by Ismail Asghari
Disclaimer: the following has been submitted to Massachusetts Peace Action (MAPA) in response to MAPA’s Call for Policy Papers and translated into English. The ideas presented below were translated and discussed in our working group. See MAPA’s latest statement on Afghanistan.
This essay has been written as a response to the essay contest publicized here to reflect how Afghan people envision peace.
After 9/11 2001, the United States of America, in the name of ending global terrorism and preventing similar incidents, conducted a military attack against Afghanistan. The illegitimate government of the time in Afghanistan (Taliban) had close connections with Al-Qaeda, Osama Bin-Laden, as well as other religious extremist groups and individuals. The Taliban had for long provided equipment and military bases in Afghanistan to these groups. In other words, before September 11, Afghanistan was a heaven for terrorists. This was before the U.S. overthrew the illegitimate government of the time (Taliban); since then, the U.S. has claimed to reconstruct a political system in Afghanistan. In a conference in 2001, this proposal was accepted by all political parties and groups in Afghanistan.
Today, over 20 years later, the United States is trying to get its troops out of Afghanistan; the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan is a must, but how this task should be carried out is one of the most important discussions in Afghanistan.
The people in Afghanistan demand a RESPONSIBLE withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. A responsible withdrawal means that it’s done in a way that after the U.S. troops leave Afghanistan, the country won’t fall into civil war and does not become a base for global terrorism once again. In the past, when Soviet forces withdrew troops from Afghanistan irresponsibly, the country was led to civil war. That is how the Taliban extremists and Al-Qaeda found influence in Afghanistan and were able to use their bases to conduct terrorist attacks in the world, among which was 9/11.
Mechanism for the Withdrawal of U.S. Troops from Afghanistan
Prior to withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, the U.S. should be mindful of the following. Otherwise, all that has been done in the past 2 decades will be lost and Afghanistan will once again become a hotspot for global terrorism. These steps include:
- Strengthening Institutions
In the past two decades, the US has tried to empower individuals, but has not strengthened institutions. There are currently individuals supported by the U.S. who conduct illegally in the country. The political and economic power that these individuals yield is far more than institutions in the country. Empowering intelligence and news services, as well as strengthening Afghanistan’s air forces, as well as Afghanistan’s judicial system are steps that must be thought about before U.S. troops can be withdrawn from Afghanistan.
- Fighting Drug Plantation and Smuggling
After 20 years of U.S. presence in Afghanistan, planting and smuggling opium has not only been decreased, but it has increased exponentially. Currently, Afghanistan is one of the largest exporters of drugs to the world. Interestingly enough, drugs are one of the main sources of income for terrorist groups.
- Supporting Afghanistan’s Legitimate Government during the Peace Talks
After U.S. President Donald Trump came to office, the U.S. pushed for peace talks in Afghanistan. But one should ask, at which price does the U.S. seek this peace? The government of Afghanistan has recently released 5000 Taliban members as part of these peace talks and supposedly as a representative of the people of Afghanistan. These prisoners were the same people who conducted attacks against NATO and U.S. forces. They were just as brutal with the people of Afghanistan. These 5000 prisoners were released under political pressure from Washington on Kabul, based on a peace agreement reached between the U.S. and the Taliban in Doha, Qatar. Since this release, the flames of war in Afghanistan burn brighter than ever and these people have joined the fights against the government. The victim of this “peace agreement” include American troops, NATO troops, as well as the people of Afghanistan.
- Political and Military Pressure on Pakistan
Before the U.S. can completely withdraw itself from Afghanistan, they first have to address terrorist organizations residing in Pakistan the same way they went after Bin Laden in Pakistan. All of the 22 terrorist organizations that fight the Afghan government are equipped by Pakistan. In addition, terrorist groups such as Sepah-Sahaba, Lashkar-Tayiba, Lashkar-Jangjooy, Shabaka-Haghani, and the Taliban operate openly and officially in Pakistan. They have political, military, and economic rights in Pakistan. In addition, the Quetta Council which is the center where all of Taliban’s political and military decisions are made is located in the province of Baluchestan and Pakistan’s intelligence service uses this base for its own political goals in India and Afghanistan. The truth is that the government of Pakistan supports most of the terrorist organizations in the region, and makes money off of it, and would continue to do so unless penalized for it.
- Ending the Deployment of U.S. Special Forces for Peace in Afghanistan
After Mr. Khalilzad took control of the Afghanistan Peace Process, Taliban gained a special place in the region and in the world. Despite that, the Taliban are still considered a terrorist organization in Afghanistan. They still behead the people of Afghanistan, murder women and stone them, and set fire to schools and houses. But Mr. Khalilzad who is an Afghan himself have become a spokesperson for the Taliban and lobbies for them given that they share the same religion, ethnicity, and language. His personal attachment to the Taliban has causes issues in the peace process. For him, women’s right, rights of political minorities, the rights of victims of war, and what has been achieved in the past 2 decades mean nothing and he is only seeking to strengthen his position in Afghanistan. It is important to note that Mr. Khalilzad’s approach to the peace process is based on emotions and ethnic issues; this is whereas terrorists do not belong to a certain tribe, ethnicity, or religion. It is poverty, unemployment, multiple wars, and illiteracy which can be a cause of terrorism anywhere in the world.
- Regional Support
Before leaving Afghanistan, the U.S. must ensure to secure regional support for a successful withdrawal. When it comes to Afghanistan’s security, several countries including Pakistan, Iran, India, China, Russia, and other Middle Eastern countries have a direct influence. Therefore, without collaboration with these countries, the U.S. cannot leave Afghanistan. All these countries are stakeholders in issues of war and peace in Afghanistan and must therefore be included in decision making.
While us, Afghans, believe that the U.S. will never fully withdraw its troops from Afghanistan and will keep some forces to push for its political interest in Afghanistan, it is possible that the remaining forces would take more of a consulting role for Afghanistan’s local security forces. But if the U.S. does not pay attention to the issues listed above, it is possible for Afghanistan to fall into another war; this could also repeat the tragic experience of 9/11, as well as other acts of terrorism which jeopardize national interest and security in both Afghanistan and the United States.
— Ismail Asghari has a degree in Political Science from Gowharshad University in Kabul. He has served as a government employee, a political analyst, and an anti-war activist in Afghanistan.
Translated by Shaghayegh Christine Rostampour