What next for Afghanistan?
How do we safeguard our Afghan allies as well as protecting our own interests in the region?
KABUL, AFGHANISTAN -- Eleven years after 9/11, Afghanistan's fate remains uncertain. The impending US and NATO departure by 2014 has escalated fears among our Afghan allies to search for their own exit strategy. People are lining up at passport offices, scrambling to sell their possessions, and transferring their money abroad.
For Afghans unable or unwilling to flee, the fear of Taliban reprisals and the unforgotten memories of civil war consume their minds.
What set this terrifying escape frenzy in motion was last year's announcement by President Barack Obama to withdraw troops from Afghanistan. For the Taliban, the drawdown signaled admission of US defeat which resulted in the cessation of multilateral peace negotiations.
The Taliban and rogue warlords like Gubuddin Hekmatyar figure their strategy of stalling time will yield best results; they’ve also demonstrated their reluctance to enter a power-sharing agreement.
A "Progressive" Taliban
Some argue the Taliban have evolved since the time they ruled Afghanistan. While they may be using cell phones and the Internet today, they still reject liberty and modernity. The Taliban's approach to governance is a threat to Afghan civil society and the world.
Let's not misjudge their intentions. The Taliban gets its support from radical Islamists who denigrate women, consider the Sharia the supreme law, and treat madrassas as their only source of learning.
Since the Taliban is an offshoot of ultra-conservative Sunni Pashtuns who have demonstrated their ethnic extremism, they will continue to resort to the mass killings of Shias, Sufis, and even liberal Sunnis. They'll target Hazaras,Tajiks, and Uzbeks for supporting the West. The US will not be forgiven if we abandoned Afghans as we did before in 1989 after the Soviet withdrawal when Afghanistan fell off our radar.
A Rescue Plan
Afghans have suffered a huge toll in exchange for military bases to hunt down al Qaeda. Unfortunately, only a tiny fraction of Afghanistan's 30 million people will be able resettle to the US. The Afghan Allied Protection Act passed in 2009 will permit up to 1,500 Afghans annually who have worked with the Americans to receive a US immigrant visa.
Some activists are pressing for a large-scale relocation of Afghan professionals. This is no long-term fix. In fact, it will produce another wave of "braindrain" that began in the 1970s and continued through the 1990s which enabled armed militants to jockey for power and escalate the war. Besides, it's unrealistic to vacate all Afghans who have collaborated with us at a time when immigration today is a thorny issue in both US and Europe.
The tragedy is that even if professionals do flee Afghanistan, the Taliban, or worse a narco-mafia-terror nexus, will take over and brutalize the very people who have embraced democracy and provided us the intelligence and logistical support to execute the War on Terror.
History Repeats Itself
Despite the fact that Afghanistan remains contested territory, Afghans have demonstrated their loyalty to the US. During the apex of the Cold War in the1980s it was the Afghan mujahedeen who expelled communism from Afghanistan and in 2001 we relied on the Northern Alliance to topple the Taliban.
Yet, as the way things look now, the conditions appear ripe for the Taliban to regain control of Afghanistan or worse ignite another round of civil war.
A Way Forward
Much can happen to prevent this worst case scenario. Last May, the US and Afghanistan signed a bilateral agreement that may offer the solution to a post-2014 security partnership. The treaty passed by US Congress, signed by Presidents Barack Obama and Hamid Karzai, and approved by the Afghan Parliament, calls for a bilateral cooperation between Afghanistan and the US for ten years ending in 2024.
The security partnership does buy time to establish a durable peace in Afghanistan. For the past decade, we've focused on fighting Al Qaeda and conducting counter-insurgency against the Taliban.
Going forward, the most enduring plan to secure Afghanistan's future is to empower civil society and a political class of Afghans who are prepared to fight corruption, maintain security, and enforce the rule of law as they have historically proven to be victorious warriors.
We must equip Afghans with the necessary resources to organize a functioning state that can fairly and properly dispense order and justice and overpower the Taliban. It's really the least we can do to safeguard our Afghan allies for the long-haul and protect US interests in the region.
Nemat Sadat is Professor of Political Science at the American University of Afghanistan. He is an American of native Afghan origin who now lives in Kabul. You can follow him on Twitter @nematsadat
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