Past Edition 53- May 2009 thomas Terrio's view from the West
Edition 53-May 1, 2009


West must re-evaluate role in Afghanistan
Cost of fighting Islamic extremists estimated in the trillions
By Thomas Terrio

Since September 11, 2001, Western powers under the umbrella of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the International Security and Assistance Force, have become ensnared in a no-win situation in the failed state of Afghanistan.

NATO commands the ISAF in Afghanistan under the mandate provided by the UN Security Council. Since the American invasion and pursuit of Usama bin Laden, the Taliban and al Qaida have been forced out of Afghanistan into Pakistan, where they have re-established themselves in the ungovernable Federally Administered Tribal Areas to continue the fight against the Western powers by crossing back and forth from Pakistan to Afghanistan with the help of Pakistan’s secret police, the ISI.

In his book titled “Descent into Chaos: The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia,” Ahmed Rashid explains: “The reorganization of the Taliban in FATA enabled al Qaida to re-establish a base area and pursue its role in providing training and financing to its global affiliates. Pakistani groups such as Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Tayyaba provided a constant flow of foreign recruits and would-be suicide bombers, among them British Pakistanis” (Rashid 280).

In this article, I will discuss the negative aspects associated with the West’s mission in Afghanistan; secondly, why Afghanistan will never be a democracy like Canada or any other Western state; and finally, why it is in the best interest of the West to re-evaluate its present efforts and seek a new strategy to contain the Taliban and other terrorist elements in the region.

Hamid Karzai meets with injured Afghan childAfghan President Hamid Karzai visits two-year-old Abu Zar, who was shot five times by Taliban militants in a March 2014 terrorist attack on the Kabul Serena Hotel in which he lost his parents, brother, and sister.

Key negative aspects for the Western powers in Afghanistan
NATO itself and ISAF are divided on how to fight the war against al Qaida and the Taliban. The mistaken Iraqi invasion by the United States redirected monetary and military resources from fighting terrorism in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, where radical Muslim extremism known as Wahhabism was born and still flourishes.

Frontline fighting in Afghanistan is being done mostly by American, British and Canadian troops, while Germany, Spain and Italy have caveats or limits on their troops, sending them only into safe areas to offer foreign aid or policing. “The issue blew up on November 28, 2006 at NATO’s annual summit in Riga. George W. Bush, Tony Blair and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper demanded that all NATO countries give up their caveats and provide fighting troops. They demanded that Germany, Spain, and Italy, who jointly had seven thousand troops in Afghanistan, send troops to the front line in the south…German Chancellor Angela Merkel took the lead in declining ” (Rashid 371).

The Taliban use guerilla tactics against the West by not engaging NATO troops directly, but by making use of Improvised Explosive Devices or IEDs, to kill and maim Western soldiers in the hope to wear down Western resolve in continuing the fight against their insurgency.

Furthermore, NATO has been unable to eradicate the massive opium trade in Afghanistan established by Afghan warlords, which has funded the Taliban and al Qaida since the beginning of the invasion. In the first few weeks of the American invasion, the CIA sent emissaries with suitcases filled with millions of dollars for warlords, now considered US allies, which allowed them to “build huge houses in Kabul and the Panjsher Valley after the war (invasion), set themselves up in business as suppliers of goods and local manpower to US bases, ply the drug trade, and play the regions currency markets” (Rashid 64).

The CIA, who supported the drug trade in Afghanistan during the Russian invasion of the late 1980’s, has successfully made efforts to stop any attempts by the US military to eradicate the present trade. In response to CIA pressure, the US military has given-up any idea of enforcement in the opium trade in Afghanistan. As a result, the money to the Taliban keeps flowing and it is more profitable for local farmers to grow poppy plants for opium, than any other crop.

Why Afghanistan will never be a Western style democracy
Since the invasion of 2001, the governments of United States, Canada, and Britain have made efforts to bring western style democratic principles to Afghanistan by the use of free elections, the modernization of socio-economic institutions, along with encouraging more rights and freedoms for women.

However, in a giant step backwards, the government of Hamid Karzai in February 2009, to the surprise of most western nations, passed into law new legislation to appease the Shia minority in Afghanistan, further advancing the subjugation of women. The new law allows rape by the husband and severely restricts a woman’s movement without the permission of her husband, father, or elder brother (Canadian Press April 1, 2009).

In my view, it is wrong for leaders in the West to believe Afghanistan or any other Muslim state will ever have democracy as we know it in Canada and the US, with equality for women, the separation of church and state, and the rule of law. Muslim religious theocracies can never be full-fledged democracies, because in order to do that they must completely abandon Shari‘a law, which in most cases has become institutionalized.

