Conflicts in Afghanistan and Albania

Martin Henze

Democracy: the government of the people by the people for the people.

Mr. Henze, you are one of the best foreign experts on the Balkans.  Did the NATO war in Afghanistan have to end like this and Albania is now supposed to take in Afghans? 

Well, it is actually a US war, the USA had invoked Article 5 of the NATO treaty and we Europeans reacted naturally. Some US generals, but also the British and the Germans had suggested alternatives to Trump, which I would like to believe would have prevented the current situation. However, he did not want to listen, as with the Kurds in the war in Syria, whom the US dropped. The tragedy in Afghanistan began on 14 April 2021 at Nato in Brussels. Nato wanted to give a ceremonial welcome to the new US Secretary of State, Blinken, on that day. But early in the meeting, Blinken said tersely, ” Now it’s time to bring our troops home.” US President Biden had blindsided NATO less than three months after taking office. At that moment, a senior NATO official said in retrospect, it was clear to all that withdrawal was coming suddenly and without preconditions to the Taliban. The British, together with Italy and Turkey, had tried to form a coalition of the willing in the spring. But neither Nato nor Germany wanted to confirm this officially. Berlin had taken the view that without the USA there was no point. NATO did not have a plan B in case of a military collapse in Afghanistan. How can one end a mission so mindlessly after 20 years? There is a serious suspicion: the world’s largest alliance may know far too little about its adversaries.

How do they assess the current situation?

Critical, but controllable, if lessons are learned from the situation. The Taliban are currently paying a lot of lip service to upholding the rule of law and respecting human rights.

I think it’s all propaganda. They first need a certain stability to establish their regimes. As in Iran in 1979, or as in the first rule of the Taliban in 1996, even then there was lip service. Sharia will be the defining structure of rule, human rights will not apply. A state with Sharia cannot be a democracy.

They will increase drug production exponentially so that they can generate revenue at all, and of course they will participate in international terrorism again, why not? The only exciting question is whether they will allow themselves to be instrumentalised by the Russians so that Russia can strengthen its position in the Arab region. If that is the case, there will be problems in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Egypt, Yemen, Jordan and Central Africa. 

But above all, we should recognise that we now have a moral obligation to those who have put their lives and those of their families at risk by serving us. It will now be important to see how we discharge that moral duty in the days and weeks ahead.

What alternatives have been proposed?

Continue to maintain moderate forces on the ground, especially lots of drones and air power. The US is still in Korea today with a small protective force, or the Germans in Kosovo. It is no longer a war zone, but we still have forces there. The US still has over 30,000 forces in Europe today. Those are different circumstances, of course. But Afghanistan, when we overthrew the Taliban, was a medieval theocracy with an ultra-fundamentalist Islamist regime that had helped finance and organise international terrorism. Of course, we couldn’t expect to turn it into a state like Switzerland in 20 years. Many US generals and also British and Germans, I had said again and again, this will take decades, not years.

Joe Biden says: “American troops should not fight and die in a war that the Afghan forces themselves are unwilling to fight.” Is the Afghan army to blame? 

The facts are that 27 times as many Afghan security forces have died fighting for their country as US citizens. I deplore that statement, the Afghans were fighting with our soldiers until they now suddenly realised that no one had their back. The air force was no longer there, the intelligence service was no longer there. 

I think that was above all the decisive point for their surrender and ultimately for the psychological breakdown of the Afghan security forces. The situation they found themselves in because of our political decision was a hopeless one for the Afghan soldiers. How can you expect forces to fight when they know no one will come to support them? I expected more respect from Biden, respect from partners and friends, especially after this Trump era. I think he has been ill prepared by his Secretary of State Blinken, he, Biden needs to think about Blinken. His capers with the former Prime Minister of Albania, Sali Berisha, a great friend of the West who led Albania into the Western alliance, accusing him of corruption over 11 years ago, but providing no evidence but pointing to ominous NGO reports , and subjecting him and his entire family to a private ban on entering the USA in the form of a medieval clan arrest, shows, also at this point, how the Blinken Foreign Ministry deals with friends of the USA, not a good development.

