The War in Afghanistan Will Go On Without Us

The War in Afghanistan Will Go On Without Us

Posted on February 28 by admin
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Today’s guest blog post is from Michael Petrou, author of Is This Your First War? Michael tells what the West needs to know about the Middle East as we move forward and seek peace for the area. Michael Petrou, an award-winning senior writer at Maclean’s, has covered wars and conflicts across Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia. He is the author of Renegades: Canadians in the Spanish Civil War, and holds a doctorate in modern history from the University of Oxford. Petrou lives in Ottawa.

Michael Petrou:

“A decade of war is now ending,” U.S. President Barack Obama told Americans in his inauguration address in January.  It isn’t, of course. What he meant is that America is leaving places where wars rage. Obama acknowledged as much during his State of the Union address a few weeks later when he amended the talking point to say: “By the end of next year, our war in Afghanistan will be over.”

The President’s myopia is not unique. Many in the West speak of war in Afghanistan as something that began with an invasion by America and its allies shortly after 9/11 and will end when we finally realize the folly of our intervention and leave.

I was in Afghanistan in October 2001. It was clearly a war zone, full of the maimed, orphaned, and homeless. As a journalist, I had come because of the attacks on America. Wandering through a refugee camp one day I asked an elderly man to whom everyone seemed to defer about them. He had no idea what I was talking about. His suffering as a result of the Taliban’s war on Afghanistan predated al-Qaeda’s assault on New York.

I returned to Afghanistan a decade later. Citizens of Western countries that had spent much of the previous ten years in Afghanistan were tired of the place. They wanted leave, to end the war. Efforts — still ongoing — were underway to strike some sort of deal with the Taliban.

But many Afghans who had fought the Taliban before we arrived in their country, and who will have to live with them once we go, were cynical about the sort of peace a deal might bring.

Massoud Khalili is an Afghan diplomat whose body was filled with shrapnel when al-Qaeda agents murdered the anti-Taliban leader Ahmed Shah Massoud in northern Afghanistan two days before 9/11. In 2011, I dined with him in his home outside Kabul and talked about the sort of compromises the Taliban might demand to stop fighting.

“Some things are so principled that you cannot make a deal on: human rights, rights of women, education,” he said. “You bring peace to Afghanistan like that, with no media, no freedom, it’s like peace in a graveyard. Stability in a graveyard is good for dead people.”

Another anti-Taliban activist, parliamentarian Fawzia Koofi, told me Afghans unwilling to accept a deal with the Taliban that would make such compromises may return to the hills and to armed struggle. A peace acceptable to Washington, in other words, might not wash in Panjshir and Badakshan.

Such voices aren’t often heard in Western discussions of Afghanistan. We forget the war there is bigger than us, and that as costly as the conflict as been for Canada, America, Britain, and other countries fighting it, the stakes are much higher for Afghans. We’re leaving the war. It’s not ending.