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by John Brian Shannon | December 4, 2002
How our allies ‘the Mujahadeen’ were so incompetently managed that they eventually became Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and other groups bent on wreaking havoc on western civilization.
It’s so easy to defer blame, to assume we are not at fault. There must be some reason our former partners against the Soviets turned against us — to such a degree they now seek the destruction of western society. It’s time to admit that our sudden desertion of the Afghan people at the close of the Soviet/Afghanistan War makes us culpable. In so doing, we helped to bring terrorism on ourselves.
The Afghanistan War was a real war, a fact which is lost on some westerners. In the proxy war that was the Afghan conflict from 1979 to 1989, thousands of Afghani ‘freedom fighters’ or ‘Mujahadeen’ bravely fought the behemoth Soviet Army during extreme weather conditions in a brutal guerrilla war, with little more than blood, sweat, and profound determination.
Yes, Americans, Pakistanis and others contributed food, third-rate rifles and other weapons to the Afghans who were forced to fight an invading Soviet Army, but who really wanted nothing more than to be left alone to live in peace with their families. Yet many of those same families and their homes would suddenly cease to exist after a strike from a Soviet helicopter. So fight they did.
The moment the former Soviet Union announced it was pulling out of Afghanistan, allies of the Mujahadeen, (the U.S., Pakistan, the U.K. and others) abruptly dropped all funding including; food aid/medicine/supplies — leaving the country and its people in a truly desperate situation. The Mujahadeen valiantly and fiercely ejected the Soviet Army from Afghanistan and after using them for our purposes, we just up and left them to a country ravaged by years of war with tons of unexploded ordinance scattered about and unmarked minefields to get maimed in and (we now know that up to) 500,000 people starved to death initially, and we just let it happen.
Almost as many Afghans died from hunger, disease and dislocation after abandonment, as from bullets or missiles fired by the Soviet’s in ten years of war.
‘Your reward for humiliating our sworn enemy is a destroyed country, shattered economy, non-existent infrastructure and a decimated society.’
Could this be why such groups as the Taliban and Al Qaeda formed in Afghanistan? As sure as night follows day, anyone could have seen this coming. It took 12 years, but Osama bin Laden delivered the bill for this appalling treatment of an ally.
Put yourself and your own family in their shoes, if you can. What, a little revenge, maybe? A little rubbing their nose in it? What would you do if your allies suddenly abandoned your families to starvation and disease after you had fought bravely for ten hard years?
A lot of politicians who should have known better, were asleep at the switch on this one.
What should have been done
Imagine if the Mujahadeen had been treated differently by the U.S. at the war’s end. For example;
- Each Mujahadeen (fortunate to still be alive after ten years or war) paid $10,000. U.S. dollars, as a (token) thank-you for playing their part in repeatedly embarrassing, humiliating and then defeating the Soviet Army (archenemy of the U.S.) over a gruelling ten-year period. This is the same Soviet Army which then had nuclear missiles aimed at every city in North America and Europe.
- War hero Mujahadeen given a free round-trip and official tour of the Statue of Liberty, the White House, shopping malls, middle class suburbs and U.S. military parade, complete with marching band and fighter jets swooping overhead – dipping their wings in a ‘thank-you’ salute. What an opportunity to showcase all that America, democracy, and the free enterprise system had to offer! Mujahadeen returning home from such a tour would have been the best ambassadors in America’s history. You couldn’t have bought better P.R. in the Islamic world, if you were throwing GOLD BARS into their streets! Instead of the deafening chants of “DEATH TO AMERICA!” to which we have become accustomed since that time, imagine shouts of “WE LOVE AMERICA!” resounding throughout the Muslim world. Democracy in the Middle East would have started in… Afghanistan, of all places! Two-thirds of the Middle East we know today could have been democratic by now – from a single act of visionary thinking.
- Training from the Americans on how to detect and safely remove land mines. For each land mine ‘turned in’ to a local depot set up for that purpose, say $20.00 U.S. This hypothetical program — even though costing a certain amount of money – would have employed a number of Afghan people and would have cost less than the U.S. Army specialists doing the same job there now.
- Helping the Afghan economy in other ways, such as placing small Ford or Sony assembly plants in both Kandahar and Kabul. It wouldn’t have taken much. Just enough to allow people enough to work and live, instead of being forced to beg for the charity which never came. Wages there were among the lowest in the world, American and European corporations would have benefited just as much as the Afghan people. The leaders of the western world would have laid the groundwork for a very different and better path than the one we are now on.
- Leadership, direction and surplus arms to the Mujahadeen and instruction on how to transform their force into a small but efficient, combined army/police force to defend the country. Yes, these things would have cost some money, but not the price we are currently paying! Now we are back, trying to undo the original bad management and it has cost us 1000 times more in lives, dollars and heartbreak than if we had acted honourably back then.
For a relatively small investment and some political will, think of what we COULD HAVE HAD:
a. Political goodwill in a part of the world where the U.S. and the west generally lacks it.
b. A serious start to democracy in the Middle East, which some 13 years later, would have spread beyond the boundaries of Afghanistan if properly managed and overseen.
c. A stable Afghanistan where terrorist groups couldn’t have gained a foothold to launch attacks.
d. A real nation-state and valued member of the international community — not a failed state.
Think of what we WOULD HAVE MISSED:
- The ‘War on Terror’
- The financial and human costs associated with terror
An appalling lack of vision, a dearth of leadership, callousness, short-sightedness, and abandoned responsibilities — illustrates what has motivated terrorists and shows why we are back in Afghanistan and why we are back in Iraq.
Originally published in the Christian Science Monitor — December, 2002 (later pulled from publication)
Also published in Le Monde Diplomatique — January, 2003 (published as an article, then pulled and republished as a comment, then the comment was pulled from publication)
Also published at the Middle East Times (Claude Salhani – editor) but the MET was bought by the New York Times and closed down, and subsequently became The New York Times Middle East Edition
This is an updated version of that original article.