The Afghan Tragedy Continues

Why do Afghans have a life expectancy of only 44 years?

According to the CIA World
Factbook, an Afghan's life expectancy is merely 44 years.

That's 20 to 30 years less
than neighboring Pakistan and all other surrounding countries. It is
just one result of the ongoing devastation in that country.

The war in Afghanistan did
not start in 2001 with the US invasion. It began 30 years ago in December
1979, when the former Soviet Union invaded the country. The human toll
of the conflict is staggering: more than a million Afghans have been
killed and 3 million maimed

Five million (one third of
the pre-war population) were forced to leave their country and became
refugees. There are still 3.1 million Afghan refugees today, making
up 27 per cent of the global refugee population. Most of them live in
Pakistan. Another two million Afghans were displaced within the country.
In the 1980s, one out of two refugees in the world was an Afghan.

Most Afghans alive today have
seen nothing but war.

Daily life in Afghanistan is
miserable. Only six percent have electricity in a country which gets
as cold as Chicago in winter. Even in Kabul, the country's capital,
electricity comes for only a few hours a day. Traditional wood heating
is difficult since not much wood is left in Afghanistan after 30 years
of wars and forest devastation. Over 1,000 people died because of cold
weather last year.

"About two million state
school students do not have access to safe drinking water and about
75 percent of these schools in Afghanistan do not have safe sanitation
facilities", according to the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF).

There is no law and order in
most of Afghanistan. Government barely exists in Kabul. Former warlords
are the leaders. That is demonstrated by the fact that, "Afghanistan
is the world's largest cultivator and supplier of opium (93 percent
of the global opiates market). According to the Afghanistan Opium Survey
2008 by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime." A British daily paper actually reported
that "the four largest players in the heroin business are all senior
members of the Afghan government."

The Taliban, which has lost
its legitimacy due to its brutality, are sometimes remembered by Afghans
as those who brought peace to Afghanistan.
Women continue to be the number one victims of the country's 30 years
of warfare. According to Malalai Joya, an elected member of the Afghan
Parliament and outspoken critic of warlords and war criminals in the
government, "the propaganda to the world about liberating Afghanistan
and women and fighting against terrorists are lies." In her speech
accepting a human rights award in London, she said:

Our nation is still living
under the shadow of war, crimes and brutalities of the fundamentalists,
and women are the primary and silent sacrifice of this situation. Justice
doesn't exist in Afghanistan. Every sector of life in Afghanistan today
is a tragedy, from women's rights to security, law and order and domination
of a drug mafia.

Almost two generations of Afghan
children have grown up seeing nothing but war, bombing, homelessness
and hunger. They are an easy target for those who want to play Afghans
against each other, through money, drugs and guns.

Afghanistan was almost self-sufficient
in food before the Soviet invasion in 1979. The leftist government had
instituted many economic and social reforms. But the Soviets went in
for the bait set up by the US to take revenge for the Vietnam War, as
bragged about by Zbigniew Brzezinski, former US President Jimmy Carter's
National Security Advisor. That was the beginning of the Afghan
tragedy 30 years ago. Since then, the country has not seen a day of
peace except for the brief brutal peace of Taliban era.

America trained, financed and
equipped Afghan refugees to become Mujahideen to kill the Communist
Soviets. Along the way, we created a cadre of fighters, including Osama
bin Laden. Then, we supported and financed the Taliban and now we are
trying to kill them as well.

In seven years of US occupation
of Afghanistan, the government of Hamid Karzai and American influence
have remained limited to Kabul and a few other smaller areas. Now it
is not just the Americans, NATO and Pakistan which are playing their
cards, but India, Russia and Iran also have increased embassy staff
and active participation in carving a realm of power in Afghanistan.

If the British Empire in the
19th century could not succeed in occupying Afghanistan despite close
to a century of war on and off, and the Soviets failed to do the same
during the twentieth century, we cannot win either. Isn't it about time
that we Americans in the 21st century rethink the "good war" in Afghanistan?
After seven years of going nowhere, it is surely time for a new strategy.

Consider this: if the Soviets,
with 120,000 troops at any given time (500,000 total) could not do it,
how can we with only 60,000? An increase of 20,000 to 30,000 American
soldiers is unlikely to achieve military defeat.

And the Soviet Union was just
across the border from Afghanistan, not tens of thousands of miles away
as America is.

In Iraq which is half of the
size of Afghanistan, the U.S. had more than 150,000 troops plus 190,000
contractors, killing one million people and destroying the whole infrastructure
of the country.

Afghanistan has 16 percent
more people than Iraq. It has a far more challenging military environment
because two-thirds of Afghanistan is mountainous terrain suitable for
guerrilla warfare unlike the flat plains of Iraq.

Most Afghans have been raised
accustomed to war and hardship during the last three decades, unlike
the comparatively more urbanized Iraqis.

That is the reason the outgoing
commander of NATO-ISAF, General Dan McNeill, publicly requested anywhere
between 100,000 and 400,000 more troops for the fight in Afghanistan.

President Obama has been right
to pursue diplomacy with countries like Iran and for extending a hand
to the Muslim world. However, he is dangerously wrong for pursuing the
military path in Afghanistan. It is one that will only exacerbate terrorism,
as well as further destroy a nation crippled by thirty years of war.
It will lead to the deaths of more American soldiers. And I have no
doubt that it will further lower the life expectancy of Afghans, those
who continue to suffer the most.

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