ignorance during war: the uphill battle faced by U.S. forces
July 27, 4:58 PM · Sasha Shaikh - DC South Asia Foreign
BBC-Soviet forces withdraw from Afghanistan, 1989
War: The beginning of Afghan animosity
the Cold War, the U.S. attempted to counter-balance Soviet influence in Central
Asia by serving as an alternative “great power” that did not try to bully
small, less powerful nations. Nor did the U.S. claim the legitimacy to
interfere in the internal affairs of such countries because the lay within its
“sphere of influence.” (Instead, the U.S. engaged in a number of
operations in Latin America that typically replaced socialist and
socialist-leaning leaders with dictators who pledged loyalty to the United States).
UN-Refugee camp in Pakistan for Afghans who fled
this backdrop, the U.S.S.R. invaded Afghanistan in 1979. A massive
operation was staged in the “land where empires die.” The Soviet
occupation of Afghanistan was caused significant consternation within the U.S.,
and it significantly expanded Soviet presence in a region bordering the Middle
East to the west, China to the southwest, and South Asia to the East.
Over time the both the Pentagon and 'the legislature aligned their view with regard
to the need to remove Soviet forces from Afghanistan.
RAWA-Increase in abuse of women after 2001 U.S.
invasion. First Lady had pledged support for Afghan
women prior to military engagement
is overwhelmingly interpreted by Islamic scholars simply as “struggle,” which
primarily implies the struggle of humans to behave in a manner that is grounded
in morality. So-called “lesser jihad” has been manipulated to mean armed
struggle that anyone can claim is consistent with " struggle to fulfill
the will of God.” The nefarious use of this concept results from the
removal of context of a verse in the Qur’an encouraging Muslims to fight
against the oppressive (Arabian) Quraysh army, which threatened the existence
of a small community of people who had adopted Islam. It did not require
much coercion by the U.S. to convince thousands of Afghans that it was their
duty under the “Islamic tenet of jihad” to eliminate the Soviet occupiers.
The U.S. subsequently capitalized on its historically friendly position with
Pakistan to gain its approval to develop a network of extremist madrassas in
the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP). Then president Zia al-Huq was
provided with $8 billion to develop a network of madrassas that enabled
the esablishement of thousands of such extremist training centers. The
"schools" further emphasized the Islamic imperative to fight a “holy
war” against the U.S.S.R. Indeed, the fact that the Soviets were
non-believers (in God) was likely to have further fueled the fire within the
rag-tag Afghan extremist force assembled by U.S. operatives.
Once supplied with weaponry, the mujahadeen engaged the Soviets, but
were unsuccessful in overcoming the formidable army of the Communist
superpower. It war not until the Afghans were given access to U.S.
stinger missiles, which could be deployed from shoulder-held launchers that the
Soviets suffered significant losses: Soviet Mi24 helicopters began to fall from
the sky at rates so high that the U.S.S.R. could not replace them quickly
enough. The Soviets would come to recognize that meddling in Afghanistan
was far too costly. In 1989, the Afghan proxy force declared victory as the
massive Red Army began to withdraw its heavy artillery from Afghanistan.
This represented one of the most significant turning points in the Cold War.
what you sow?
After the historic defeat of the Soviet army in 1989, no plan to provide
education or transitional services was provided to the torn Afghan
country. With the U.S.S.R. out of Central Asia, the focus of both
Congress and the Department of Defense shifted elsewhere, ignorant of the fury
that would develop among Afghans at their immediate abandonment.
Concurrently, the world remained dominated by two giants, and no one imagined
the magnitude of the resentment harbored by peoples treated as mere pawns in
the superpower chess match.
Herein lies an example of the mistake that has been made again and again by
defense policy strategists: the willingness of the opponent to sacrifice his
own life to fight against the perceived hegemony of the West. This
miscalculation was made in WWII against the Japanese army, the Vietnam War and
now in Afghanistan. Indeed, an insult to a Pashtun is a direct insult to his
son. The importance of the Afghan betrayal was so poorly understood because few
policymakers had taken any time to understand that Afghans were not merely
people that could be molded into religious extremists. They were not
viewed as humans with cultural values, tightly held for hundreds of years.
Such traditions existed separately from their religious beliefs. Indeed,
friendship to a Pashtun (as this correspondent realized during a three month
stay in Peshawar, Pakistan) means that he would willingly sacrifice his life in
the effort to defend a companion. But violating centuries-old Pashtun
cultural traditions created a rift that will likely take many more years to be
forgotten—especially since the U.S. is now an occupying force.
of the Taliban
Years of instability and factionalism characterized the next decade. President
Najibullah was ousted in 1992 by a united front between the forces of Uzbek
General Dostum and Ahmed Shah Massoud. Civil war ensued between
1992-1996; despite the desire of anti-mujahadeen General Hekmatyar to
reestablish his power base, he was not successful. The rising strength of
the mujahedeen Taliban enabled them to capture Kabul. A key
turning point was defeat of General Dostum in a collaborative effort by a
former subordinate and the Taliban. Dostum was subsequently forced into
exile in Turkey. By this juncture, however, there were no leaders in
Afghanistan who did not have the blood of civilians on their hands.
