The Des Moines Register, October 7, 2009
The time to leave Afghanistan is now
"Freedom, democracy and justice cannot be enforced at gunpoint by a foreign country."
On Saturday, former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf made a visit to Clive, flanked by a phalanx of U.S.-government supplied secret servicemen. In a lavish private reception, a senator, congressman and former governor welcomed the former military general, who seized power in a 1999 coup and resigned under pressure last year. He used the occasion to call for massive, open-ended U.S. military warfare on Afghanistan to rout terrorism.
Zoya being interviewed after an event in Hollywood on Oct. 5, 2006. She says war and occupation are not the answers, either to eradicate terrorism or to bring peace to her homeland: "Freedom, democracy and justice cannot be enforced at gunpoint by a foreign country."
On Tuesday, with no security forces in tow, a young Afghan woman who goes by the pseudonym Zoya slipped into Des Moines to speak at a public library. A member of the underground Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), which has been in the vanguard of resistance to the Taliban, she shields her real name for fear of being targeted. (I'll have more on her story in an upcoming column.)
She says war and occupation are not the answers, either to eradicate terrorism or to bring peace to her homeland: "Freedom, democracy and justice cannot be enforced at gunpoint by a foreign country."
The contrast between those two regional perspectives could not be starker. And they highlight the importance of understanding all the motivations as the Obama administration weighs escalating the war.
Musharraf's view of an old-style military invasion waged with collaborator elites and culminating in installing puppet governments accompanies his belief that "power and force has a certain respect in that area, and weakness is seen negatively." He proposes for Afghanistan what might seem an inherent contradiction: installing a government that has legitimacy.
But installing governments to our liking is precisely what we have done wrong, notes Zoya. After eight years of occupation, the Taliban still controls 80 percent of the country, she says. Recent elections were a sham and Afghans are trapped on three sides: by Taliban suicide bombers, the U.S.-allied Northern Alliance with its own legacy of lootings, rapes and killings, and U.S. forces causing civilian deaths.
Northern Alliance members, whom she calls "ideological brothers of the Taliban," have secured key government, judicial and parliamentary posts with U.S. support, while legitimate democratic parties and movements receive no help. Even if withdrawal leads to civil war, she'd rather see U.S. troops leave.
To Musharraf's insistence that we settle for nothing short of "absolute elimination of al-Qaida," Zoya responds that Pakistan has itself been supporting fundamentalist groups in Afghanistan. She suggests there are many vested interests in keeping the Taliban in power and/or the war going - from the Northern Alliance, which gets U.S. funding, to the United States, which has long-term financial and geopolitical interests in the region.
Pakistan has its own interests. Asked Saturday what the United States has gotten in return for its $6.6 billion military aid to Pakistan from 2002 to 2008 to help wage the war on terror, Musharraf insisted it's a long-term investment. But in a Monday story, the Associated Press, citing unidentified Pakistani army generals, suggested only $500 million of that money actually made it to the Pakistani military. The rest, they said, was diverted to other causes, such as fighting India. A Musharraf spokesman denied the charges.
For all our massive firepower, and financial and human investment, the truth is we have little to show for eight years of war and occupation in Afghanistan. They have neither ended the terrorist threat nor won the hearts and minds of civilians, and there is no reason to believe staying the course will. If anything, our backing of certain factions has made matters worse. It's time to cut our losses and call it quits.
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