Biden has called the Afghanistan mission a “success” because Al Qaeda was pushed back and Osama bin Laden was killed. Do you agree? 

Sure, he’s right, it’s true, we went into Afghanistan to take away the space for Al Qaeda to retreat that they had under the Taliban. Now it’s going to be about making sure that Al Qaeda can’t build a retreat like that again. That will be much, much more difficult without bases on Afghan soil. 

The Taliban is a small group of 7.000 fighters, most of them illiterate, a very weak army. The problem was and is that the Russians, Chinese and Pakistan supported them with money and weapons as well as information. In recent years, the war in Afghanistan has turned into a classic proxy war, a war that cannot be won. The Russians should of course be pleased, they were under fire in Afghanistan in 1979-1989, the Taliban were supported by the West at that time and the Russians had to leave Afghanistan then, like the West now, headless and even more chaotic. That’s how it always is with these proxy wars, nobody loses and nobody wins.

Biden also said in his speech that the US mission was never about building a state, but purely about fighting terrorism. 

We were there because the attacks of 11 September were planned there and we wanted to destroy the retreats of Al Qaeda. But if at some point you want to reduce the armed forces, of course you have to build up Afghan security forces, and if you want to hand over territory, of course you need Afghan institutions and a government. So it defies logic to say that you should not help build a state. However, I think we should have left Afghanistan around 2005, the enemy was defeated. To organise Switzerland 2.0 out of Afghanistan was a pipe dream, NGOs and arms suppliers earned money from it, NATO’s soldiers and taxpayers in the USA and Europe bled for it.

The mission in Afghanistan was strongly oriented towards war in the air and drone attacks. Bystanders and civilians were also killed. Was it naïve to think you could bomb a country and create peace?

No, not at all. Because it allowed us to be much more precise. Of course, that doesn’t mean that mistakes weren’t made.

Could civilian casualties from drone strikes have contributed to the popularity of the Taliban? 

You see, I have always said in our committees in Germany that you cannot win people’s hearts and minds by hurting people. You should never carry out an operation that produces more “bad guys”. But let us note that civilian casualties in recent years have been mainly attributable to the Taliban.  This is indisputable. They carry out barbaric activities, commit murderous campaigns, intimidate people in

Canada take in Afghans, right?

There is a very rigorous selection process behind the scene. And most of those who are now hoping to get into Afghanistan will probably never set foot in Canada. Canada is picky. Back in 2015, it set very strict criteria in advance about which Syrian refugees it would let into the country. It will be similar now with Afghans in need of protection. Most of the 20,000 refugees will be admitted under the resettlement programme, plus family members. For the selection, there will certainly be cooperation with the UNHCR.

Do you consider the withdrawal a success?

The former Afghan government, flawed as it was, was allied with us. I don’t see how the Taliban coming to power can be interpreted as a positive development for US or European national security. Anyone who means that is dreaming. I don’t see any EU or NATO strategy either. The Socialist German Foreign Minister Heike Maas has completely failed and has become a real burden on the German government, he should resign. The Left in the German parliament, a legal successor of the socialist SED, the state party of the former GDR wants to vote against the humanitarian deployment of German special forces today, Wednesday. And the SPD wants to form a coalition with this party. You see, chaos is not only present in Afghanistan or in the US State Department, but also in Berlin. If the Socialists form a coalition with the Greens in the parliamentary elections in Berlin, things will look very bleak, Germany will then take its leave internationally and chaos will ensue in Germany, which is not good for East and West. In this respect, there will also be an essential parliamentary election in Germany in September, although I am sure that the Democrats will still win, but it remains to be seen. If you look around the world, the only ones who are really cheering the US decision in Afghanistan are those who are hostile to Western interests, especially the Russians who have been actively expanding their embassy in Afghanistan for 2 years. The real winners of the withdrawal are the Russians and the Chinese, not the Taliban.

