Withdrawal from Afghanistan

LAURYN OATES/Guest Columnist

It took barely 24 hours for the troops-out-of-Afghanistan chorus to break into an outpouring of editorials demanding the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan now that Osama bin Laden is dead. Now you have your prize, they smugly hummed, so let’s call it a day.

The “bin Laden’s done, now let’s desist” argument suffers from numerous fallacies, the first of which is an appalling historical amnesia. It’s not in the very distant past that the U.S. already once washed its hands of Afghanistan prematurely after some fairly significant covert meddling in Afghan affairs, in the interest of their own foreign policy objectives.

Afghanistan deserted by international community before

As Afghanistan turned to face a post-Soviet world at the dawn of the 1990s, it found America’s back turned, and much of the rest of the  international community followed suit.

Into the void poured the competing mujahedin factions which unleashed violence and chaos over a population in desperate need of a functioning state, rather than a drawn out civil war. Civilians were subjected to a series of unstable mujahedin governments throughout the early 1990s more concerned with imposing random elements of sharia law at their whim than with providing basic services and rebuilding a ravaged nation.

And while the mujahedin factions preached puritanical Islam in their rhetoric, their men were raping women and girls at will, pillaging communities, and decimating the country’s infrastructure – one of the decent things that the Soviets left behind them. Far more civilians were killed during this period than during the years of Soviet occupation.

But there were few outsiders left to witness the aftermath of arming so many uneducated Islamists to the teeth who had never demonstrated much interest or skill in governance.

And then into Taliban Afghanistan came Osama bin Laden and a large contingent of Arab “guests” who took over the finest properties left standing in Kabul’s upscale Wazir Akbar Khan neighbourhood. Islamo-fascist terrorism had found an ideal home.

How many more repeats will it take to learn that making Afghanistan a stable, peaceful place with a decent government is not only in the highest interests of the Afghans, but in the West’s best interests too?

But while most of the international community turned its back on Afghanistan, there were some notable exceptions. At the end of the Cold War, one state which never failed to lose its persistent interest in Afghanistan was Pakistan, who’s interference continues to be perhaps the primary reason NATO has not yet defeated the Taliban. The circumstances of bin Laden’s death should make this all the more evident. As Mosharraf Zaidi pointed out in Foreign Policy magazine recently, “The notion that one fine day bin Laden adorned a burqa and made a trip over perhaps the most treacherous 180 miles of terrain in the world, from Tora Bora to Abbottabad, without catching the attention of Pakistan’s vast, richly endowed, and unaccountable military establishment is as ridiculous as any conspiracy theory now being peddled by Pakistan’s incorrigible right-wing hacks.”

— Lauren Oates, Projects Director Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan

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