Stanislav Ivanov

Will a Working Group on Afghanistan Be a Panacea for Disaster?

An article by the
Afghan American Khalil Nouri is very timely. Apparently, the United States is finally realizing that it has become bogged down in Afghanistan, that there is no military solution to the Afghan problem and can be none, and that it needs to look for other, alternative political and peaceful means of extracting itself from the "Afghan deadlock." I would like to highlight the most important message of Nouri's article: the call to establish an Afghanistan-Pakistan Working Group.

We can only welcome Virginia Congressman Frank Wolf's proposal to establish a working group to study the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan. That call is supported by 10 other members of Congress from both parties. The very idea of linking events in Afghanistan and Pakistan and subjecting them to a full analysis is deserving of every support, despite the objective and subjective differences between the problems in those two states. (Pakistan is an established country with nuclear weapons in an unstable military-political and socioeconomic condition, while Afghanistan is still in transition from the chaos of a multiyear civil war to the attainment of internal political unity, establishment of a civil society and reconstruction of the state.) Islamist extremist groups and terrorists of all stripes long ago transformed the remote areas of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border into their logistic base and training ground for militants. According to the most approximate estimates, there are more than fifteen thousand theological elementary schools (madrassas) in the region. That estimate is based on the many Afghan refugee camps remaining since the Soviet presence in Afghanistan. These madrassas give Afghan youths a primitive Islamic education. A significant number of graduates from the madrassas will join the ranks of the Taliban opposition movement, al-Qaeda and various other extremist and terrorist groups. Suicide bombers sent to carry out attacks both in Afghanistan and Pakistan and in other countries are also recruited here. The geography of the crimes committed by the forces of international terrorism is familiar to all and is extremely broad. Therefore, only a comprehensive approach to imposing rudimentary order on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border could have a positive impact on reducing the level of the terrorist threat there.

The Congressmen will consider Nouri's proposal to add Afghan and Pakistani immigrants to the Congressional working group, but many of these citizens have been away from their countries for a long time and their recommendations are unlikely to be relevant and useful. It would make more sense to listen to Afghans who are directly involved in building the new Afghanistan and defending it, and to seek out the views of the broadest possible spectrum of people (from the government, the opposition, Pashtun leaders, Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras, members of the Northern Alliance, etc.). They could contact Afghans living in Europe, Russia and other countries, as well as ex-politicians and members of the former Soviet military who took part in the hostilities in Afghanistan and withdrew troops from there. Russian parliamentarians could also prove invaluable in helping their colleagues in the United States adjust their Afghanistan and Pakistan policy.

If Congress forms this working group, it would also be useful to establish information and expert collaboration with representatives of international and regional organizations (the UN, EU, Arab League, CIS, CSTO, SCO, EurAsEC and GUAM, among others), and with concerned countries (Russia, Turkey, Iran, Central Asian countries, China and India).

It is already apparent to the "naked eye" that the reliance by the United States and its Western allies on military methods to resolve problems in Iraq and Afghanistan has been a failure, as has their attempt to impose their own Western models, standards of democracy and puppet regimes that have become mired in corruption and ties to the drug trade and that do not enjoy the standing they need with the general population The Soviet Union made the same mistakes in its time: to some extent, America's Hamid Karzai is a repetition of the Soviet Union's Babrak Karmal. It is time to give the Afghans and the Iraqis themselves the chance to choose for themselves truly reputable leaders and to deal with the issues that remain in their domestic and foreign policies. Only consideration for the interests of all Afghans and a coalition government could unite society and revive the state in multi-ethnic Afghanistan with its numerous tribes. Practice has shown that even a militarily and economically powerful state like the United States, either acting alone or in concert with its Western allies, could not "export democracy" and stabilize the situation in Afghanistan and Iraq to any appreciable extent.

The time has come for the military operation conducted by the United States and the coalition of its allies in Afghanistan to be transformed into a genuine peacekeeping operation under UN auspices as soon as possible. Then it would not just be a US Congressional working group studying the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but the entire expert community of the countries belonging to the UN would be involved. Of course, the young Afghan state will need foreign aid, primarily military, financial and economic aid, for a long time to come. Several generations of Afghans have grown up in poverty and war, and it will take decades and patience to restore them to a life of peace. The country also needs universities, schools, hospitals, mosques, factories, pipelines, highways, bridges, tunnels, conditions conducive to the revival of traditional agriculture, etc. A significant number of countries and social organizations are already participating in large-scale projects to rebuild Afghanistan. Targeted aid to assist Afghans and Pakistanis in overcoming their age-old backwardness and the consequences of many years of civil war and natural disasters must be intensified for the sake of the entire international community, and an environment conducive to reviving the region and integrating it into the modern civilized world must be created. Solving this problem could substantially decrease the international terrorist threat and drug trafficking from Afghanistan.

Stanislav Mikhailovich Ivanov holds a Candidate of Science (History) degree and is a Senior Fellow at the Center for International Security of the Institute of World Economy and International Relations of the Russian Academy of Sciences.