Stop the 17 year Bleeding War in Afghanistan

President Trump’s administration is to be commended for its efforts to end the longest war in Afghanistan. Zalmay Khalilzad, an Afghan American peace envoy has been busy shuttling back and forth, trying to work on a framework for peace with the Taliban. The peace efforts have raised some hope, expectations and trepidation among segments of Afghan society. The Afghan apprehension stems from the democratic based gains of the past 17 years which should not be sacrificed in a rushedtransactional political peace outcome dictated by Washington. Further, another source of anxiety for the Afghans is the tendency towards a Taliban-centric approach to peace making where the Taliban demands may be on top of the agenda for discussions. Nevertheless, peace with honor is one of the most cherished aspiration of the people of Afghanistan.
Some historical context is useful for the readers on how the United States abandoned the people of Afghanistan after the former Soviet troop withdrawal from their land in 1989 and the subsequent disintegration of the Soviet Union that resulted in the emergence of the United States as a sole super power.
On September 11, 2001, 19 hijackers (15 were citizens of Saudi Arabia) affiliated with Al-Qaeda attacked The Trade Centers, the Pentagon and diverted United Airlines flight 93 that crashed in Pennsylvania. These attacks killed about three thousand people, leaving behind much destruction and psychological trauma. In a hastily planned retaliation, on October 7, 2001, the United States planes started bombing of the Taliban targets and in coordination with the Afghan Northern Alliance forces defeated the Taliban two months later. The United States went to war because the Taliban rejected the American demands of turning over Osama Bin Laden, the architect of the 9/11 attacks who was allegedly living in Afghanistan at that time.Ten years later, On May 2, 2011, the American Special Forces killed Osama Bin Laden during a daring raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
During 9/11 tragedy, I was attending an international conference In Madrid, Spain where I presented on the plight of the Afghan people after the 1978 Communist bloody coup that killed President Daoud and 18 members of his immediate family. As devout Muslims, the Afghans’ resistance to the Communist regime grew stronger in the countryside. In order to suppress the Afghan opposition, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in December of 1979 with over one hundred thousand troops. This was the beginning of full scale civil war in the country when leadership of the Afghan Freedom fighters declared holy war “Jihad”, against the Godless occupier and their puppet regime in Kabul. The United States inflamed the rhetoric of this holy war by telling the Afghans that “God was on their side”.
The invasion of Afghanistan provided the opportunity for the United States and the west to make the Soviet Union pay a heavy price for their aggression. Consequently, the United States military and technical support for the Afghan freedom fighters (Mujahedin), matched by dollars from Saudi Arabia controlled by the Secret Service of Pakistan known ISI {Inter-Service Intelligence) became a bloody war that lasted for ten years.Finally, in 1989, the Soviets were forced to leave the Afghan soil. The cost of this war was very high for the Afghans who lost 1.5 million people, half million women became widowed and five million Afghans became refugees in Pakistan and Iran. It is important to note that Pakistan was not only the beneficiary of the Afghan war monetarily, but also took firm control of its strategic depth in Afghan affairs. To make matters worse, the creation of Islamic religious schools known as Madrassa, financed by Saudi Arabia and their charities, contributed to the radicalization in Pakistan by teaching Wahhabism, a rigid form of Islam in refugee camps. Many of the Taliban were educated in these schools. The majority of Afghans believe that Pakistan has been complicit in destabilizing Afghanistan by sending terrorists to the Afghan side. Recently, the United States has been very critical of the Pakistani Government for providing safe haven for terrorists who have been attacking the Afghans for many years.
The Afghan resistance was one of the reasons for the down fall of the Soviet System and the end to the cold war between the East and the West. After winning the cold war, the United States disengaged itself from the Afghan scene and from the region in Pakistan that had already become a fertile ground for fundamentalists, some of whom were really dangerous characters. Osama Bin Laden was one of these individuals. Our indiscriminate support for some of these multi-national jihadi figures created a Pandora box that led to international terrorism after the Afghan holy war.
