Monday, November 09, 2009

Nemat Sadat's creative case for pursuing the project in Afghanistan

As people search for analogies by which to interpret developments in Afghanistan they have often turned to ones that seem to me quite useless -- suggestions that "empires" have always been bogged down there [they forget the Mongols and Babur's Moghals, and Tamerlane, etc.]. Nemat Sadat has provided a different analogy by which to make the case for how significant the Afghanistan war is for the world in general. Because his argument is so crucial I reproduce it entirely here. It is refreshing to read someone who has original things to say about a world that is changing fast and careening into the future rather than into the past. [The source page can be reached by clicking on the title above.] RLC

Why Afghanistan is the new post-Cold War Berlin

From the OhMyGov! website

By Nemat Sadat Oct 30 2009, 11:04 AM

Twenty years ago today, the fall of the Berlin Wall, brought German re-unification, revolutionary marches throughout Eastern Europe, and the Soviet Union's disintegration. While the war of ideas that shattered the Iron Curtain was waged in Europe, Afghans fought the bloody battle against communism and demoralized the Brezhnev doctrine.

The Afghan vs. Soviet proxy war paralyzed Afghanistan with a million dead, millions of displaced refugees, and countless millions disabled. As the Red Army withdrew forces, the U.S. in turn shifted its attention away from Afghanistan. Who would have imagined that sole remaining superpower would return to Afghanistan and find itself bogged down in a long military conflict? Or that this landlocked nation would become the new schwer punkt, the new focal or resistant point of the post-Cold war battle against terrorism - in short, the new Berlin.

When the Berlin Wall fell, many predicted market expansion into former Eastern bloc states, but few would have predicted the nexus of events converging on Afghanistan. The arms race between India and Pakistan resulting in nuclear testing, energy rich Central Asian states proclaiming independence. Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda network launching terrorist operations in Afghanistan. Iran's drive for nuclear enrichment, India and China's growing influence in Asia. And the re-emergence of a market-oriented Russian Federation. Landlocked Afghanistan, flanked by resource-rich and nuclear-armed neighbors transitioned as the center of gravity.

The anarchy in Afghanistan beginning in the post-Cold War created unmitigated desperation, and soon Afghanistan emerged as the world largest exporter of opium and refugees. In the vacuum of the chaotic fighting between mujahideen warlords, the Taliban rose to power. Sure enough, the Taliban brought security but with no semblance of civilization - no basic rights, no civic institutions, no functioning economy, no freedom of religion, and no recovery from war.

Plain and simple: No front is more important than Afghanistan where the stakes of descent into chaos poses a severe threat to the region and U.S. strategic interests. An Afghanistan or nuclear-armed Pakistan overrun by extremists endangers the entire world. The potential loss in human life and treasures from a nuclear strike is unquantifiable. I'm no economist by any means but I can assure you that nuclear fallout will be more than the $243 billion price tag on Afghanistan since 2001 and more than the $2 trillion cost of the September 11 attacks.

But misguided pundits have been sold on the tactical idea of Afghanistan as not worth the fight. Dismissing the necessary war as a 35-year civil war, or blindly making the Vietnam analogy ignores the facts. The Afghanistan War is the central front in a cross-border and global conflict. It is by no means a local war. How can the foreign intervention and militarization of Afghanistan during the Cold War, the rise of Islamic extremism that rose out of the ashes of the Afghan-Soviet War, and the 9/11 terrorist planning on Afghan soil that targeted the symbols of world commerce and U.S. national security murdering thousands en masse, only make it an Afghan conundrum?

Afghanistan has more in common with Cold War Berlin than it does with Vietnam. The Vietnam comparison of the Taliban insurgency and Al Qaeda neglects the fundamental difference that the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese never posed any direct threat to the U.S. homeland. The U.S. was able to strike a peace accord with the Vietnamese in Paris, but is it possible to negotiate with leaders Mullah Omar and other Taliban leaders whom we've labeled terrorists and targeted for the last eight years? Maybe, if we could only find them.

In the last decade, the Taliban's brand of Islamic doctrine has evolved to a transnational jihadi movement, bent on chasing out the international community out of the region and establishing a pan-Islamic state. That would certainly give Al Qaeda an unfettered safe haven. Allowing the Taliban to return to power would be an enormous victory for Al Qaeda's propaganda and Islamists around the world.

Battling terrorism with aerial bombings into the Afghan plains or in neighboring Pakistan is not going to address the issues that breed extremism and recruit the next generation of extremists. In western Europe, communism was "contained" with a Marshall Plan that rebuilt the continent. Addressing human rights issues and building the civil capacity of the region with a viable development plan will quell the insurgency. Sustainable peace is possible but it will take time for a new generation to transform the breeding ground of terror into a beacon of freedom.

In August 2008, while running for president, Barack Obama warned a Berlin crowd of 250,000 of the dangerous currents in Afghanistan. "For the people of Afghanistan, and for our shared security, the work must be done. The Afghan people need our troops and your troops; our support and your support to defeat the Taliban and al Qaeda, to develop their economy, and to help them rebuild their nation. We have too much at stake to turn back now," Obama said. Americans, with British and French allies, created a miracle in fortress Berlin and rescued a devastated Europe after World War II. Today with NATO's first mission outside of Europe, a UN mandate, a majority of Afghans' support, and nearly all the world powers supporting the U.S. led mission in Afghanistan, we have an opportunity to remake the world as the post-World War II generation did so a half century ago.

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