Afghanistan has been experiencing for the past 32 years of calamity after calamity.
The disastrous period began with the overthrow of President Daud Khan in 1978 by Communist, and the subsequent invasion of Afghanistan by the former Soviet Union. After a seven year disastrous occupation of Afghanistan, the Soviets left the country with a puppet Communist regime that was able to hold ground, with Soviet support, against a resistance movement whose members were dubbed the “holy warriors” or “Mujahedeen’.
Afghanistan already one of the least developed nations, became even more dependent on the international community as its economy continued a downward decline. After three years of Soviet withdrawal, the puppet Communist regime fell to the “Mujahideen in April 1992, and the end of the Communist era led to a civil war that lasted until 1996, when the Taliban appeared on the Afghan scene. The Taliban, supported and organized by Pakistan, ruled with an iron fist from 1996 until 2001, when the United States in cooperation with the international community ousted them from power for harboring Osama Bin Laden, the master mind of 9/11 attacks on the United States.
Unfortunately, throughout these political and military transformations and changes Afghans suffered for one reason or another, and no light appeared at the end of the tunnel given the extent of the abuses and the lack of sound leadership. However, 2001 marked the beginning of the beginning of hope for most Afghans. Unlike the past, the international community appeared serious about engaging Afghanistan to reverse a tide of fundamentalism—foreign to the average Afghan— that was imported by Al-Qaeda and facilitated by Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United States. A fundamentalism that not only broke the back of the Afghan spirit, but one that posed a serious threat to the international community.
The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was a nine year war that was fought between a Marxist-Leninist regime, supported by the former Soviet Union, and “Mujahideen” or “holy warriors” mainly supported by the United States, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Iran. It was a clash of ideologies that were fought blindly and mindless with Afghans as pawns and sacrifice, and Afghanistan as the battle ground.
Based on reliable sources such as the United Nations, that war led to the deaths of around 1 to 2 million Afghans, caused 5-10 million Afghans to flee to Pakistan and Iran, cause 2 million internal refugees, left 1.2 million Afghans disabled and 3 million maimed or wounded, as well as leaving most of Afghanistan’s agricultural system unusable (for a country that is mainly agrarian this was a blow to its Achilles tendon) due to aerial bombings and attacks from both sides on villages and irrigation systems, and importantly led to the flight of many of Afghanistan’s intellectuals, the void of which was filled by uncanny, sectarian characters with dubious respect for human rights.
After the fall of the last Communist president, namely Najibullah Ahmadzai, the “holy warriors” nurtured in Iran and Pakistan brought their leaders to Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, and unleashed a civil war for power that led to a second round of destruction and human loss. This shameful period of destruction continued from 1992 to 1996. Unfortunately, as a result of this war, thousands of innocent Afghans died, tens of thousands were made homeless or refugees, and the entire Afghan political and military establishment was destroyed.
At this point, Afghanistan had no true government, even in a symbolic fashion. Despite the immeasurable sacrifices that were made by Afghans the international community packed-up and left Afghanistan to its own wolves and her ill-intentioned neighbors, specifically Iran and Pakistan. According to some accounts, Pakistan had benefited from the Afghan wars by receiving up to 40 billion dollars in military and monetary aid from the international community.
Seeing the timing perfect, Pakistan for its own interests, i.e. to install a puppet government, created and supported the Taliban, which led to round three of destruction and human suffering. Meanwhile, Iran was supporting its own proxies that killed, disabled and maimed countless innocent civilians.
In 1994 a band of 50 religious students in Kandahar, southern Afghanistan, under the leadership of Mullah Omar, frustrated with the on-going civil war, began an armed campaign to disarm and curtail the power of the “holy warriors” who had brought destruction and enmity between the various strata of Afghan society. The Afghan masses frustrated with the dire situation that the “holy warriors” had created supported the Taliban movement, and as consequence with lightening speed they were able to conquer one major city after another from the warlords of the “holy warrior” groups.
In September of 1996, with support of the Pakistani intelligence service, ISI, the Taliban were able to wrestle the Afghan capital, Kabul from the warring factions. There was a sense of happiness amongst Afghanistan’s masses that law and order might once again come to Afghanistan. To their chagrin, the new rulers of Kabul were living in another century; instead of concentrating on avenues that would lift Afghans from their dire economic needs, they passionately engaged in draconian laws to redeem the masses from the corrupt social ailments. Amongst their laws they forbade women from leaving home without a male relative, men were forced to sport a beard, schools for women became irrelevant, and support for Al-Qaeda, which had began during the Soviet invasion (by USA, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan), and subsequently by the “holy warrior” clans that murdered and destroyed Afghanistan in their civil war for power continued.
Meanwhile, while Afghanistan had become a forgotten nation by the international community, it had become a battle ground for Pakistan, India and Iran to contest. The Taliban were accused of being Pakistan’s proxies, and their rivals known as the Northern Alliance as proxies for India and Iran. In this proxy war, once again the Afghan population became the sacrifice for the contests. As a consequence, swaths of agricultural lands were burned, schools razed to the ground, unlike Afghan culture, women were beaten in public, commerce had come to stand still, and rule of law had draconian and out fairy tales. In the lawless land that had become Afghanistan, meanwhile, Al-Qaeda was entrenching itself and would eventually formulate the attacks on 9/11 against the United States.
