By Bill Mefford
I will never forget the exact moment when I was radicalized against the invasion of Afghanistan back in the early part of 2002. I was working in urban ministry and had taken some college students I was working with on a refugee simulation in Atlanta, GA. We were in the home of an refugee family from Afghanistan and the man was telling us his story of persecution of being a Christian in Afghanistan literally as we watched the invasion on CNN. We all had assumed his persecution, from which he sustained injuries that kept him in constant pain, had taken place at the hands of the Taliban, but he vehemently stated no, his persecution was from the Mujahideen. The Mujahideen was Afghanistan’s government who was overthrown by the Taliban. Elements of the Mujahideen were at that time part of what was called the Northern Alliance whom the United States was working with to dethrone the Taliban.
The students and I were all radicalized against the war that very day because we realized the Bush administration did not need military advisors as much as it needed anthropologists and historians. Afghanistan, like all nations, is steeped in history and complex cultures and the US invasion and 18 year-long occupation has resembled a one dimensional answer to a multi-dimensional challenge. This is why, in part, our Afghan policies have been a long and seemingly endless devastating nightmare.
As much as our politics prefers 5-10 second policy soundbites for challenges like Afghanistan, the next steps needed to bring about peace for the Afghan people require nuance and patience. And can anyone with half a mind believe that the man currently in the White House has either of these qualities?
This is exactly why the Afghan people, as described in this article, are more happy that trump called off the secret negotiations with the Taliban, than they are if he had reached a deal with them. The entire world, besides the obligatory 40% polled in the United States, knows this man is entirely incapable of understanding nuance, much less complex history, culture, and international political calculations of achieving peace in one of the most war-torn countries in this generation.
While many progressives have been against the invasion of Afghanistan from the very beginning, simply pulling out troops will not bring about peace at this stage. Most foreign policy experts see the presence of US troops as leverage in current and future negotiations. Perpetual occupation is neither moral nor strategically wise, but how we pull out troops is what matters now. So, here are a few very general suggestions of the role that the US can constructively play:
Ensure all voices are at the table for negotiations and not just secret talks between the US and the Taliban. Afghans, even those who welcomed the US invasion, are still very leery of US involvement in their country as well they should be. Having more voices at the table, particularly those representing vulnerable groups like women and religious minorities, will ensure that any future government will protect the rights of all people and not just those with guns.
Do due diligence with surrounding nations so that as the US pulls out troops, there is an agreed-upon plan with Russia, China, Pakistan, and others that protects the peace process in Afghanistan and does not rush in to fill any preconceived vacuum of power.
Make one of the goals an Afghanistan without any US military presence at all. This would be radical considering the power of the lobbyists associated with the military industrial complex (MIC) and the amount of money made from this 18 year-long occupation because war pays handsomely. Billions are made by the MIC because the US has military bases everywhere. But these military bases are not intended to bring peace, they are intended to make US corporate interests money. Real peace in Afghanistan means no US military presence and the metrics associated with military reductions must be tied to real protections in place for women and religious minorities as well as real political power. These are two of the most vulnerable groups in the country so the sole focus of any US military presence, until they are pulled out entirely, must be the protection of women and religious minorities.
Lastly, the US government has far too often, particularly under this administration, been far too favorable to business interests and the interests of fundamentalist Christian nationalists. I have not seen anything associated with Afghanistan policy that favors either of these groups, but any strengthening of the Afghan economy will certainly go far to ensuring a secure peace. US businesses can be a help to this process, but the focus must be on Afghanistan and not US interests. And while Afghan Christians have been a vulnerable group in recent years, as attested by the refugee family in Atlanta I mentioned at the beginning, the last thing that Afghanistan needs is US Christian fundamentalist missionary efforts.
These are just a few suggestions that some policy experts are recommending. Again, this is going to be a very long and arduous process that requires patient leadership, a capability to understand complexity and nuance, and forward-thinking collaboration. And the only thing we know for sure right now is that we have someone in charge of the United States who has absolutely none of these characteristics. None at all.