Written by: David Hollister
As a global superpower, the United States of America entertains almost unlimited authority and power in the majority of its political relationships. Its international exchanges with Afghanistan are no exception. The history of the United States’ foreign policy measures fall into four distinct periods: the years of Afghan self-governance from the end of World War II to the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union in 1979, the occupation by the Soviet Union until 1989, the period including the Afghan civil war and the rise of the Taliban until 2001, and the September 11, 2001 attacks to the present. Each time frame represents a significant shift in the United States’ approach to international relations in Afghanistan and centers on a specific American goal or desire. These interests include containing the influence of communism, accessing valuable crude oil and natural energy deposits, and combating Islamic fundamentalism. While the United States’ timeline of foreign policy in Afghanistan is complicated and inconsistent, the fact that relations have invariably been the interests of the U.S. have regularly driven connection seen periods.
Furthermore, the United States’ actions are justified and allowed by the American perception of Afghanistan and its population-based on its nomadic pastoral past, Islam, and the American media.
I. Post World War II Relations before the Soviet Invasion
With most Western Europe in shambles, the conclusion of World War II in 1945 brought a radical shift in global hegemony that placed the relatively unscathed United States as the premier economic and military power on the planet. The new superpower’s primary foreign policy procedures during the ensuing period focuses on maintaining this position and containing the spread of communist ideologies, which, represented by the rapidly rising Soviet Union, were deemed a threat to the American way of life.
With this nationalistic mindset, the United States first approached Afghanistan in the late fifties (Atwood 151-160).
Ideological Reasons for Presence in Afghanistan
To counter the already well established Soviet influence in Central and Southern Asian regions, “President Eisenhower visited Kabul on December 8, 1959, and assured the leadership in Kabul that the United States continues to assist Afghanistan in her development activities” and later encouraged them to “distance Afghanistan from the Soviet Union and normalize relations with Pakistan” (Jalalzai 167), then a U.S. ally and essential connection in Near and Southeast Asia.
The U.S. also engaged in seemingly humanitarian development projects to bribe the nonaligned country into submitting to allegiance. One of the most extensive of these projects was the Helmand River Project which sought to “yield a huge increase in agricultural production and spark industry through hydroelectric power” but eventually turned “into one of the earliest examples of the overambitious and underachieving foreign aid programs of the cold war era” (Wahab 116).
The Soviet Union, however, carried out similar projects in competition with the U.S. As a result, Washington’s efforts to protect its global dominance by preventing further expansion of the Russian empire were mixed, as “Afghanistan continued to engage in trade and to expand relations with both countries” (Runion 98). Afghanistan’s nonpartisanship eventually led to closer ties with the Soviet Union when it refused to join the Baghdad Pact, “part of the superpower [United States] ‘s anti-communist regime against the Soviet Union, . . . due to a lack of guaranteed protection in the case of a retaliatory Soviet attack” and, as a result, Afghanistan was denied military assistance from the U.S. that the Soviet Union happily provided in the form of “$25 million in military aid and supplies” (Runion 98); this signaled the first implications of the complexity of Afghan-U.S. relations in the years to come and staged the region for conflict between the two competing Cold War leaders.
Although the control of communist activities was significant in shaping the United States’ foreign policy in Afghanistan, the U.S. also had other interests.
Economic Benefits of U.S. Relations with Afghanistan
Because economic dominance was a significant factor in American hegemony during the Cold War, another reason that the United States sought to strengthen ties with Afghanistan was to open international markets for economic gain. According to some U.S. delegates, “many products such as automobile and truck tires, trucks and buses, agricultural machinery, commercial ice-making machinery, construction machinery and materials” (Jalalzai 67) had a significant market potential in Afghanistan.
Access to these markets gave the U.S. additional motivation to control the region and defined the competition between the Soviet Union and the United States as more than purely ideological. This proliferation of trade also showed the self-serving incentives of U.S. foreign involvement, in that Afghanistan did not feel the benefits of opening these markets. Unfortunately for the Afghan people, “economic development, modernization, and foreign aid did not improve the country’s standard of living but rather further indebted the country” (Jalalzai 168).