The origin of Al-Qaeda (meaning the base in Arabic) is traced to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. It was during that era that thousands of non-Afghans were inspired by the international community to converge in Afghanistan and fight alongside the “Mujahideen” against the atheist communist government and the Soviet soldiers in the name of Islam. The CIA supported, funded and inspired these non-Afghans and Pakistan facilitated their accommodations. Overtime, these foreign fighters acquiesced into what became Al-Qaeda. Their stated goal became ridding the Muslim world of infidel influence and bringing about a unified Muslim State that would fight to make God’s religion, Islam, supreme.
To that end, in 1992 bombs were detonated by Al-Qaeda in Aden, Yemen, to kill American soldiers on their way to Somalia; in 1993, Ramzi Yusuf, used a truck to bomb the World Trade Center in New York; in 1998, Al-Qaeda bombed the US embassies in East Africa; in 2000, Al-Qaeda militants in a suicide attack bombed the US destroyer the U.S.S Cole. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until September 11, 2001, that the international community truly understood the blowback they had created, supported and nurtured prior to abandoning Afghanistan.
After 9/11 the United States and the international community became seriously engaged in dismantling Al-Qaeda, for it had the potential to wreak havoc of a major proportion. Osama bin Laden, the leader of Al-Qaeda was in Afghanistan, and the United States demanded his surrender from the Taliban. Having spent time in Afghanistan, and having been a supporter of the Afghan fight against the Soviets, it was difficult for the Taliban to surrender him to the United States, especially when Afghanistan was neglected by the international community after the Soviet withdrawal. Nevertheless, the failure to surrender Osama bin Laden led to the “war on terror”, which began round four of the war and destruction upon the Afghan nation.
The invasion of Afghanistan was welcomed by many Afghans, as it had opened a window to freedom from Taliban’s draconian rules and indirectly from their benefactors in Islamabad, Pakistan, who as mentioned previously, were bankrolling their war machine for their strategic depth policy towards India.
Eventually, the Taliban were toppled and a government lead by Hamid Karzai, accused of being inept and patron of the warlords who had destroyed Kabul after the fall of president Najibullah was installed.
Meanwhile, the War on Terror continued in capturing its leader Osama bin Laden and the leader of the Taliban. For the first two to three years, there was some success, but the tide began to change, as Pakistan accelerated its support and facilitated safe havens to Al-Qaeda and Taliban through which the coalition and Afghan forces were attacked.
Pakistan’s role in side-swiping and double dealing became more and more evident. To counter Pakistan’s proxies, the international community has been working hard to establish a strong Afghan defense force and at the same time exert political pressure on Pakistan to change its misguided policy of arming proxy groups in Afghanistan. Nevertheless, Pakistani’s double dealings with the international community became very clear in May of 2011, when Osama bin Laden was killed inside Pakistan, close to one of Pakistan’s premier military academies.
Having gone through many rounds of war and destruction for one reasons or another, Afghanistan has had enough of its poor status and it has been embarking on finding permanent solutions to her ailments. For one it has began to sign strategic pacts, such as the one recently with India, and is working on signing one with England, France, and importantly the United States, as it has set 2014 for withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan. The withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan will leave it vulnerable to terrorism and not very friendly neighbors that have used everything in their disposal to gain control in Kabul.
Having understood the real threats from within and outside of Afghanistan’s borders, this week president Karzai commenced a 2000 member consultative Loya Jiraga (Grand Assembly) to seek the advice to whether a strategic partnership with the United States is beneficial, and through what mechanisms should Afghanistan seek a peace deal with the Taliban, or their benefactors in Pakistan.
The details of the pact are not clear, but from what its intentions are the pact in the short term will benefit both Afghanistan and the United States. Most importantly, Afghanistan needs military security; realistically the only nation that is capable of delivering that security is the United States.
For its part the United States will gain a foothold in the region to counter what it describes as support for its counterterrorism operations against Al-Qaeda. Some may question the US’s intentions, but from Afghans’ past experience, within their borders and outside of their borders, a safety net such as the United States to maintain its military deterrent has become more important than ever before; Afghanistan needs financial and logistic support to main its present defense forces.
Moreover, a strong Afghan and US partnership will warn surrounding nations to stop their meddling in Afghan affairs or face the consequences. Seeing their influence wane in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran have been exerting significant pressure on President Karzai to forgo the strategic relationship with the United States. Unfortunately, if it weren’t for those two nations’ short-sidedness and favoritism for one Afghan faction or another, Afghanistan wouldn’t have needed a strategic partnership outside of the region.
Domestically, a partnership with the United States will curtail the power of warlords and maintain the nascent democracy, rooted in Afghan culture, to be maintained.