NEW DELHI – In his column “Time is right to depart Afghanistan” (July 28), former U.S. Rep. Barney Frank simplistically ignores the lessons of history. In fact, the U.S. did once depart Afghanistan prematurely, and the lessons learned from that misstep are unforgettable and, indeed, unforgivable by millions of Afghans, who have silently suffered from its aftermath.
It was the tragedy of 9/11 that forced the U.S. to intervene in Afghanistan and topple the Taliban, who continue to share the ideology of al-Qaida and its dead leader, Osama bin Laden. These narcoterrorists, who oppose modernization, occupied Afghanistan as a no man’s land, a vacuum left by the premature disengagement of the U.S. from the country, following the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan in 1989 and the fall of the communist regime there in 1992.
It is an established fact that had the U.S. not neglected the post-Cold War reconstruction and stabilization of Afghanistan, transnational terrorists would hardly have been able to use the country as a base from which to attack American assets around the world, which the congressman points out. Indeed, it was a moral obligation incumbent on the U.S. to have stabilized and rebuilt Afghanistan, because 2 million Afghans were killed, 5 million Afghans were scattered around the world, and our country was completely destroyed in a proxy conflict we fought against the former Soviet Union, on behalf of the United States.
However, on 9/11, the U.S. paid a heavy price for having neglected Afghanistan for almost a decade. Throughout the 1990s, the Clinton administration focused on what the congressman advocates: “It’s the economy, stupid” at home, failing to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for transnational narcoterrorist networks hostile to the U.S.
As the congressman notes, it was in stateless Afghanistan where al-Qaida and the Taliban comfortably and effectively plotted the bombing of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, and the bombing of the USS Cole two years later.
Therefore, President Karzai is rightly calling on the United States to prevent a similar situation from emerging in the post-2014 period, by signing a bilateral security agreement with the Afghan government that actually binds the U.S. to defend Afghanistan against any external aggression, equip and sustain the Afghan national security forces, and enable us to grow a productive economy toward self-reliance.
The U.S.-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Agreement, which the Afghan people overwhelmingly endorsed and our two governments signed in May 2012, actually provides for what President Karzai demands of the Obama administration: to consolidate and sustain our shared gains of the past 12 years, for which too many Americans and Afghans have given their precious lives.
The implications of losing what is a winnable war for peace and justice are clear in Afghanistan.
Any shortcut to peace with the Taliban leads to failure. Such half-measure peace initiatives to engage the Taliban were tried in the 1990s, with disastrous consequences.
Let’s remember that the Taliban of today are the same dark forces that brutally terrorized the Afghan people, systematically destroyed our cultural heritage sites, enforced gender-based apartheid of unspeakable cruelty and sheltered and aided al-Qaida to plot and execute from the Afghan soil the tragedy of 9/11.
Morally speaking, any attempt to sideline Afghans and undermine their democratic gains of the past 12 years would not only destabilize the region but also irresponsibly endanger international peace and security again.
Hence, the former and present members of the U.S. Congress must honor the memory and ultimate sacrifices of more than 3,000 American forces and thousands of Afghans, who have fought and fallen alongside each other to secure Afghanistan so that democracy — not extremism — can take root there. The U.S. and Afghanistan have simply come too far in our quest for institutionalization of peace and democracy in a country that deserves it the most. It is just too late in a successful, popularly supported partnership between our two nations to call it quits.
The way forward must be to finish the mission possible, which was forced upon the U.S. by the events of 9/11, certainly not ignore it again at a much greater cost to the United States in the future.
M. Ashraf Haidari is the deputy chief of mission of the Afghan Embassy in India. He formerly served as Afghanistan’s deputy assistant national security adviser, as well as deputy chief of mission of the Afghan Embassy in the United States.