Mistakes have been made in Afghanistan, but the reaction to our mistakes has unfortunately been more mistakes. The real gains of the last 20 years, while imperfect, have now probably been lost.The Afghan economy is now three times larger than it was at the time and some 200,000 Afghans would have attended university this year – including 50,000 women. However, the withdrawal will make the socialists in Moscow, Beijing, North Korea and the Islamic terrorists in the world cheer, the situation of Taiwan, South Korea and Eastern Europe will be destabilised. The world wonders what will happen if a conflict breaks out on the eastern border with Bulgaria, or in Asia. 

Is the central power of NATO in Washington prepared to react in a similar way as JF Kennedy did in Berlin in 1961, he said at the wall erected by the socialists in Berlin : “I am a Berliner”. The USA should now send a strong signal and create clarity. Otherwise Russia, China, Iran and North Korea will take advantage.

Is that all?

Well, the coalition partners never seriously tried to tackle the corruption in Afghanistan that was prevalent at the top, the coalition condoned the fraudulent Afghan elections and tried to fit facts into a pre-determined strategy instead of having a strategy based on the facts. Wishful thinking reports from interested NGOs expecting grants from coalition partners were hijacked and cabled to Western capitals, some of which were also hijacked by intelligence agencies.

These structural errors in the strategy for the liberation of a society remind me, by the way, massively of the political activities of the USA and some representatives of the EU in Albania, the same policy is initiated against the autocratic government of Rama, it is the same pattern. Under the reign of the autocrat Rama, Albania has become the most corrupt country in Europe, one of the biggest money laundering and drug exporters in the world, the rule of law has been driven against the wall, the press is intimidated.

How should we proceed now, should Albania or Kosovo become the reception camp for Afghanistan?

No, completely the wrong way. These countries are destabilised. Albania in particular is ruled by a corrupt executive, its ruling party is responsible for the massively rigged parliamentary elections in 2021, does not control the pandemic, abolished the rule of law in 2018, tries to restrict freedom of the press and has one more peculiarity.

What do you mean by that?

Well, there are important followers of non-Sunni Sufi orders like the Bektashi. They live a very Europeanised Islam. The Afghans bring with them the tradition of the Hanafi Sunites, in a distinctly orthodox form. To make matters worse, Albania is home to 3,000 People’s Mujahideen from Iran, and then there is the religion-based conflict with Serbia, which led to the great Balkan wars, and Turkey and other Arab Gulf states are also involved in Albania through NGOs, which can lead to a critical mass and thus to additional instability of the fragile interreligious consensus in Albania.

On the other hand, Albania is on the verge of national bankruptcy. We in Europe were surprised that the Albanian Foreign Minister asked the Europeans to take in Afghans in a similar way to Albania. 

Why were they surprised?

Well, for one thing, we are already doing something, there is no need for an unqualified request from an Albanian minister who is a member of an autocratic regime and, after all, the Albanian government is doing nothing. The Rama executive is, from an international point of view, the most corrupt executive in Europe.  The US government has asked and paid for everything and who deserves it, the oligarchic structure of the Rama administration. The Rama administration does not seem to care that the country is destabilising, they are only interested in the deal, simply put, they are only interested in how much the US pays. Another parallel to Afghanistan and the USA is making the same mistake again. Only in this case it directly affects the security architecture of Europe.

So what should be done?

No Afghans to Kosovo or Albania, no money for the Rama administration, it just trickles away, like in Afghanistan. Especially if there is no prior security screening of Afghans and no strategic and operational planning by the US on when and how Afghans will travel to the US. It must also be ensured that Afghans do not find jobs in Albania in drug cultivation and human trafficking. The human trafficking from Africa and Syria to the EU, which is already being carried out by the Albanian mafia, could then be further expanded with the help of these Afghans. Furthermore, the original Albanian problems must now be solved. The USA and the EU must abandon their wishful policy towards Albania and formulate clear and unambiguous conditions for future cooperation. Albania is facing significant challenges: Pandemic, lack of rule of law, non-democratic electoral law, structural electoral fraud by the Rama administration, the OSCE report is available on this. A joint transitional government, together with the opposition, is needed to solve these problems. Therefore, no additional problems are helpful.

Mr Henze, thank you very much for the interview.

Interview in Albanian language:


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