As the global demand and value of oil increased, the region’s crude oil reserves also caught American foreign policy. According to the then-Secretary of Defense, James Forrestal, “whoever sits on the valve of Middle East oil may control Europe’s destiny” (Atwood 163). These national interests would take the forefront in the development of America’s Afghanistan’s role during its invasion by the Soviet Union.
II. The Soviet Invasion (1979-1989)
The late 1970s represented a significant shift in the United States’ activity in Afghanistan that differed extensively from previous involvement and reflected the changes occurring in Washington’s priorities. At this time, the U.S. had sought to battle the close to the home threat of communism in Central America. Afghanistan’s military aid from the Soviet Union combined with the death of U.S. Ambassador Adolph Dubs in Afghanistan led to “neglect and lack of interest” on the part of the U.S. and the “recognition of Afghanistan as being in the Soviet sphere of influence” (Alexiev 2).
However, the Soviet Union soon saw its grasp on the country slip after the Pro-Soviet Government put in place during a coup in 1978 showed signs of becoming friendly with the U.S. In response, the Red Army invaded Afghanistan in December 1979. The U.S., “aware of the potentially disastrous geopolitical and strategic implications of the Soviet military thrust in this vital region, . . . declared the Persian Gulf region to be an area of vital interest to the United States” (Alexiev 7-8) and constructed efforts to ensure that U.S. status quo was not challenged (Jalalzai 174-178).
Gains for the United States in Supporting the Mujahidin in Afghanistan
The United States’ reaction to the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan and subsequent intervention explains it’s own pursuit of specific gains with very little concern for the welfare and later development of Afghanistan as an independent state. The first of America’s anxieties was predictably the access and control of Middle Eastern oil because, according to Jimmy Carter’s characterization of the invasion, “[t]here is no doubt that the Soviet’s move into Afghanistan, if done with adverse consequences, would have resulted in the temptation to move again until they reached warm water ports or until they acquired control over a major portion of the world’s oil supplies” (Jalalzai 175).
The fear of possibly losing the chance to control Afghanistan’s oil alone someday may have prompted the superpower to support the containment of the Russian forces in Afghanistan. Still, the U.S. was also in need of an ideological victory. “The humiliation of Vietnam was still fresh” (Loyn 149), and the United States government felt that it had to heal its damaged ego and disprove the mythology surrounding the inevitability of communism. Supporting the Islamic militant groups fighting against the Soviets in Afghanistan, the mujahidin, the U.S. speculated, could achieve these means by presenting the perfect opportunity to “give the USSR its Vietnam War” (Atwood 217) and gain U.S. ground in its vendetta against the Soviet Union.
Furthermore, the United States believed that Afghanistan’s vocal support would lead to favorable opinions of the U.S. in strategically important regions. “The U.S. administration exploited the Soviet invasion as a threat to the security of the Islamic nations and portrayed itself as the ‘natural ally’ of the Islamic world” (Jalalzai 176), hoping that this would lead such nations to “cooperate with American desires to tap central Asian oil” (Atwood 218). With these economic and megalomanic motives in mind, the United States strove to covertly undermine the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and perhaps emerge as the first superpower in Central and South Asia.
The United States’ Methods of Supporting the Mujahidin
In the early years of the invasion, U.S. support of the Afghan mujahidin was limited, cautious, and only marginally effective; this is because Washington was interested in “maintaining the spirit of détente” (Jalalzai 177) and did not want to confront the Soviet Union directly, which would risk nuclear war. Instead of upfront military opposition, the United States issued economic and symbolic aid to the group, including “the restriction of a shipment of 17 tons of grain into the Soviet Union, the immediate cessation of Soviet fishing in American waters, a broadcast to boycott the 1980 Moscow Olympics, and the announced delay of the second sanction of the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT)” (Runion 111).
The net result of this strategy was to pressure the Soviet Union, the U.S.’s real concern during the war. The movement away from focusing on economic and political influence in favor of military aid can be attributed almost solely to U.S. Congressman and member of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, Charlie Wilson. During a trip to Afghanistan, he was so impressed with the mujahidin that upon returning, he made possible the allocation of billions of dollars for their support and set in place the most massive CIA covert operation in history (Loyn 148-149).
Effectively, Charlie Wilson convinced the Government that the mujahidin were capable of standing up to the Soviet Union and worth U.S. investment. The majority of the money went to providing weapons that were untraceable to the U.S. via cooperation with the ISI, Pakistan’s secret service (Loyn 149), including “anti-air missiles . . . U.S.–made Stingers, and a smaller number of British blow-pipe missile” that “changed the nature of the war” (Alexiev 13-14).