Neither will they abandon their Islamic fundamentalist educational system, which teaches Wahhabism, a particularly strict form of Islam taught in Muslim madrassas that began in Saudi Arabia. In a recent statement released in December 2008, Usama bin Laden warned Sunni Muslims not to take up arms against al Qaida because he said, "The most evil of the traitors are those who trade away their religion for the sake of their mortal life” (Time World).

Sharing the idea of democracy is a good thing, but expecting religious theocracies to follow the democratic principles of the West, is expecting them to substitute what they believe are the laws of God with the laws of man. This will never happen. Islamic religious doctrine does not allow for democracy or the freedom to make one’s own choices, but only a blind obedience to God.

According to Princeton Professor Emeritus of Near Eastern Studies Bernard Lewis, democracy is at a disadvantage when it comes to dealing with radical Islamic fundamentalists. Democratic principles demand that Muslims receive equal rights and freedoms just like any other group until they, the Muslims, seize power and the true nature of Islamic doctrine is established. Lewis says, “The Islamists, when in power, are under no such obligation (to practice democratic principles). On the contrary, their principles require them to suppress what they see as impious and subversive activities. For Islamists, democracy, expressing the will of the people, is the road to power, but it is a one-way road, on which there is no return, no rejection of the sovereignty of God, as exercised through His chosen representatives. Their electoral policy has been classically summarized as ‘“One man (men only), one vote, once ”’ (Lewis111-112).

In other words, why should the West help establish an Islamic dictatorship because of its long-standing democratic history? Once Islamic fundamentalists seize power, like the Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran, they will eliminate any established democracy and replace it with Shari‘a law.

Why the West must re-evaluate its present policies in Afghanistan
It is obvious the West has failed in nation building in both Afghanistan and Iraq. The main reasons the West should re-evaluate its present policies in Afghanistan is because of radical fundamentalist thought and the capacity for NATO to work together as one cohesive fighting force. Furthermore, the price is too high to establish democracies in countries not fully prepared to embrace it. Rashid says, “According to one estimate, the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will eventually reach US $3 trillion. In 2008 Iraq cost US $12.5 billion a month and Afghanistan US $3.5 billion a month. That is already double the cost of the Korean War and costlier than the twelve-year-long Vietnam War. Today’s wars have been financed almost entirely by borrowing, with no new taxes being raised. As a consequence, Americans for generations will be paying off these debts. Meanwhile, Al Qaida continues to expand and there is a danger that one day it will wreak havoc in the West” (Rashid 402).

Leadership in the West, initially led by former American president George W. Bush, has been a disaster with accusations of torture and the killing of innocent Afghan civilians caught in the middle of a war zone; plus a policy that has no end of the war in sight. “In 2008 there were 2,100 civilian casualties, a 30% increase on the previous year. Although 55% of civilian deaths were caused by militants, there are serious concerns about fatalities caused by air strikes from pro-government forces, which increased by 70% to 552” (CARE International UK).

If the United States had originally done what the British did in the Falklands War of the 1980’s, go into Afghanistan with a full military force, and in a few weeks capture or kill Usama bin Laden, then withdraw all forces, the world would be a different place today. This is simply a lack of leadership, not a lack of military prowess.

NATO and the West will need to form new alliances with local regional powers such as China, Russia and India. Most certainly, China, Russia and India, who are also threatened by Islamic extremism, have a vested interest in defeating groups like the Taliban and al Qaida. Why should the West shoulder this burden alone? After all, radical Islamic extremism is a global threat. China has approximately 300 million Muslims, Russia 28 million, and India 152 million as compared to Canada’s 670,000 Muslims and 1.8 million in the United States of America (CIA World Factbook).

Indeed, the West must begin to focus its attention on countries like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. These two countries alone are the hotbed of Islam. The West must withhold foreign aid until it witnesses real results and political change. As it stands now, the West is crassly supporting both sides by supplying money to warlords in Afghanistan and military aid to the government of Pakistan.

Most certainly, the West is divided in its approach to solving the Afghan problem. By placing caveats on their military presence in Afghanistan like Germany, Italy and Spain have done, clearly signals some NATO members are not fully committed to fighting terrorism at this level.

Furthermore, no matter what democratic principles are established in Afghanistan, in my view, the country will eventually revert back to its former self. Eventually, the cost to the West will amount into the trillions of dollars if they continue down the same path militarily and politically.

Moreover, it is in the best interests of China, India and Russia to help the Western powers contain the spread of Islamic fundamentalism, because sooner or later they themselves will fall victim to the violence of Islamic extremists, which the world witnessed in the recent Mumbai attacks. In the end, it will be the Afghan people themselves who decide which political road their country will travel down in the future, and this my friends is where there is no hope, because the Afghan people have no say in their future thanks to Afghanistan's religious theocracy and Taliban renegades.

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