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BY BILL MEFFORD

September 8, 2019


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Perpetual occupation is neither moral nor strategically wise, but how we pull out troops is what matters now. 

This past week Trump tweeted out that secret talks set to take place between him and representatives of the Taliban were not going to happen and many Afghan people actually welcomed the breakdown of talks.

"But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere."
- James 3:17

I will never forget the exact moment when I was radicalized against the invasion of Afghanistan back in the early part of 2002. I was working in urban ministry and had taken some college students I was working with on a refugee simulation in Atlanta, GA. We were in the home of a refugee family from Afghanistan and the man was telling us his story of persecution from being a Christian in Afghanistan as we simultaneously watched the invasion on CNN. We all had assumed his persecution, from which he sustained injuries that kept him in constant pain, had taken place at the hands of the Taliban, but he vehemently stated no, his persecution was from the Mujahideen. The Mujahideen was Afghanistan’s government who was overthrown by the Taliban. Elements of the Mujahideen were at that time part of what was called the Northern Alliance whom the United States was working with to dethrone the Taliban. 

The students and I were all radicalized against the war that very day because we realized the Bush administration did not need military advisors as much as it needed anthropologists and historians. Afghanistan, like all nations, is steeped in history and complex cultures. The U.S. invasion and now subsequent 18 year-long occupation has resembled a one dimensional answer to a multi-dimensional challenge. This is why, in part, our Afghan policies have been a long and seemingly endless devastating nightmare. 

As much as our politics prefers 5-10 second policy soundbites for challenges like Afghanistan, the next steps needed to bring about peace for the Afghan people require nuance and patience. And can anyone with half a mind believe that the man currently in the White House has either of these qualities? 

This is exactly many in Afghan society, as described in the article above, are guardedly optimistic that Trump called off the secret negotiations with the Taliban, knowing that a deal with them could represent significant concessions to the Taliban. The entire world, besides the obligatory 40% polled in the United States, knows this man is entirely incapable of understanding nuance, much less complex history, culture, and international political calculations of achieving peace in one of the most war-torn countries in this generation. 

While many progressives have been against the invasion of Afghanistan from the very beginning, simply pulling out troops will not bring about peace at this stage. Most foreign policy experts see the presence of U.S. troops as leverage in current and future negotiations. Perpetual occupation is neither moral nor strategically wise, but how we pull out troops is what matters now. So, here are a few very general suggestions of the role that the U.S. can constructively play:

  • Ensure all voices are at the table for negotiations and not just secret talks between the U.S. and the Taliban. Many Afghans, even those who welcomed the U.S. invasion, are still, understandably, very leery of U.S. involvement in their country. Having more voices at the table, particularly those representing vulnerable groups like women and religious minorities, will ensure that any future government will protect the rights of all people and not just those with guns. 
  • Do due diligence with surrounding nations so that as the U.S. pulls out troops, there is an agreed-upon plan with Russia, China, Pakistan, and others that protects the peace process in Afghanistan and does not rush in to fill any preconceived vacuum of power. 
  • Make one of the goals an Afghanistan without any U.S. military presence at all. This would be radical considering the power of the lobbyists associated with the military industrial complex (MIC) and the amount of money made from this 18 year-long occupation -- because war pays handsomely. Billions are made by the MIC because the U.S. has military bases everywhere. But these military bases are not intended to bring peace, they are intended to make U.S. corporate interests money. Real peace in Afghanistan means no U.S. military presence and the metrics associated with military reductions must be tied to real protections in place for women and religious minorities as well as real political power. These are two of the most vulnerable groups in the country so the sole focus of any U.S. military presence, until they are pulled out entirely, must be the protection of women and religious minorities. 
  • Lastly, the U.S. government has far too often, particularly under this administration, been far too favorable to business interests and the interests of fundamentalist Christian nationalists. I have not seen anything associated with Afghanistan policy that favors either of these groups, but any strengthening of the Afghan economy will certainly go far to ensuring a secure peace. U.S. businesses can be a help to this process, but the focus must be on Afghanistan and not U.S. interests. And while Afghan Christians have been a vulnerable group in recent years, as attested by the refugee family in Atlanta I mentioned at the beginning, the last thing that Afghanistan needs is U.S. Christian fundamentalist missionary efforts. 

These are just a few suggestions that some policy experts are recommending. Again, this is going to be a very long and arduous process that requires patient leadership, a capability to understand complexity and nuance, and forward-thinking collaboration. And the only thing we know for sure right now is that we have someone in charge of the United States who has absolutely none of these characteristics. None at all. 

Pray! But also call your Representative and Senators and urge them to ensure that any peace process in Afghanistan should focus on protecting vulnerable groups in Afghanistan and that our aim is an entire pullout of U.S. military. 

God of peace, you promise to give us wisdom if we ask. We ask for someone who refuses to ask and who refuses to admit his own lack of wisdom. Protect the Afghan people and bring peace to your people in Afghanistan. 

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