We Still Have Time to do the Right Thing
by Dr. Godfrey L. Garner
The United States is poised to commit another egregious error in Afghanistan which will surely, further sully our steadily diminishing status as a world leader. Continuing down this road will result in a total eradication of the dwindling trust other countries have in America as a nation to which they can turn in times of need.
The real harm however will be one that Americans can sit in their living room recliners and read about and as such, easily ignore. As occurred following our disgraceful withdrawal from Vietnam, thousands if not millions of Afghans, who pledged loyalty to America and to America’s allies, will be slaughtered by a vengeful Taliban.
America’s recognition of the Taliban as a legitimate political power in Afghanistan will encourage this post-American, slaughter of those who worked with America and coalition forces. As in the case of Vietnam we will leave, with the blood of innocence on our hands. The one and only non-negative result of this will be some remotely perceived, political benefit for leaders in Washington who will trumpet their efforts to put an end to Operation Enduring Freedom.
Unfortunately, American actions in Afghanistan from this point forward, unless cooler heads prevail will be predicated on politics alone. “Just get out regardless of the costs”, can no doubt be heard echoing through the hallowed halls of the White House. It would seem, any concept of a secure Afghanistan comes in a distant second.
America launched an invasion of Afghanistan for the most noble of reasons. The country, willingly or not had become a safe haven for the Al Qaeda elements most responsible for the slaughter of thousands of innocent Americans.
The debate over Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden’s relationship with the Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar is far from settled in anyone’s eyes. The assumption of a Taliban sanctioned, Afghan safe haven for Al Qaeda beginning in the early 90’s will also be debated for the distant future, and will also never be settled.
Many experts believe Mullah Omar never wanted Afghanistan to become a haven for bin Laden. Still others believe Omar and bin Laden had secured their relationship through the marriage of family members. Undisputed, is the fact that a massive, modern multi-room bunker complex was being constructed by bin Laden, for the safety of Omar and his family, right outside Omar’s sprawling compound on the edge of the Taliban capitol of Kandahar. The American invasion and subsequent attempt to capture Omar in 2000, caused Omar to flee, and stopped the construction.
Arguments aside, most analysts agree that as a nation we will never achieve our goal of defeating Al Qaeda and protecting America from further Al Qaeda sponsored terrorism, without a secure Afghanistan. The country of Afghanistan and much of Pakistan have always been and may continue to be the hub of jihadist terrorism.
A secure Afghanistan, may have been achievable in the early stages of this mission had America not installed a corrupt Afghan government; its insatiable desire for graft fueled by billions upon billions of American taxpayer dollars, and had we not attempted to ram democracy down the throats of a people who neither understood it, nor were committed to it, and most importantly had we not delegated the authority to prosecute this mission, to clueless lawyers and politicians.
And now we find ourselves, once again poised on the precipice of another American orchestrated world disaster; a disaster that will most assuredly come to fruition if we continue to legitimize and seek to negotiate with the Taliban.
If simple, reasonable thought rather than a headlong rush to withdrawal prevailed it would be abundantly clear that the Taliban will never negotiate away their religious beliefs; beliefs which have granted them sanctions to torture and kill Afghan men, women and children. Such an act would be tantamount to a Christian negotiating away his belief that Jesus rose from the dead.
This indisputable fact alone should provide a clear view of an Afghanistan in which the Taliban enjoy any semblance of legitimacy. Unfortunately, if we continue down this path, the Taliban will not only enjoy such diplomatic recognition, but will in fact have an American sanctioned, unchallenged political stronghold in much of the country.
Multiple competing young Taliban chieftains who have varying degrees of allegiance to Mullah Omar will exact brutal revenge on thousands of Afghans, and treacherously suppress the remaining population under their control. The Afghan people will fittingly, blame the United States and will come away with a hatred for America as did those we shamelessly betrayed in Vietnam.
There is a solution however; a solution that, though it will not aggrandize our individual political leaders, will create a framework for a secure Afghanistan with a population free from any authoritarian rule they may choose to reject. Such a solution is based simply and directly in economics and can be implemented with a minimal amount of military involvement.
Though much uncertainty permeates the climate of Afghanistan in the months leading up to an American and coalition withdrawal, there are some points that are unquestionable.
To begin with, few Afghans have faith in the central government and Taliban attacks on the symbols of stability in Kabul will continue to generate a feeling of instability among the populace. Any idea that the government of Afghanistan, even with continued American monetary support; support which survives the pervasive political corruption and outright theft in Kabul, is sadly an illusion.
Faith in the Afghan government as it stands simply isn’t there among the populace. Evidence of this is overwhelming. Recent reports of widespread desertion among Afghan’s security forces coupled with evidence that in most cases such desertions are aggravated by American donated Afghan Security Forces weapons being sold to the Taliban or to warlords in the north , Afghan hoarding of opium to use for barter when the monetary system collapses, and former Northern Alliance warlords rearming their militias in preparation for civil war, are all evidence of the chaos that may follow America’s departure from this country.
