Shared lessons from Afghanistan and Iraq

Print More

(Host) Commentator David Moats joins us today with some thoughts on a recent conversation with a visitor from Afghanistan.

(Moats) I was talking with a man from Afghanistan, and his story seemed to encapsulate the story of his country. I was thinking of this because the Afghan story contains some warnings about what is happening now in Iraq.

For one thing, the chaos that followed the departure of the Soviet army from Afghanistan prompted the formation of a coalition government, put together by well-meaning United Nations and American negotiators. As soon as this government was appointed, the country promptly fell apart.

As for Abdullah, the Afghan doctor with whom I was speaking, he had been a young man, enjoying a decent life as part of a well-to-do family from the same tribe as the king. This was in the 1970s.

But then the communists took over, and they thought they would remake their country the way Stalin had remade the Soviet Union. One way they imitated Stalin was by imprisoning and executing thousands of people.

They arrested Abdullah mainly because of his family ties, and he languished for months in jail, listening each night as they took fellow prisoners away to be shot. He survived.

After the Soviets invaded, he was released from prison and promptly made his way to safety in Pakistan. Safety may not be the right word. He joined the resistance and used his skills as a doctor to help the rebels in Afghanistan.

He was linked to a rebel group associated with the royal family and led by an influential Sufi leader. Sufis are Islamic mystics, and while armed insurrection might not be exactly a mystical exercise, this group could be distinguished from the Islamic fundamentalists who were getting most of the money and guns from the United States.

Eventually, Abdullah made it to New Jersey, along with his wife and daughters. The Islamic fundamentalists armed by the United States succeeded in tearing the country apart, leading, as we know, to the Taliban, and Osama bin Laden
and our present state of affairs.

But here’s where the story comes full circle. Following the demise of the Taliban, the United States needed to create a measure of stability in Afghanistan, and the government that took power has drawn on many of the educated Afghans who fled years ago, including the elite associated with the royal family, people like Abdullah.

Abdullah has been going back and forth, working with a group providing training for orphans. There are a lot of orphans.

The lesson for Iraq is this: It’s easy to destroy a country. In Afghanistan, revolution and war shattered a state that was weak to begin with. There was little coherent about what was left, and the Taliban filled the vacuum.

The United States is trying to build something coherent in Iraq. The departure of Saddam Hussein left a lot of broken pieces behind. The institutions of civil society and the wealth of Iraq give it advantages Afghanistan didn’t have. So maybe there’s reason to hope that out of the ashes some kind of peaceful solution will emerge.

As for Abdullah, there is a kind of sad and distant look that comes into his eyes as he talks about the past. But now there’s also hope. That is something all of us can use.

This is David Moats from Middlebury.

David Moats is the editorial page editor for the Rutland Herald and winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. He spoke from studios at Middlebury College.

Comments are closed.