Remember Afghanistan? As we celebrate the transfer of power in the Capitol, let's remember that we are losing two wars simultaneously: one in Iraq and the other in Afghanistan. The reasons for the failures are linked in that surely the invasion of Iraq has totally distracted not just the military from Afghanistan, but the entire American political elite.
We must recall that in the immediate wake of 11 September 2001, an immensely popular President Bush called for the toppling of the Taliban government, which was completed five years ago, with a few troops and relatively little loss of life. The US led the world in pledging to make Afghanistan a modern state, replete with the physical and political infrastructure that embeds democracy. For a time, that seemed possible. But within months, war plans for Iraq preoccupied our military and within a year Afghanistan disappeared from political view. Osama bin Laden was forgotten as was all of Afghanistan.
Perhaps the saddest chapter of the Bush presidency will be written in the anonymous blood of American soldiers who died determined to build a free Afghanistan, but whose memory now is soiled by the Bush ideology of global dominion rather than global peace. America voted Tuesday to leave Iraq. America also voted for sanity. As committees are assigned, defense secretaries replaced and perspective partially restored, let us not forget that the terror emanated from Afghanistan and it likely could have ended there. Instead, we face an eerie and spectacularly similar fate to the Soviets who invaded Afghanistan in 1979, only to find ten years later that they had lost an empire by overreaching.
The riveting account below is from a native Afghan who has lived there nearly all his life, but has considerable familiarity with America. If this does not wake us up to the true nature of the problems the Bush Administration has wrought and that we all must fix, nothing will. I will not here reveal his name in order to help maintain the safety of him and his family. Suffice to say that having access to a person of this intellectual capacity with knowledge of two cultures would help to improve the understanding between the US and Afghanistan. Suffice to say that narrow minds have conspired to prevent that access, a symptom of fear and a prelude to failure of historic proportions.
During Eid I went to Afghanistan to see some friends including Mr.
Muttawakil, the ex-foreign minister (under the Taliban. Mutatwakil turned himself into the Americans early. He was interviewed and then set free, having been determined not to be a threat.). The situation in southwestern Afghanistan is not stable. It seems the Taliban control most of the southwest. Except for the major roads and government buildings the rest is with the Taliban. Yesterday while traveling from Kabul to Kandahar I saw two military vehicles on fire, which were ambushed by the Taliban on the main Kabul-Kandahar road. NATO and Afghan troops seemed very busy patrolling the highway.
In the face of growing suicide car bombs, the international troops have set their own traffic rules. No civilian vehicles may come close or over pass NATO vehicles, and the traffic coming from the opposite end must go off the road and stop. Violators would be shot.
Kabul is not as bad yet, though sometimes there are suicide bombings and violent uprisings in the city. During my time in the country, I met and conversed with many people: drivers, travelers, shopkeepers, and government officials. It seemed the majority of the people (in my case everyone I met) did not think that the presence of international troops was the solution to the problem. In Kandahar, civilians could be seen running away from NATO convoys, because they fear that something might happen. Roles have changed.
NATO no more protects civilians; rather civilians protect themselves from NATO. The Canadians have clearly written on their vehicles in Pashto language that "citizens" must keep distance.
The Taliban on the other hand have become more radical. In a recently issued propaganda video, a Taliban commander could be seen beheading purported US spies (an un-Afghan act). Some Taliban soldiers (not all) kill whoever works with the Afghan Government. I think it is true that the Taliban have support among the Pashtuns, but I don't think the majority of the Pashtuns support them unconditionally. I think the reason the Taliban are becoming popular again is not because people love them. Rather, I think that the common people hate their Afghan opponents more than they hate the Taliban. Another factor in the increasing strength of the Taliban is the presence of foreign troops. Afghans in general do not like foreign troops, and especially if they are arrogant. A third and more important factor in the support for the Taliban is because of their strong resolve and loyalty to friends. People know that the Taliban will do what (good or bad) they say. Unlike the men in power, the Taliban are part of the common people.
They wear the same clothes, eat the same food, and speak simply. People know that the Taliban were in Afghanistan before they came to power, at the time of power, and when they were removed from power. This is not the case with Karzai and his ministers: They lived abroad before they were brought to power, and they will live abroad when they don't remain in power.
I believe it is still not very late to stabilize the Pashtun areas. Last week, Karzai announced that he would ask NATO troops to leave an area if its people could ensure security. This is good. The British soldiers struck a similar deal with the people of Musa Qala district last month and it seems successful. Generally people don't mind if the new Afghan National Army (not the regional warlord militias), who are nice and polite, are deployed in their areas. I saw many people who strongly opposed foreign troops but praised the new National Army. I believe that if half the resources currently wasted on the presence of NATO troops are spent on the expansion of the National Army, the situation could be normalized significantly.
I could write a more comprehensive piece if I believed it would make a change.