While such extensive aid may seem generous, close investigation shows that the tactics used to arm the mujahidin had dangerous long-term effects and more readily suited the United States’ immediate demands than the eventual independence of the Afghan people. Washington’s need to be able to deny helping the mujahidin led to elaborate fronts for the transport of arms that “could not have been better designed for corruption: the CIA later calculated that 20 percent of the arms and funds destined for Afghanistan went astray” (Loyn 149); this led to the empowerment and funding of jihadist Afghan warlords who, after the war, would possess most of the country’s economic and military means.
The United States also conveniently ignored the fact that another primary source of funding for the mujahidin came from poppy cultivation and the opium trade that would later lead Afghanistan to become the world’s leading heroin supplier (Runion 125). Ironically, the United States’ backing of the mujahidin during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, although it was a major, and perhaps necessary element in the defeat of the Soviet Union in the country, and the hasty withdrawal of support after the war would create a backlash that would radically change the United States’ foreign policy and relationship with Afghanistan in the ensuing years.
III. Post Soviet Invasion and the Taliban Regime
Following the Soviet Union’s retreat from Afghanistan, fighting among the mujahidin plunged the nation into a civil war. The high powered weaponry and financial resources provided by the United States during the Soviet war were the same weapons the United States would see one day again. The U.S. “wiped its hands of all responsibility.” Instead of assisting Afghanistan in its reconstruction as an independent state, it “adopted a wait and saw approach, claiming that it does not support one faction over the other” (Jalalzai 182).
Thus, power shifted back and forth between the warring parties, and Afghanistan, sponsored by the opium trade that stray U.S. funds had helped finance, was characterized by corruption and human rights atrocities against women and the rest of the civilian population. Finally, the Taliban came to power in 1996. They seemingly stabilized the country to the United States’ initial relief, which would continue to promote the militaristic and oppressive regime so long as it coincided with American benefits (Runion 119-122).
The Benefits of the Taliban’s Rise to Power for the United States
The United States felt enormous economic and strategic advantages of Taliban rule in Afghanistan that, in the eyes of critical policymakers, were enough to outweigh any adverse effects from the support of the Taliban’s harsh and autocratic rule. The U.S. had “enthusiasm for stability in Afghanistan, no matter who was in government” that “derived from Afghanistan’s strategic importance in a new Great Game – not this time over empire but energy” (Loyn 191).
Once again, Washington’s primary concern was the region’s oil, cementing the desire to access Middle Eastern and Central Asian energy reserves as America’s only consistent point of foreign policy in the area. In response to the possibility of trading political stability for the Afghan people’s freedom, one U.S. diplomat stated, “We can live with that” (Loyn 191). The establishment of a firm power in Afghanistan was also crucial to the U.S. regarding reducing Iran’s relative strength, which represented a challenge to American dominance in the East.
To this end, the Taliban takeover was perfect, as “the Taliban did not share a language, religion, or culture with Iran” in contrast to the previous “Tajik-dominated” Government, which “shared the same language (Persian),” and Shiite Hazara groups, which “share the same language and religion,” that were also vying for power in Afghanistan (Jalalzai 180). The United States also supported Taliban control because it seemed that doing so would protect America’s existing interests and investments.
For example, “the Taliban professed a similar faith to Saudi Arabia, the United States’ largest oil supplier and largest arms dealer” (Loyn 191). As a result, the Government enjoyed backing from both countries.
Complications in the Social Reasoning for Supporting the Taliban
Perhaps Washington’s only unselfish reason for initially approving the Taliban was to cut down on the consumption of morphine and heroin in America and Europe. Opium trade flourished under the mujahidin, but the Taliban, initially, “vociferously opposed the opium trade as a violation of Islamic principle and promised to suppress it,” a promise that it was able to keep in the late 1990s after first making billions of dollars through poppy cultivation in its early years (Wahab 221-222). But even such a straight-forward goal as reducing global drug addiction was more complicated than may be perceived.
