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What Went Wrong in Afghanistan, and What Hope Is There?

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By Dennis Greeson

Kabul has fallen. We have all seen the heartbreaking images on the news or social media.

Behind the chaos and panic of recent days in Afghanistan’s capital hangs a deep despair. The images coming out of Afghanistan now sharply contrast with the early pictures of hope 20 years ago, when American commandos and Afghan militia on horseback had begun to push back the Taliban’s ironfisted control over most of the country.

This despair weighs heavy on my heart. Though I have never been to Afghanistan, I have spent time very close to its borders, sharing the gospel with villagers just over the mountains and listening to the spiritual hunger in the voices of former militants. It is a part of the world very dear to me.

Many have already penned thoughts on how to pray for the people of Afghanistan, especially for the coming persecution Christians will face under renewed Taliban rule. This being a blog about the intersection of our faith and culture, I would like to offer up what are perhaps some different thoughts on how we might specifically pray for Afghanistan.

Before this, however, it may be insightful to recap what has gone so wrong about the two-decade-old conflict in Afghanistan, and then to turn to briefly consider what the gospel has to say about this situation.

Let us pray that a spiritual hunger would awaken Afghanis to the moral and religious bankruptcy of the Taliban.

Why Is This Happening?

Afghanistan, settled in a historic crossroads between empires hemmed in by mountains, has witnessed near ceaseless invasion and conflict for thousands of years. When the Soviet Union invaded in the late 1970s, foreign Islamic fighters saw the conflict as a assault upon the global Muslim community itself—the Ummah. As they poured in to fight, they brought with them a revival of sorts, mixing religious fundamentalism with anti-Western aggrievement.

The Taliban emerged in the 1990s as a faction of student fighters trained in the fundamentalist seminaries funded and influenced by the foreign fighters and the state actors supporting them from a generation earlier. They eventually seized control of much of Afghanistan, and in the process provided safe harbor for radical Islamic terror networks such as Al-Qaeda to strike the West.

When the United States, along with a coalition of western countries, began providing direct support to the holdover militias resisting the Taliban in 2001, the mission was clear: capture or destroy the terrorist networks sheltered in Afghanistan. For this to be successful, however, it soon became apparent that the Taliban would need to be expunged and the people of Afghanistan liberated from their oppressive control.

Twenty years of nation-building by western democracies therefore ensued, all of which has come crumbling to a fateful end before our eyes this summer. What went wrong, and why has the Taliban remained such a powerful force?

Much could be said of the western powers’ ineptitude, the political corruption of the Afghan government, and tribal divisions running deeper than national loyalty.

One important factor which needs to be stressed is the way western governments pushed for Afghans to embrace liberal democratic values and the cultural mores and habits which accompany them.

Certainly this is not a bad thing. Indeed the veneer of liberal democracy has settled over many parts of Afghan society, to great benefit to those most marginalized and oppressed by the Taliban. Girls have been able to go to school and compete internationally in soccer and taekwondo. Ethnic minorities have not had to fear violence or expulsion from the country.

Though Christian converts have still faced persecution, the ferocity has been nowhere near the constant threat of death under the Taliban for forsaking Islam. Indeed, house church networks have grown, and in some cases converts have even registered their conversion with the government to make public their statement of faith.

The reality of the transformation of Afghan society under such freedoms has been compelling and laudatory. But they have demonstrated themselves to be unsustainable without the support of western nations. Though the freedoms of liberal democracy are in high demand on the streets of Kabul, liberal democracy itself and its accompanying worldview have remained foreign and abstract—not an identity to rally around and fight for and see all of society transformed by its power.

Afghanistan has not been able to stand on its own two feet according to the expectations of the western nation-builders, and so they have thrown in the towel, allowing everything to unravel for all to see in real time on Twitter and cable news.

What Hope Is There?

What the western nation-builders—America included—have missed is that the very thing Afghanistan needs is what western nations long ago jettisoned in favor of a sclerotic secularism. Christianity has given the world the very freedoms, commitments to justice, and firm beliefs in individual human dignity which characterize what many consider to be the best aspects of western liberalism.

But to try to harvest these fruits without the necessary soil of Christian faith and a biblical worldview from which these must grow is not only futile, but it is also to mistake all of these wonderful consequences of Christian commitments worked out in public life as the Good News itself.

If Afghanistan is to have any hope of lasting justice and peace, its people must reject both the Islamic fundamentalism of the Taliban and the vapid liberalism of the West, cast themselves hard after Christ to cultivate for themselves a society shaped by the gospel.

Is there any hope for this in the coming weeks and months? Most likely we will witness some of the most difficult days for Christians in Afghanistan. Already there are reports of the Taliban following the work of local church planters and evangelists. If the late 1990s are any indication of what is to come, much suffering awaits Afghan Christians.

Still, these are the conditions in which Christianity has historically remained steadfast.

How Do We Pray?

Let us pray that those in the greatest public danger who are seeking to escape Afghanistan might find a way out.

Let us pray that Christian men, women, and children would be protected from harm and secure some guaranteed protections as the Taliban seek to be taken seriously as a civil authority on the world’s stage.

Let us pray that as churches move underground, they would somehow remain able to gather to encourage one another in the Gospel.

Let us pray that Christians remain bold in their faith, proclaiming the Good News of salvation through Christ alone to their friends and neighbors whom they are suffering alongside.

Let us pray that a spiritual hunger would awaken Afghanis to the moral and religious bankruptcy of the Taliban, and that many would put their hope in King Jesus.

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Dennis Greeson

Dennis Greeson is a Ph.D. candidate in Systematic Theology at Southeastern Seminary. He is the associate director of the BibleMesh Institute and an acquisitions editor for B&H Academic. He lives with his wife and three children in Youngsville, NC. He is passionate about the intersection of faith and culture, especially in the thought of Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper.

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