Afghanistan: Test Ground for hope?

Keith Brumley

Keith Brumley?Columner?

It’s never what you think. Spin doctors from the U.S. and NATO paint a picture of slow but consistent progress in the battle against Afghan insurgents and a steady progression toward representational democracy. Afghan citizens however, may see it another way.

Matthew Natuli, a frequent contributor to the Kabul Press points out that the war against Al Qaeda 8212; and hence the Taliban 8212; has been going on for much of a decade in Afghanistan. Although Afghani and NATO forces hold a measure of control over much of the nation, NATO’s supply lines are stretched over lanes that can easily be sabotaged by a well-placed mine. Furthermore, Natuli reports, NATO military equipment is showing up in Pakistani flea markets, presumably taken from corrupt transport contractors. Some 500 trucks carrying supplies, Natuli notes, are unaccounted for. This, is course, implies that insurgent forces have already picked over the best and most useful equipment. And, of course, since the Taliban and other insurgent forces have better knowledge of the terrain, they have a tactical 8212; if not strategic 8212; advantage. Then there’s that pesky little fact that the Afghan government has no power without NATO.

During the 1950’s 8212; 1970’s Afghanistan was not all that unpleasant a place to be. It was a monarchy, and impoverished 8212; but the quality of life, with aid pouring in from both the Soviet Union and the United States, was better than today.

In the late 1970’s a pro-Soviet government came to power and with no means to defend itself against insurgents, Soviet troops came. Since the Soviets were avowed enemies of the United States, the U.S. poured money and weapons into the Mujahedeen resistance, with Al Qaeda head Osama bin Laden being the U.S. paymaster. When the Soviets threw in their cards in 1989, Afghanistan had nothing to fill the void. Since the U.S. was in truth after the Soviets, Afghanistan was no longer our concern.

Civil war incurred until the Taliban, with its skewed interpretation of Islam, came to power. Still the U.S. had no problems with the Taliban until the attack on the World Trade Towers on 9/11/01. Our once friendly terrorist, Osama bin Laden was now our number one enemy and we invaded, as journalist Reese Erlich described it in Dr. Ann Bahr’s SDSU World Religions class Oct. 15, “throwing it all into the air.”

Afghanistan has decades been Satan’s little acre. Nobody 8212; especially Afghan citizens 8212; argue that. The quality of life has diminished horribly since 2001 with an average life expectancy of 43 years. Infant mortality is high.

As Natuli points out, the median age of Afghanistan citizens is only 17.6 years old and since the events of 9/11 happened in 2001, those 17 years and under have very little idea of what’s going on. Memories are short and resentment over what is perceived as occupation, along with extremist propaganda (not to mention the occasional beheading and suicide bomb,) exerts a tremendous influence. Some folks are starting to wonder if things weren’t better when controlled by the Taliban. To complicate issues, an estimated $1 trillion in minerals lays waiting in Afghanistan for the taking. Afghanistan is also a candidate for pipelines effecting more efficient oil distribution from Central Asia.

Rudyard Kipling, in the short story The Man Who Would be King, represented remote Afghanistan as a place of mystery, subject to tribal warfare. He wasn’t far off base. Although The Man Who Would be King is a biting allegory on the nature and consequence of British adventurism, the facts are that Afghanistan has had the bad fortune to be a place of conflict since before Alexander the Great. Its history is rich with occupations, revolts, re-occupations, sectarian violence and atrocities.

Despite it all, Afghanistan seems to now be the testing ground for the virtues of reason, religious moderation,and hope. The pre-eminent religion is Islam 8212; and Islam, like Christianity, is a religion of peace. It’s based on the pre-supposition of a Supreme Being endowed with mercy and beneficence and God knows the people of this ravaged country need it.

The United States now has 100,000 troops serving with honor and distinction in Afghanistan. We’ve committed them to building infrastructure and doing battle. We’re also committed to a withdrawal. We’re unlikely to be pleased with the outcome of the Afghani political process, but since we’re committed to let Afghanistan carve out its place of global influence, we’ve no choice but to live with it.

Keith Brumley is an SDSU alumnus and current journalism graduate student at SDSU. Contact Keith at [email protected]