Mission Accomplished – Again, Really!
Do we remember the first “mission accomplished” in Afghanistan in 1989? After the Soviets left, U.S. and other Western countries also packed and left without rehabilitating the country or the fighters – the “mujahideen”, ten years after propping them as heroes recruited from all over the world. This contrasts with how U.S. deals with its solders coming back, even after one six-month tour of duty in Afghanistan or Iraq: all kinds of physical and psychological (e.g., post-traumatic stress disorder) evaluations and rehabilitation so they can assimilate normally back in the civil society.
On the other hand, U.S. along with many other countries propped up these mujahideen by training and arming them with the most advanced weapons to fight Soviet army in Afghanistan, which they did for over a decade, and then abandon them after the war. In most cases, they grew up knowing nothing but to kill those who don’t fall in line to their thinking, even Muslim Afghanis who supported Soviets. I vividly remember meeting few fourteen to sixteen years old boys in 1986 in Islamabad talking about their experience of fighting in Afghanistan, using Kalashnikov, killing people, and eager to go back to fight again.
The U.S. cut all its funding to Afghanistan immediately after Soviets left and reduced its assistance to Afghan refugees in Pakistan, which angered even Senator Wilson, the architect of the first Afghan war. He wanted to spend money to reconstruct the country after the war, he was turned down by the appropriations committee when he sought only $1 million for school reconstruction. He famously said, “we could have done it for a half a billion dollars – which is nothing compared to how much the war on terror has [eventually] cost us” and hoped that the U.S. has learned from its earlier mistakes and would help rebuild Afghanistan this time around.
When Zbigniew Brzezinski, National Security Advisor to President Jimmy Carter, was asked if he regrets supporting [propping] Islamic fundamentalism in Afghanistan to defeat Soviet Union, his reply was, “What is more important in world history? … Some agitated Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?”.
As a result of the decisions of not rehabilitating/training mujahideen to live a normal life again in a civil society, as U.S. does to its military forces, and leaving the country without assisting with governance, civil war ensued. The civil war to gain power after the removal of Najibullah in 1992 pitted former allies against each other resulting in more deaths and chaos than during the ten years of war against the Soviets. The instability from infighting spilled over to boarding countries, especially Pakistan with frequent kidnappings, murders, rapes, and robberies.
In this backdrop of distress and the chaos afflicting the country, Taliban movement was formed, probably in 1994, by former mujahideen in Afghanistan and Pakistan along with Afghan refugees studying in madaris (religious seminaries) in Pakistan to restore peace. Creation of the movement was facilitated by Pakistan likely on the behest (at least with a nod) of the U.S. to protect interests of both countries, especially security of the proposed gas pipeline to carry 33 billion cubic meters of gas per year from Turkmenistan to India along the Arabian Sea. The pipeline proposed by the American Unocal Corporation and backed by the U.S. is to pass through five southern Afghan provinces. Within a very short period, Taliban reached Kabul controlling most of the country by the end of 1996 bringing relative peace. They ruled the country with extremely harsh interpretation of Islam and even banned poppy farming resulting in the most profound impact on opium and heroin supply in the modern history.
Many non-Afghan mujahideen who joined the jihad against Soviets had a dream of building an exemplary Islamic state were dishearten by the infighting among them. They had no reason to stay in Afghanistan, without any restrictions on their movement they started to leave for the countries of their origin across the globe. Without any post-war guidance or training and with a huge pride of defeating a superpower, they started looking for jihad in their native lands, anything, especially government policies, that do not concur with their brainwashed thinking and reasoning that were instilled in them to fought in Afghanistan. The consequence was the rise of extremism and terrorism in most Muslim majority and many non-Muslim majority countries around the globe.
In addition to severely affecting Muslim majority countries, this blowback was so profound that it not only affected many non-Muslim majority countries in Europe, Americas, Africa, and Asia, who encouraged their Muslim youth to join mujahideen, but also affected countries who sided with the Soviet Union, like Russia (Chechnya) and China (Xinjiang). The “some agitated Moslems” eventually cost hundreds of thousands, if not million, of lives, trillion of dollars and took over thirty years to tame these “agitated Moslems” to any appreciable level.
Pakistan was the worst hit country with the menace loosing over 70,000 innocent lives, the economic loss was over $125 billion in the last twenty years alone. A same scenario may repeat if U.S. leaves Afghanistan prematurely without helping the new administration with governance and abandoning developmental projects. This will likely have much limited impact than when Soviets left the country in 1989.
However, Pakistan will again be affected the most from the surge in violence and high unemployment. Many Afghans will flock to the border again to take refuge in Pakistan adding to over three-million Afghan refugees already present in the country, this will bear heavily on the economy of Pakistan washing away little gain the country has made over the past few years. Additionally, some refugees will bring guns, drugs, crime, and violence, like what happened in 1980s, which will worsen the law-and-order situation in large cities like Karachi.
It is prudent, therefore, to weigh all the pros and cons by the parties involved, especially U.S., and avoid abandoning Afghanistan again, over thirty years after the first mistake that cost the world dearly. Pakistan should not be party to it in any way, especially by providing bases to the U.S. for future drone attacks in Afghanistan. Never forget that Pakistan has been pimped for decades by the U.S. and dumped once the interests are served. From funding to fight Soviets in Afghanistan from 1979-1989 and placing unilateral military embargo in 1990 for the development of nuclear capabilities; waiving the sanctions in 1994 after Pakistan agreeing to participate in Somalia and Bosnia wars and imposing it again in 1998; and lifting it again in 2001 for the current Afghan war.
If Pakistan were to help U.S., the retaliatory terror attacks will take the country back to the days of high terrorist attacks. It is up to the Pakistani politicians to choose the path forward carefully keeping in mind the integrity of the country and prosperity for the generations to come rather than selling the country’s future for a few bucks and remember majority of Pakistani consider supporting U.S. again will be counterproductive to the country.
Dr. Shakil Saghir holds a PhD, an MSPH, and an MSc. He is a fellow of the Academy of Toxicological Sciences and the Royal Society of Biology, a diplomate of the American Board of Toxicology, and a European Registered Toxicologist. He is also a senior toxicologist at Scotts Miracle-Grow and a Visiting Professor at Aga Khan University. Previously, he worked at PARC, University of Kansas Medical Center, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Dow Chemical, Syngenta, and Smithers Avanza.