Unfortunately, the tragedy of the Afghan people continued during the four years of the Afghan Mujahedin Government 1992-1996, when about 65000 Afghans lost their lives in Kabul due to civil war among different factions of the Mujahidin leadership.The atrocities committed during this civil war not only tarnished the honor of their holy war, but also constitute a very dark chapter in the post Jihadi era Afghanistan.The emergence of the Taliban to take control in Kabul in 1996 was received well by the Afghan population who were exhausted physically and drained emotionally from the scars of almost twenty years of conflict in their country. Unfortunately, the political balance and stability that the Afghan people enjoyed during King Zahir up to 1973, had become a past history due to the political developments that devastated the socio-cultural way of Afghan life and the Afghan soil became vulnerable to the whims of national, regional and international politics. The Great Game is still alive.
On October 7, 2001, the United States invaded Afghanistan and overthrew the Taliban regime and have dismantled the leadership of Al-Qaeda in the area. Our goal was to make sure that the terrorists will never be able to attack our soil again. Some of our achievements in Afghanistan include, education, infrastructure building, erecting the pillars of a democratic nation and relative freedom of the Afghan media, creation of a civil society and women rights in the country. Unfortunately, grave challenges such as security problems, corruption, governance problems, ethnic polarization, high unemployment, poverty, drug production and addiction and psycho-social problems are still haunting the nation. I believe it is impossible for any Afghan leaders to deal effectively with these insurmountable systemic problems while the country is dealing with terrorism every day. Sadly, the Afghan people have been dealing with their own version of 9/11 attacks for several years. Achieving peace is a moral imperative in Afghanistan.
Despite our achievements, the cost of the United States intervention have been very high in terms of human life and dollars spent during this conflict. According to CNN, between2001-2016:
· 31419 Afghan civilians killed
· 30470 Afghan Military and Police killed
· 42100 Taliban and other insurgents killed
· 3946 contractors, humanitarian workers and journalists killed
· 2371 US forces killed
Perhaps these casualty figures may be too low on the Afghan side. The most recent figures released by the Afghan Government states that in the past three years alone, 30000 members of the Afghan National Security Forces have been killed.
According Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University, 2.6 million Afghans are living as refugees in other countries and nearly one million people have become internal refugees. The Afghan war has cost the United States about 1.07 trillion dollars. The humanitarian toll on those with Physical and Traumatic Brain injuries and psycho-social trauma on both the Afghan side and the American side are so daunting for the victims and their loving families who must deal with this ordeal for a long time.
Without any doubt peace with honor is a valued goal of the Afghan people, the United States and NATO who have made enormous sacrifices in this war. Peace has three dimensions for the Afghan people. First, the intra-Afghan dialogue with active participation of the Afghan youths, the women, the civil society, political parties and jihadi leaders is important. Second, Russia, Iran, India, Turkey, Pakistan and China should become a party to the peace discussions as regional powers. The United States cannot ignore the important role these countries play toward a lasting peace in the region. As a genuine commitment towards peace, the leadership of Pakistan must realize that the security of Afghanistan and Pakistan represents the two sides of the same coin, deeply dependent on each other. Third, the United States shall consult with the Afghan Government and the Afghan representatives about some relevant issues of the Taliban such as the status of the Taliban prisoners, the Taliban fighters, the Afghan political structure, the need for modification of the Afghan Constitution and the transition period towards peace. At some point, the United Nations active role towards peace making could complement the United States efforts.
‘Achieving peace with honor is the highest priority in Afghanistan. The interest of the Afghan nation shall transcend the political power base of any leader/s in the country. If peace with honor will require a Grand Assembly, or an amendment to the constitution, orformation of an Interim-Government, it deserves every consideration.There will be no losers in achieving a lasting peace.
On February 8, 1988, Mikhail Gurbachev, the leader of the former Soviets referred to their Afghan war as “the bleeding wound”.
Today, the Afghan war has become” the Americanbleeding wound”. We must end it. This is the time for us to help the Afghan people chart a new path for peace that has alluded them for forty years.
Matin Royeen Ph.D. is an Afghan American educator. He can be reached at amroyeen@gmail.com

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