The day after the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, US President George W Bush vowed to retaliate against the perpetrators. He declared that the US would "make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbour them".

On October 7, the US military, with the support of a large coalition, began bombing al-Qaeda and Taliban targets in Afghanistan. Bush reiterated that "if any government sponsors the outlaws and killers of innocence, they have become outlaws and murderers themselves".

With the US military intervention came lofty promises to the Afghans of Marshall-Plan proportions for reconstruction, democratisation and eradication of terrorism.

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Diversion of US attention to Iraq, a country that had nothing to do with al-Qaeda at the time, considerably downsized Washington's initial pledges to Afghanistan.

Still, the post-9/11 US and international intervention brought many benefits to the Afghans, not the least of which was the collapse of the Taliban government.

Benefits to Afghans

The flow of international aid and technical assistance helped rebuild a significant portion of the country's infrastructure. The number of Afghan students registered in schools increased from about a million in 2001 to almost nine million in 2016, with a rise from zero to 39 percent for female students.

The average life expectancy has risen from 45 years in 2001 to 62, and child mortality rate has dropped from 136 per 1,000 live births to 101. As per the Afghan Ministry of Public Health records, 60 percent of the nation now has access to basic healthcare services.


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The new Afghan Constitution, ratified in 2004, has provided the country with one of the most democratic systems in the region, ensuring gender equality, human rights protection and freedom of expression for all citizens.

With the US military intervention came lofty promises to the Afghans of Marshall-Plan proportions for reconstruction, democratisation and eradication of terrorism.

 

Unfortunately, the magnificent legal foundations that were laid by the constitution, reconstruction of the infrastructure and the steady progress in most of Afghanistan's human development indicators since 2001 have occurred parallel to a deteriorating security situation.

Under heavy assault

On the eve of the 15th anniversary of the tragic 9/11 attacks, Afghanistan is once again under heavy assault by various terrorist groups, particularly the Taliban and the Haqqani group.

They have recaptured some districts while keeping others under continuous assault. Kabul experiences indiscriminate suicide attacks and road travellers are kidnapped on the country's interstate highways, often to be exchanged for Taliban prisoners.

While almost 3,000 souls were killed on 9/11 in New York and Washington, the US has lost nearly 3,600 military and civilian personnel in Afghanistan due to the resurgence of the Taliban.

The Afghan casualty figures have been staggering. During 2014 and 2015 alone, the National Security Forces have had 28,500 casualties, and the death toll has risen by 20 percent during the first half of 2016. From 2009 to mid-2016, there have been 63,934 civilian casualties, according to the UN.

Students study in the library before classes at the American University of Kabul [Getty Images]

The expansion and intensification of terrorist attacks throughout the country has also led to the closure of hundreds of schools and healthcare facilities and has considerably curbed the provision of services in restive areas.

The number of internally displaced people has risen to 1.2 million (UNAMA), and last year, Afghans constituted the second largest refugee group in Europe.

Why is the biggest international military and monetary investment into a country since World War II not paying the dividend?

Washington's purpose

Was Washington's sole purpose of invading Afghanistan retribution for 9/11 attacks? What, then, happened to Bush's threats that the US would "make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbour them"?


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Surely, the US has had ample intelligence on the government that has consistently harboured and sponsored the Taliban, the Haqqanis and various Arab and Central Asian terrorist groups.

Osama Bin Laden was found and killed by US Navy seals only 60 kilometres from the Pakistani capital. It is no secret that the Afghan Taliban's two principal leadership headquarters have been located in Quetta and Peshawar and the Haqqanis have been operating freely out of Waziristan. Mulla Omar, the first Taliban leader, died in Pakistan and his replacement, Mulla Mansour, was killed by a US drone attack in Pakistan.

Pakistan has been using these non-state militant groups as a main arm of its myopic and outdated foreign policy. From recruitment of fighters to financing, supplying of arms and their IP addresses, all has been facilitated in Pakistan.

Yet, Washington did little if anything to persuade Islamabad to stop playing the role of godfather to militants who are not only threatening Afghanistan and the immediate neighbourhood, but also the entire world.

Washington did little if anything to persuade Islamabad to stop playing the role of godfather to militants who are not only threatening Afghanistan and the immediate neighbourhood, but also the entire world.

 

Instead, to facilitate its decision of pulling out of Afghanistan by 2014, the Obama administration stressed a political settlement between the Taliban and the Afghan state and the Afghans were told to prepare for a power-sharing arrangement.

Political expediency

The rhetoric coming out of Washington and London also changed from ideals of democracy and human rights, to a politically expedient portrayal of Afghans as a backwards tribal society that is better off left to their 13th-century ways.

But, with the announcement of US and NATO military withdrawal, an all out victory was in sight for the enemies of the Afghan state.

Meanwhile, the new Afghan government that came to power in September 2014 launched a new and multi-faceted approach. It resuscitated a regional coalition around economic and trade cooperation, which would require regional security; China, Pakistan's all-weather ally for half-a-century, was also brought on board.

Meanwhile, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani shifted the narrative of negotiations from reconciliation (ie, power-sharing with the Taliban) to peace between the two neighbouring states. He took the first goodwill steps for confidence building, but Pakistan stubbornly continued with its old behaviour.

Although this approach came at a heavy cost for Ghani domestically, and at face value did not produce immediate results, the recent signs of a shift in policy towards Pakistan in Washington indicate a bittersweet success.

Earlier this year, the US Congress took the lead to tighten the knob on Pakistan by reducing the flow of aid and imposing conditions that require Islamabad to show a tangible shift of policy on Afghanistan. The Obama administration has followed suit.  

To honour the lives that have been lost or have forever been crippled from September 11, 2001, until September 11, 2016, and to prevent further tragedy, the US must seriously continue to pressure Pakistan and dry terrorism in its roots.

Helena Malikyar is an Afghan political analyst and historian.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy. 

Source: Al Jazeera News