Pull troops out, but don't abandon Afghanistan

opinion February 23, 2014 00:00

By The Nation

Fears are growing that bloody history is about to repeat itself in Afghanistan

Twenty-five years ago this month, Soviet troops left Afghanistan after nearly a decade of occupation that cost the lives of some 15,000 Russian soldiers. More than one million Afghans died fighting the occupation, while an estimated five million fled to refugee camps in Pakistan and Iran.
The Soviet departure from Afghanistan marked the beginning of the end of the Cold War. It also meant that Afghanistan was no longer as strategically important for the West, particularly the United States. 
With the Russians out of the picture, mujahideen factions turned their guns on each other in a desperate battle to become king of the Kabul hill. Foreign fighters who had arrived to fight the “godless communists” were dismayed, but many didn’t have anywhere to go and so stuck around in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The ensuing anarchy paved the way for the Taleban, al-Qaeda and the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the US. The rest is history. Today, with US-led international forces pulling out of the country, concern is growing that history is set to repeat itself. The post-Soviet period saw Afghans killings Afghans in a bloody civil war. Now many in the country are fearing the same thing is about to happen again. 
This fear explains why the nationwide grand assembly of elders, the Loya Jirga, supports the idea of permitting foreign troops to remain in Afghanistan after the official pullout at the end of 2014. 
The Afghan people paid a huge price for the last round of infighting, but the international community also eventually suffered, as al-Qaeda took shape inside the country. The group found plenty of willing recruits among the foreign mujahideens who had been thrown out of their own countries and come to Afghanistan to fight the Soviets. And when a Saudi billionaire, Osama Bin Laden, came into the picture with a grand vision to export terrorism across the globe, things began to fall into place. 
A master plan backed by a fanatical Saudi billionaire – what could go wrong? the extremists must have thought. 
Unable to oust their respective governments, which were mostly under authoritarian leaders who cared little for Islam or for their people, al-Qaeda decided to turn their guns on the Western “infidel”, in a bid to generate a unified front in the Muslim world.  
Anti-Western sentiment backed by flimsy conspiracy theory made for good propaganda, but it failed to garner such international support. Al-Qaeda’s idea was to oust secular, socialist-leaning governments and replace them with Islamist utopias envisioned by radical clerics. 
But Afghanistan is not buying the radicals’ line. It wants some of the multinational force to remain in the country to help ensure stability and safeguard the path to democracy. 
The world must not abandon Afghanistan in the way that it did following the Soviet pullout. We can’t afford to make the same mistake again.