While “most of the $80 billion in profits [from opium trade] went, as always to criminal middlemen and corrupt officials all along the distribution route, . . . hundreds of thousands of impoverished Afghan farmers were able to live from their modest share of the take” (Wahab 222). In this sense, one may conclude that the United States simply found this solution to the international narcotics problem easier or more convenient than cracking down on local issues that could also diminish domestic drug use.
The relationship between the two countries was too complicated because while the U.S. had much to gain from Taliban rule, it faced criticism from the American people, who were widely opposed to the conditions the strict enforcement of Islamic law put in place; this was especially true in the Taliban’s treatment of women, as “the Taliban’s interpretation of Sharia (Islamic law), women wore the Afghan burqa at all times in public” and those “who were caught wearing nail polish, makeup, or even white socks under their burqas were punished by being covered in acid or beaten with cutting wire” (Runion 124).
Thus, cooperation with the Taliban government had to remain discreet and out of the public eye. While these concerns were not high enough for the United States to discontinue supportive foreign policy with the repressive regime, the U.S. would later cite them as reasons for the advancement into the next phase of the United States’ presence in Afghanistan: Operation Enduring Freedom.
IV. 9/11 and the United States’ Invasion of Afghanistan
On September 11, 2001, the World Trade Center buildings in New York and the Pentagon fell under attack by planes hijacked by Islamic radicals affiliated with the international terrorist group Al-Qaeda organized by Osama bin Laden the time was operating in Afghanistan. Since as early as 1992, Osama bin Laden, a recipient of CIA military training and funds during the Soviet invasion, was known as “one of the most significant financial sponsors of Islamic extremist activities in the world” (Loyn 197-198) and was later identified as the mastermind behind various other attacks against the United States.
After the Taliban government refused to turn bin Laden to the U.S. for international trial, these assaults served as the spark that initiated the invasion of Afghanistan by American forces to overthrow the Taliban and destabilize Al-Qaeda in the name of the freedom of the Afghani people, ushering in a new era of U.S.-Afghan relations. The actual motives behind Washington’s explosive retaliation during Operation Enduring Freedom, however, are questionable.
Once again, the extent to which the role of the well-being of Afghanistan plays in the superpower’s activities compared to its national interests (Bowker 83-85).
Ulterior Motives behind the United States’ War with Afghanistan
While the United States’ official purpose of the war on Afghanistan was retaliation against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban government that harbored them, many saw the invasion as seizing an opportunity to capture U.S. interests in the area. “Since at least the 1970s, after the shock caused by the Arab oil embargo, the most prominent American policy makers entertained fantasies of seizing Middle Eastern oil fields” (Atwood 217), and “the horrific nature of the on September 11 enabled the United States to mobilize widespread international support” (Jalalzai 187) that the U.S. used to become the single policymaker.
An examination of America’s activities related to oil and energy before the invasion supports the hypothesis that it has always had real intentions to tap the natural resources in the region finally. For example,
Even since before the Taliban came to power, the U.S. based company Unocal was negotiating with Afghan warlords to build a pipeline that would bring valuable natural gas from energy-rich Turkmenistan into American favored exporting countries such as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia via Afghanistan. Under the Taliban, these aspirations were close to being realized until Al-Qaeda’s attacks on U.S. embassies in Africa halted communications (Wahab 222-223).
The disestablishment of the Taliban once again created the possibility of constructing this highly lucrative pipeline that would ultimately favor the U.S. Additionally, after successfully overthrowing the Taliban, the United States’ influence in the reconstruction of Afghanistan similarly pointed to the conclusion that economic gain from natural energy was the operation’s only long term goal. In Afghanistan’s new Government, Washington “insisted on its candidate, Hamid Karzai, who had been a consultant to Unocal, to be Afghanistan’s president,” and “when Karzai took office, Bush appointed Zalmay Khalilzad, also a Unocal employee, as U.S. Ambassador” (Atwood 226); this would seem to indicate that America is setting up a “puppet government” in Afghanistan with strong business ties to the West to replace the Islamic fundamentalist government that represented a significant threat to the American culture. Of course, high ranking U.S. officials and others involved in the orchestration of Operation Enduring Freedom would deny these allegations and point out many other humanitarian-based justifications for the war.
Still, many of these can be discredited as only partially true, leaving self-gain as the primary motivator behind the invasion.
