Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Why we should stay in Afghanistan: America owes the people of Afghanistan a moral debt

From: Tony Agnello,
President, Friends of Afghanistan

This was written in response to the Buffalo area Peace Center's call to ask Congress to stop funding for the US mission in Afghanistan. I am very sympathetic to the overall goal of regional peace, but the specter of the return of the Taliban makes me very cautious about a knee jerk response to our very complicated involvement in South Asia.


Salaam, Shalom, Shanti,

Please let me offer a respectful counterpoint
comment regarding the final line of your Peacemakers message below. As a point of prior disclosure, I served in Afghanistan from 1972 to 1975 with most of my time in country spent in the Province of Samangan, where I served as a science supervisor for the provincial school system as a US Peace Corps Volunteer.
I am no fan of the mismanaged, poorly prosecuted and ill conceived no bid, cost plus, for profit Western engagement in Afghanistan. But having returned in 2003 and in 2006 to implement student sponsored humanitarian projects, I can say, in hopefully balanced fairness, that while progress has been made in infrastructure repair, the building of both private and public construction projects and especially in education where boys and girls have returned to school in unprecedented numbers, there is, nevertheless, a growing sense of frustration and malaise among Afghan citizens. The deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan amid a rising insurgency and the public's frustration and disillusionment with the pace of national progress, aggravated by the failure of the massive amount of Western investment to trickle down through the glass ceiling of endemic corruption to reach the people, opens a door for alternative ideologies to appear reasonable even if their history of stability and security is remembered in a context extremism.
The Taliban movement, which was constructed during the Soviet occupation by the Pakistani Secret Police through the funding support of Saudi Arabia and the US CIA as a Mujahedin force to counter the Russian presence, would quickly and some say quite easily move into the power vacuum that would be created if America and the West once again abandoned Afghanistan. An unchecked and empowered Taliban presence in the region, acting as an independent force, separated from the control of its' ISI creators, could result in a nightmare scenario for South Asia. Here's what one could reasonably predict to see happen in Afghanistan and in the region if American and Western troops were precipitously withdrawn without a well planned exit strategy:
  • The Shia and Sufi religious minorities would be persecuted because of their heretical beliefs.
  • The Haz ara minority would suffer ethnic cleansing and renewed pogroms.
  • Centuries old cultural treasures would be destroyed as anti-Islamic idols.
  • Educational and occupational opportunities for women would be severely restricted and women would suffer gender discrimination on a scale that we can't fathom in the West.
  • Afghanistan would be plunged into Civil War with the threat of regional spillover into Pakistan.
  • A legitimate threat from Taliban paramilitary forces in Afghanistan would threaten the Pakistani Government's nuclear arsenal resulting in the very real threat of a non-national terrorist group acquiring nuclear arms. 20
The list above is a simple restatement of what the Taliban did while in power and an observation of their current aspiration in Pakistan. One could simply predict that the best indicator of their intention in a new position of power would be their past behavior while in control of the Afghan Government.
So, while I fully support a controlled withdrawal from Iraq and advocate all possible international initiatives to build a safe and secure Middle East respecting the rights of all people to live in peace and security in a homeland of their own, Afghanistan is more complex.
Perhaps we should start with an American policy that thanks the Afghan nation for fighting the hot point for our Cold War victory over the Soviet Union and acknowledges that the Afghan people accepted casualties in massive numbers in pursuit of independence, and then do something that modern nations do ever so infrequently, act in a way that is designed to promote the interests of Afghanistan and not pursue narrow self interest driven by the influence  of international arms merchants and corporate executives motivated by profit and not by ethical obligation.
America owes the people of Afghanistan a moral debt. I don't know how to evaluate the value of this kind of obligation but I can say that abandoning the people of Afghanistan to a harsh extremist religious movement will not serve the interests of Afghanistan nor if history serves as a teacher, neither is it in the best interest of the United States.
Tony Agnello
President, Friends of Afghanistan

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