, bookend twenty years of horror, death, destruction and the human capacity to lay waste extraordinary amounts of treasure and beauty.

Another glaring example of madness that we are prone to succumb to, justifying it all along with a false sense of righteousness.

A crack was left inside me, the day planes struck towers in my city. Every moment from that day is as vivid today, as it was two decades ago. What I could not foresee though, was what was to come.

In my naivety I thought the horrors experienced here would lead us to reflection, pause and perspective.

But what it lead us to is a twenty year long war fueled by vengeance, resulting in the extinguishing of countless innocent souls across the world.

The carnage that began on 9/11 still continues, as America cuts its losses and departs a war-torn nation, leaving behind the same people in power it forced out, decades ago. It is stinging to realize, that it leaves behind a Taliban, better militarily equipped than before.

Afghanistan has been at war for 42 years. Twenty of which were under the auspices of the United States.

Empires have come and gone, but Afghanistan has remained true to its core. An ungovernable, fractious country, divided along rigid ethnic tribal lines.

Four presidents later, this much is apparent, the American experiment has miserably failed. As we witness unimaginable suffering caused by sheer shortsightedness, bad planning, deplorable deals, lies and appalling execution, one wonders what was it all really for?

Does a hunt and assassination of one person justify such colossal waste, death and destruction?

To any sensible person the response is obvious. But American presidents, have always framed the invasion of Afghanistan as the “just war.” A place that needed sweeping and fixing, so America could be safe. But all it turned out to be is a sink hole for human greed, where corruption made military contractors and politicians rich, while leaving the affected people with a false sense of prosperity and a secure future.

Most wars are engineered and executed on a bed of lies. This one was no different. From the beginning it was known that Afghanistan would turn out to be a quagmire, yet the officials in power misled the public. And yet again no one will be held accountable, so that the next war could be orchestrated without a hitch.

When Kabul was taken by the Taliban without a shot fired, it became apparent how hollowed out the propped up Afghan establishment truly was. The so called 300,000 strong US trained Afghan army was either a lie, or a delusion of an adamant president.

When soldiers have no reason to fight, a war comes to an end. After 42 years, the will of the Afghans to fight had perhaps reached its nadir. And so they went home, rather than die for a lost cause.

As America departs, assessments on what will emerge are running wild. While we celebrate on CNN the valiant efforts of the American soldiers as they evacuate hordes, there is also a narrative being sown, that the Taliban this time will behave. As they need the hand outs to govern their country.

Another scenario is that civil war will return as the various warlords will get back to doing what they know best. Meanwhile America will keep bombing via drones to keep every rag tag terrorist group from taking hold. And the ISI from Pakistan will get back in the driving seat pulling strings from across the border.

Empires always leave chaos when they depart. History is replete with instances, the most recent one being the hurried US departure from Saigon, over the dead bodies 58,000 soldiers and countless Vietnamese civilians. So what we witness in Afghanistan now, is predictable history. What will emerge will be clear, only decades from now.

This summer, I spent time in the land of Homer, Aristotle and Plato. The cradle of western civilization, the birth place of democracy. While I visited the ruins and sat in the shadow of the towering Corinthian columns, it was awe inspiring. It did not escape me for a second, the capacity of humans to create such beauty in majesty and magnificence. The layer upon layer of history was overwhelming and rich to grasp.

What was equally staggering to realize, is that the ruins I was standing within, eons old, were not all caused by nature’s fury. The destruction brought upon the Parthenon and the temples of Delphi and elsewhere, were engineered by invading humans and empires.

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Anand Kamalakar

Anand Kamalakar

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Anand Kamalakar is a Brooklyn based documentary film director, producer and editor. His latest film SALAM can now be seen on Netflix.