The Limitations of the Afghanistan War as Humanitarian
The United States Government sought to validate the war in Afghanistan. One way the Government fought to control the narrative of the war was through the American media. American media portrayed its Government’s actions as benefitting the greater good of the planet by standing up for the human rights, culture, and overall freedom of the Afghan people. At the forefront of this positive image was the campaign for women’s rights under Taliban rule, which was one of the reasons why the U.S. displaced Taliban rule.
However, “the cover-up [of women in burqas] began, even in Massoud’s kingdom, the Panjshir Valley, much earlier” and could not be attributed to the Taliban. The treatment of women in Saudi Arabia is equally repressive but has not elicited American military intervention, most likely because Saudi Arabia already allows the U.S. to access its oil supply (Loyn 203). Just as these contradictions in U.S. policy rarely saw daylight on cable news channels, the United States government also ignores that while Westerners may see a practice limiting to one’s freedom, the practitioners may see it as part of the culture; this is true in that even though “the Taliban were harsh and repressive,” they were still “only an extreme of the Afghan norm . . . and even the more extreme punishments demanded by Sharia law, including amputation for theft, were imposed a long time before the Taliban emerged, and in some areas under the control of the forces that had become U.S. allies” (Loyn 203).
When the United States did recognize culture, it cited its preservation, which was uncertain under the Taliban, as further grounds for entering Afghanistan. The main reason that this appeared a viable cause was the Taliban’s destruction of the giant, thousand-year-old Bamiyan Buddhas. “When Western donors appeared to care more about the Buddhas than a looming humanitarian crisis threatened by drought” (Jalalzai 189).
However, the preservation of such archeological sites as an important U.S. goal is doubtful, as the pillaging of archeological sites in Afghanistan started during the Soviet invasion to combat the stagnant economy, and, like America’s own role in promoting the destruction of the Buddhas, has mainly been ignored by the United States government. Another part of Afghanistan’s culture that the United States chose to forget or ignore was its rich and diverse tribal history; this is clear in the restructuring of the new Afghan Government, as even though the U.S. government “knew there were various tribes within the Pashtun, . . . there was a feeling it was not thought necessary to understand the tribal system”, and the tribal council, or Loya jirga, was restricted and put under a time constraint as to “not trail on for months in the Afghan way” (Loyn 204-205).
The result of omitting tribal structures from the new Government was not to promote freedom, as the United States would insist, but to westernize the country in an attempt to sever ties to Islam by which the U.S. felt threatened. With the various restrictions and new ways of self-governance imposed on them, the claim of increased freedom for the people of Afghanistan resulting from the American-led invasion is difficult to defend. This leads the sincerity and legitimacy of Washington’s said desire to “liberate” the people of Afghanistan to be called into question, especially when the Taliban “enjoyed majority support in many significant areas, . . . kept honest accounts and raised more customs in their last year than in the first year of U.S.-sponsored democracy in 2002” and, also, made it “possible for the first time in a generation to travel by day or night across most of the country” (Loyn 203).
Though these arguments may conclude that the United States does not care for improving women’s rights, the preservation of art, customs, and culture, or the expansion of freedom, that cannot be said entirely. It is likely that these efforts, while perhaps not the reason for invading Afghanistan, are still an afterthought in the United States’ conscience. Despite lacking clear and distinct goals, the United States was still able to invade Afghanistan to support its people; this can be explained by the American perception of the people, practices, and history of Afghanistan, which play an integral role in the foreign policy toward the country and promise to shape the relationship between the United States and Afghanistan in the future.
V. The American Perception of Afghanistan and its Role in Past and Present Involvements
Since the United States first began diplomatic relations to Afghanistan, America’s perception of the nation and its inhabitants has served to define U.S. foreign policy in the region, reflecting American beliefs of the Afghan people, whether accurate or inaccurate and often leading to the justification of the United States’ pursuit of self-interest in Afghanistan. Often drawing upon generations of Western dominance, America’s visions of race, religion, and humanitarian duty have been invoked to add to the legitimacy of Operation Enduring Freedom and are now vital to its development and continuation.
