Lessons from “America’s Monster”

Lessons from “America’s Monster” May 24, 2024

When Abdul Raziq Achakzai—the former police chief of Kandahar and a general in the Afghan army—was killed by the Taliban back in 2018, the immediate response from most Americans was concern over how his death would impact the war in Afghanistan. While there were whispers and allegations of corruption, murder, and violent oppression, Adbul Raziq’s role in the war on terror took precedence at the time.

Over the years since, however, more has come to light about the atrocities Raziq committed while in power.

In a recent profile in the New York Times, Azam Ahmed and Matthieu Aikins combed through more than 50,000 handwritten complaints—detailing almost 2,200 cases of suspected disappearances—and had countless conversations with the families of those victimized by Raziq. Their report provides a damning indictment of how American leaders on both sides of the political aisle approached the war in Afghanistan and leaves little doubt that they were right to call Raziq “America’s monster.”

And their findings—particularly as they pertain to the justifications from American leaders—should serve as a powerful warning for each of us today.

“We didn’t think we had a choice”

The story from Ahmed and Aikins is worth reading in full, as the details that follow will not do justice to the scope of their reporting. For now, here are the key details of their report:

  • Abdul Raziq grew up as a member of the Achakzai tribe near the border with Pakistan. As a child, his father was killed by the Noorzai tribe, many of whom would later support the Taliban. During a later war, the Taliban killed his uncle and hung his body from the barrel of a tank. As a result, when the U.S. invasion began in 2001, Raziq’s allegiances were clear.
  • By 2010, Raziq had earned a reputation as a fierce and effective fighter and one of the few to consistently win against the Taliban. When the police chief in Kandahar was assassinated in 2011, Raziq took his place. By that time, the rumors and accusations of murder, corruption, and torture—including death squads that answered directly to him—had already begun to swirl.
  • Henry Ensher, a State Department official who worked with Raziq for a time in Afghanistan, described how “Sometimes we asked Raziq about incidents of alleged human rights abuses, and when we got answers we would be like, ‘Whoa, I hope we didn’t implicate ourselves in a war crime just by hearing about it.’” He went on to say, “We knew what we were doing, but we didn’t think we had a choice.”
  • Ahmed and Aikins add that “Most American leaders—including more than a dozen interviewed by The Times—said that Raziq had been seen as the only partner capable of beating back the Taliban in the heartland of the insurgency, where a pitched battle for dominance was underway.”

But while Raziq may have been effective for a time, his methods eventually played a large part in turning many of the villages and tribes under his control against the Afghan government and the American occupation.

As Fazul Rahman, whose brother was most likely abducted by one of Raziq’s squads, described, “None of us supported the Taliban, at least not at first. But when the [Afghan] government collapsed, I ran through the streets, rejoicing.”

Unfortunately, Raziq was just one of many warlords, corrupt politicians, and criminals that American forces empowered “to prosecute a war of military expediency in which the ends often justified the means.”

And that temptation is where this story becomes most applicable to each of us today.

When the ends can’t justify the means

While understanding the mistakes made throughout the war in Afghanistan and the dangers of taking that kind of approach to our alliances is important—especially given the speed with which we are adding new conflicts to our national agenda—most of us will never be in a position to make a real difference on the geopolitical level. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t important lessons for us to take from this story.

In a recent episode of The Denison Forum Podcast, Dr. Jim Denison and Dr. Mark Turman discussed how an increasing number of Christians seem willing—or at least tempted—to embrace an ends-justify-the-means approach to politics.

As Dr. Denison described, “You look at the depth, the enormity of the issues that are out there, I do understand why people could say, look, we have to win at all costs. We have to fight fire with fire. We have to do what they do. This is how they got elected. This is what we have to do to get elected as well.”

He goes on to note the spiritual and practical reasons why that approach is flawed. To those, I would like to add one more that is of particular importance in both politics and every other area of our lives where we are tempted to accept seemingly small sins in the pursuit of a greater good.

The cost of telling God “no”

As Christians, the level to which we will have to fall to effectively take an ends-justify-the-means mentality should terrify anyone who legitimately claims Jesus as their Lord.

It’s not easy to drown out the Holy Spirit’s influence in our lives to the degree necessary to mentally and emotionally survive walking a path God can’t bless. The Spirit will not go quietly.

With each step, God will convict you and call you to repentance. And with each step, he will make you tell him “no.”

It can be done, and chances are good that each of us can think of tragic examples where fellow believers made that choice. But the cost of hardening your heart to God to that extent will be immense. And it should be.

No good Father will sit idle while they watch their child run off the edge of a cliff. Yet that is what we expect of our heavenly Father when we choose to embrace sin, even if we do so for what may seem like the best of reasons.

Ultimately, it’s easy to spot and condemn an ends-justify-the-means mentality with people like Abdul Raziq. However, it’s far more difficult when it’s closer to home and the ends you’re seeking are personally relevant to you. But God doesn’t give us that option.

So the next time you’re tempted to weigh the goal more than the path you’ll take to get there, remember that your heavenly Father cares about both and will never give you a calling that cannot be achieved in a way that glorifies him.

Where do you need to remember that truth today?

Quote of the day:

“God never gave a man a thing to do, concerning which it were irreverent to ponder how the Son of God would have done it.” — George Macdonald

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