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America in Afghanistan: What are we thinking?

By Zakia Isad

Let’s be realistic.

The war in Afghanistan started in response to the September 11 attack on the United States. The perceived goal was to capture Osama Bin Laden and other key Al Qaeda members and punish them for their barbaric attack on the U.S. This goal was never achieved. Unfortunately, with our  attack on Afghanistan we drove Al-Qaeda leaders to Pakistan, caused destabilization in this neighboring country, and created another battle- ground to justify our presence in that region. Let’s be more realistic. After turning Afghanistan into rubble, we swiftly shifted our focus to Iraq and started a ruthless war when Iraq wasn’t even in the picture. There was no evidence to suggest that Iraq had WMD or Iraq ever posed a grave or imminent threat to our national security. Therefore, most of the world saw this attack as a brutal act of aggression on our part. We captured Saddam Hussein and hung him while Bin Laden who should have been the main focus is still out somewhere hiding in the mountainous range of Afghanistan and Pakistan (if he is still alive).

What is the purpose of our continued occupation of Afghanistan?  Is it to prevent further attacks on the U.S., and to keep Al-Qaeda away from Pakistan’s nuclear facilities? How can it be achieved? To answer these questions, we need to go back a little further and find out the reasons why Al-Qaeda attacked us. The roots of terrorism can be found in the establishments of Western neo-colonialism and imperialism. Wherever possible, the United States have supported corrupt authoritarian regimes for its strategic interests. We alienate the public of those regimes and use their leaders as our puppets, thus, stirring the pot to create civil wars. Then we rush to those places and create military bases to justify our presence. To make it short, we have done things moral or immoral to accomplish our strategic goals. It is our politically unwise and morally bankrupt policies, and our presence on their soil that have made the people of those regimes hate us.

Undoubtedly, the reckless invasion of Iraq has escalated global terrorism. This colossal mistake of attacking Iraq, persistent lies, distortion of facts and delusion of Bush/Cheney and their administration have caused the ugly mess we are in now.

So far, American foreign policies have created severe resentment in the Islamic world. If we choose to keep the status quo, the war on terror will continue and there will be endless atrocities on both sides. Sending more troops to Afghanistan to defeat the insurgency as Stanley McChrystal  has suggested would not solve the problem. This ongoing war would most likely result in failure. Very recently, a top Taliban political leader has said that this war will come to an end only when all invaders leave their country. If the Soviets with 150,000 troops of their own and 250,000 local pro-Soviet forces could not win, what makes us think that we can?

There seems no clear solution to Afghanistan crisis. However, we do have an obligation to rebuild that country. We cannot kill all Al-Qaeda members. Some will escape, and will move to another country. Some already have. Should we keep on following them wherever they go? It is ultimately self defeating. Even the NATO commander in Afghanistan has said, “We cannot kill our way to victory in Afghanistan.”

The goal of American policy in Afghanistan should be to create peace and safety for the people. To change the status quo, we should send some doctors, engineers and scholars, build schools and hospitals and ensure the people of Afghanistan that we are there to rebuild their country. We need to develop a strategic communication policy to counter terror information, and this can be achieved only with the help of the Afghan people. It is certainly not a choice to leave that country on its own. Slow withdrawal of forces and replacing them with a responsible team of multi-task professionals may give that country some hope to recover.

Zakia Isad is Professor of Political Science And Ethnic Studies Chabot College, Hayward, CA