As an alternative, Afghanistan, especially in the north is ripe for individual entrepreneurial investment. An Afghanistan that realizes a secure future and the promise of economic development will not tolerate rule that threatens such development.
America, following the Russian withdrawal from Afghanistan, virtually cut off all tax-payer funded economic assistance to this country. America is again poised to greatly reduce economic assistance upon its withdrawal in 2014. In light of the political atmosphere of corruption in Afghanistan, few can argue against such reduction in aid.
An influx of individual entrepreneurial investment free from all restraints save those that have always accompanied simple capitalism, however could very well in time, replace the foreign aid Afghanistan depends upon now. There are vast untapped resources in Afghanistan which are now being eyed by other countries for exportation. These resources could be used in that country, rather than exported, to fuel economic independence, and provide jobs in areas where families subsist on mere pennies.
A strong economic spurt of growth in the more pro-American, primarily Tajik and Uzbek dominated north would quickly spread to the rest of the country. American investment complete with a non-military American business presence intent on cooperative Afghan/American business partnerships would fuel stability in the north and eventually in the entire country, creating an environment in time, in which a jihadist mentality could not survive.
The European presence in Afghanistan now is one viewed through holes in walls, which separate, for security purposes ‘us from them’. A long recognized tenant of a successful counterinsurgency is that the indigenous people will provide all the security you need.
United States Special Forces soldiers almost always live and move freely among the populace because they provide a valuable service and that service has little to do with military might. Entrepreneurs investing in the country will enjoy not only that same level of protection, but also the excitement and satisfaction of being a part of the culture and contributing to growth and economic security. Additionally, the potential for profit in this country rivals and surpasses any other developing country in the world.
Americans and Europeans can and have in the past lived and prospered in many areas of Afghanistan, becoming just another segment of the population and they have and still can, do so with no more security than that employed by the typical Afghan businessman. In doing so, Afghans and Americans in partnership can prosper and create an environment in which the typical Afghan worker can prosper as well. This has been and still can be, accomplished in an atmosphere in which intrusion on religious beliefs or practices of either is non-existent.
As an example, the southern Afghan city of Lashkar Gah, used as a headquarters for the United States Army Corps of Engineers working on the Helmand Valley Authority irrigation project in the 1950s, was built by Americans and Afghans working together, using American designs, and incorporated broad tree-lined streets and brick houses with no walls separating them from the street. Such partnerships could be formed again and would be individually, nationally and internationally beneficial.
American and coalition withdrawal from Afghanistan will create a vast security vacuum that will not be filled by the present government of that country. For reasons of simple survival, surrounding countries will fill this vacuum but in ways that will not necessarily benefit America, its allies, or Afghanistan.
This power vacuum would likely cause Iran to end up in control in the west by default. Iran would desire a buffer zone between them and the refugee problem spilling across their border as a result of an Afghan civil war.
Pakistan will continue to pull the surrogate puppet strings on Omar and control the south and east along their shared border. Pakistan cannot allow India to flow into a power vacuum.
Afghanistan should not, again be left to the geopolitical winds of that region, and if this insane idea of negotiating with the Taliban goes forward, we should hold our political leaders personally accountable for every death at the hands of an American sanctioned Taliban.
If the United States negotiates with the Taliban and unilaterally withdraws from Afghanistan, many people will suffer as a result. For better or worse we have taken on a grave responsibility in this country. We still have time to do the right thing.
America and Americans must demand a better outcome, for us and for Afghanistan. We as a nation are better than our individual leaders and better than this. Americans can and should invest in and become an equal partner with Afghanistan.
Afghanistan is in part, for better or worse, our responsibility. The American government should pull out all stops in encouraging private business development in that country, and we as Americans should demand that those Afghans who have joined with us throughout Operation Enduring Freedom be protected from Taliban retribution.
There are great business partnering opportunities in Afghanistan and a bright economic future for all Afghans will in itself, produce stability in the region.
The views expressed by the author are his own.
Dr. Godfrey Garner holds a PhD in counseling psychology from Mississippi State University and is currently pursuing a second PhD at the University of Southern Mississippi. Following two tours in Viet Nam and a lengthy break in military service, Dr. Garner rejoined and eventually retired from 20th Special Forces group in 2006. He completed two military and six civilian government-related tours in Afghanistan. His work in Afghanistan most recently has been as a counter-corruption analyst. He is published in Homeland Security Today and Foreign Policy Journal on issues relating to Afghanistan as well as other journals relating to higher education. He is the author of the novel Danny Kane and the Hunt for Mullah Omar.