I hope you had a good weekend. Welcome back to another episode of Ask Ash, where I interview WatchMojo Founder & CEO Ashkan Karbasfrooshan and ask him questions about various topics, ranging from covering the news to giving career advice to students and entrepreneurs.
The Taliban have taken over Kabul, and have regained their power in Afghanistan, ending a 20-year campaign by the United States to remake the country. United States President Joe Biden addressed the situation in Afghanistan to the nation today, as this looks to be one of Biden’s biggest tests since taking office.
I wanted to get some of Ash’s Reactions to the situation in Afghanistan.
I noticed you commented on the situation in Afghanistan, saying that “sometimes as an entrepreneur, you invest a ton of energy, resources, credibility, and money into a project. Then a period of time later, you realize you’re more or less back to square one. Nothing really changed. You may as well not have bothered. That’s what Afghanistan feels like: 20 years following 9/11, the Taliban are officially back in power. Suddenly I no longer feel bad about our missed opportunities and wasted efforts…” I’d like to get your thoughts on any big takeaways that could be applied to entrepreneurship, startups, and strategy in business?
1) The biggest question in business and in life is WHY? Why are you doing something? Obviously, post 9/11, with Afghanistan housing Osama bin Laden, the US felt a need to go in there and get him out. But, that was twenty years ago. So the first takeaway ought to be why? Always ask yourself why you do something, otherwise, you may very well find yourself in a situation where you waste a lot of time and have little to show for it.
2) Be realistic. When Warren Buffett says he values candor in management whose companies he invests in, I think that is even more important in startups who are trying to find product/market fit. The US drew a certain picture about the situation in Afghanistan, but in the end, the reality was far different. In politics and foreign affairs, propaganda and messaging are part of the game, but if reality does not jive with the positioning, eventually the house of cards tumbles.
3) When you study international business, you often hear the adage: “Think Global, Act Local.” Indeed, the US sometimes tries to have a one-size-fits-all approach with regard to foreign policy. The US went out to Afghanistan and with the global community to try and build a Western-style constitution and society, and that was probably not realistic. American politics is rife with corruption and conflicts of interest… and one reason the Taliban was able to seize power was the corrupt core of Afghan politics.
4) Afghanistan is a complex situation. There’s a lot of history, but the bottom line is in 2021, there were no locals to take on the Taliban. For one, any local fighter will outlast a foreign occupant… so when you wade into new markets, understand that it will be a long, tough slog. But ultimately, as a leader, you can’t fight the fight for others… your team will have to go out there and execute… so if that is your weakest link, you are facing defeat.
5) Planning matters. It’s just shocking that after 20 years in the country, the winding down wasn’t planned better. America’s reputation and brand will take a hit, but more importantly, ultimately, this will be a human tragedy of epic proportions and the global community will not forget the next time America insists that others follow its lead.