Dostum is accused of kidnapping or killing thousands of civilians during the
1992 capture of Kabul. (Recent reports regarding Dostum’s alleged participation
in the creation of a mass grave will be addressed in Part Two).
As of 1996, the Taliban had enjoyed strong support for ending 17 years of
factional warring. However, in his landmark book Taliban, regional expert
Ahmed Rashid notes that it was the U.S. itself—between 1982 and 1992— that
facilitated the recruitment of some 35,000 extremist Muslims from the Middle
East to the Far East to join the effort to defeat the Soviets in Afghanistan.
Eventually, however, approximately 100,000 mujahadeen would study in
madrassas established by President Zia al-Huq of Pakistan, thus becoming linked
to the fighting in Afghanistan. Once firmly entrenched in Kabul, the
Taliban instituted a stifling religious code that Mullah Muhammad Omar claimed
was rooted in the Qur’an. In fact, the Taliban’s brand of “Islam” was
derived from tribal codes and customs that stood in stark contrast with
The brutality of the Taliban, particularly toward women, has been
well-documented. Under the Taliban, it was quite common for women to be beaten
for wearing a burqa of insufficient length or for showing any skin.
Indeed, requiring women to wear a garment that covered them from head to toe,
with only tiny holes with which to see through, created a dramatic isolation of
women from the rest of society.
Restrictions on movement combined with the laws regarding dress served to make
women invisible. They were, for instance, unable to leave the home unless
accompanied by a male relative. Because such relatives were often
unavailable, many women were rendered virtually house-bound. Moreover, the
prohibition of school for females above the age of 5 left them further
marginalized. According to a 2001 Human Rights Watch Study, entitled
“Humanity Denied,” as a result of this Taliban policy, the rate of illiteracy
for women in 2001 was more than 90%.
Cold War Impact on Modern Afghanistan
As stated previously, the proxy war fought between the U.S.S.R. and the U.S. in
Afghanistan generated a great deal of resentment toward the West.
Consequently, it is likely that the Taliban sought to define their identity by
restricting all things perceived to be “Western.” Indeed, Taliban’s
policies strongly indicate a desire to establish an insular society that
remained impenetrable to Western influence or “corruption.” Forcing women
to wear the burqa was just one aspect of this sentiment. Absolute subjugation
of women was likely considered another victory for the Taliban because it
separated Afghan society from Western society, where women were free to travel
unaccompanied and pursue careers.
The US-led war on Afghanistan was touted by the Bush administration as an
effort to remove from power an anti-Western regime with ties to Osama bin
Laden. However, the Bush administration also made several compelling
statements explicitly stating that the US also sought to liberate Afghan women
from the atrocities of the Taliban regime. According to a 2008 interview
with UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, Afghan females feared
being raped or kidnapped more post-U.S. invasion than they did under the
Taliban. The maternal mortality rate in 2008 was second only to Sierra
Leone. Furthermore number of girls who have resorted to self-immolation because
they are so unhappy with their circumstances (e.g. forced marriage) is deeply
disturbing. The security situation for women is disastrous, and the
combination of U.S. and allied forces are not likely to be focused on protection
of women within the home.
A Welcome Change?
There is much to learn from mistakes made during the Cold War and the recent
war, which began in 2001. Human security must be a top priority of the
Af-Pak strategy. Recent statements by General McChrystal are encouraging,
but the effectiveness of this intention remains to be seen. It is folly
to attempt to apply strategies that were successful in Iraq to
Afghanistan. This land, after all, is known as the place where empires
die. The new administration has the unique position of drastically
distancing itself from the hard power tactics of the Bush Administration.
It will require great discipline and patience to gain the trust of those who
have been ravaged, raped, kidnapped and exploited by its own people. The
Af-Pak strategy must follow through on its intention to garner the support of
the masses, as the Afghan people’s support is absolutely necessary for a
successful mission. Understanding the perspective of Afghan civilians,
who have suffered unimaginable atrocities from the Cold War to present-day
should be an essential aspect of the Obama administration’s revamped
Kindly take note that Part Two of an in
depth of "How we Got Here" will be published later this week.
For UN report on Women's
insecurity in Afghanistan: www.oh.chr.org
For insecurity resulting
from Bush administration
war on Afghanistan:
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Sasha Shaikh is
an Examiner from Washington DC. You can see Sasha's articles at: "http://www.Examiner.com/x-11874-DC-South-Asia-Foreign-Policy-Examiner"