Identity Crisis: A Possible Root Cause of the Afghanistan Fiasco

I have been following the development in Afghanistan in the past few days. At a blistering speed, the Taliban took over control of the country.

The chain of events felt bizarre to me. There were many things that didn’t make sense. Among those things, one thing stood out: Why didn’t the Afghan army fight to defend the capital? How could the Taliban take over the capital without any resistance?

This is especially bizarre because just a couple of days prior, I read in the news that the Afghan president and minister of defense were inspecting Kabul’s defenses. They said in effect that the Taliban wouldn’t be able to get into Kabul because the army was prepared to defend it. Furthermore, a few days prior, a governor who handed over his provincial capital without any resistance was arrested by the central government. 

With all these, I expected that the army would put up a fight to defend the capital. After all, they had been equipped with modern weaponry at a huge cost to the allies.

So how is this possible that they offered no resistance at all? Why didn’t they have the will to fight?

As I was pondering this, I remembered something I read:

“Afghan forces, for a long period of time, have had problems with morale and also their willingness to fight the Taliban,” Malkasian, who is also the author of “The American War in Afghanistan: A History,” told CNN on Sunday.

“First of all, the Taliban can paint themselves as those who are resisting and fighting occupation, which is something that is kind of near and dear to what it means to be Afghan. Whereas that’s a much harder thing for the government to claim, or the military forces fighting for the government.”

I could be wrong, but I believe these paragraphs show a possible root cause of the fiasco: the Afghan army (and government) had an identity crisis.

While the Taliban viewed themselves as the defender of the country against the occupation, the government army didn’t have such a strong identity. They didn’t yet internalize who they were and what they were fighting for. That’s why, despite their superior equipment, they lost the will to fight. That’s why they didn’t even try to defend the capital. The Taliban’s psychological warfare (to just surrender and be granted amnesty) worked on them because of their identity crisis.

There is an important lesson here for you and me: identity is essential; how you view yourself is essential. No matter how many good breaks you have, if you don’t have the right identity, it wouldn’t matter in the end. Lasting results can only happen from the inside out; it can only start with the right identity.

P.S. As of this writing, the situation is still fluid in Afghanistan. It seems that resistance is building up with a strong sense of identity, but it’s still in the early phase.