Central Asia and Islam
One of the relevant factors in constructing the image of the Afghan people in the United States is how the West has traditionally looked upon the people of the Central Asian region, and most importantly, its divergences from Western culture regarding its nomadic pastoral past and the adherence to Islam. In many ways, the stigmas that Western society associates with Chinggis Khan and the Mongols, who conquered most of Asia and Eastern Europe in the 13th century, are still applied to Afghanistan and its people today because of the nomadic pastoral traditions of some Afghan tribes and the Mongol lineage of the Tajik, Uzbek, Kirgiz, Kazakh, and Hazara populations in Afghanistan.
The predominating images that this conveys are those of “[b]arbarians, racial degenerates, mental defectives, generally repulsive physical attributes, ghastly history, grassland wanderers . . . whose lives have barely changed since the Mongol horde burst out of Central Asia in the 13th century” (Stuart 1-161). Such renderings are inaccurate, as more than half of Afghanistan’s population resides in urban areas. The image of widespread pastoral nomadism is due mostly to America’s romanticized view of foreign cultures.
Still, these notions effectively depict Afghanistan, and additionally Central Asia in its entirety, as a land of backward and uncivilized people, morally justifying their subjugation and the overthrow of their governments, as during Operation Enduring Freedom, which by these impressions are illegitimate anyway. The United States’ perception of Islam, the vast majority of Afghans being Muslim, is also critical in determining the lens through which action in Afghanistan Americans think are necessary.
The resulting image is often negative, as “[t]he West has for centuries viewed Islam as the religion of the ‘other,’ an object of curious fascination but incompatible with Western principles” (Competing Visions of Islam 8). The distance felt between the average American and Islam described in this belief serves to create a lack of compassion for the Muslim way of life, which is often discredited by the ideas that Americans hold themselves. Further, suggests Islam is a threat to Western civilization.
According to Kambiz GhaneaBassiri, Westerners see Muslims as “uncivilized and intolerant” (330) and believe “that while Christianity fostered intellectual inquiry, Islam suppressed free thought and encouraged the pursuit of sensual desires” (Competing Visions of Islam 8). These beliefs, paired with the fear of “a global jihad” (Loyn 195), enabled the United States government to invade Afghanistan with domestic support that would most likely be against an Anglo-Christian nation.
While the differences in Afghan and American cultures put the fate of the Muslim world far from that of the United States within the American conscience and made it acceptable for the U.S. military to almost single-handedly topple an Islamic government, media in the United States made it the American duty to do so.
Images of War
Starting with the Soviet Union’s campaign in Afghanistan during the 1980s, media outlets in the United States all provided a single, uniform picture of Afghanistan: a poor, desolate, and war-torn wasteland. Upon seeing these images, Americans felt that it was the United States’ duty as a superpower to combat the widespread destruction and annihilation occurring in Afghanistan. The entire public opinion of the Soviet-Afghan War, and subsequently the memories conjured when Afghanistan reemerged in American politics in 2001, could be explained by one picture published by National Geographic in 1985, the image of an Afghan woman with glaring eyes that “challenge ours” and “disturb,” such that “we cannot turn away” (Newman).
The nameless woman, who would soon “give birth to her tenth child . . . her birth pangs accompanied, perhaps, by the roar of jets and bombs” (Denker), put a face to the supposed humanitarian causes for involvement in the war and succeeded in planting visions of Afghanistan and its people as helpless, “at the mercy of other people” (Newman), and welcome to foreign intervention. These images also supplied the background with which the American people viewed Afghanistan after the Soviet invasion, carrying the image of Afghanistan as in need of salvation into later years.
The media’s portrayal of the country remained constant as well, and “the common T.V. image of Afghanistan during the Taliban years” was of “a woman in a powder-blue burqa, trudging past ruins” that “told only part of the story, and did not prepare Western public opinion for the reaction to the U.S.-led takeover of Afghanistan after 9/11” (Loyn, p. 202). This image did not reveal the stability that the Taliban brought to the country after a generation of war, or the demolishing effects of United States military intervention in Afghanistan, and seemingly authorized the war as in Afghanistan’s best interest, leaving the general American public confused as to why the Afghan people were not gracious for the invasion.
The contradiction between the expectations of the war and the reality of the costly conflict due to prior-held misconceptions created by the media has recently shifted domestic stances on the war in Afghanistan significantly. The new point of view entertained by a large portion of the American people, and the international community as well will play an essential role in the future direction of the United States’ war in Afghanistan.
VI. The Future of Afghanistan
Currently, the United States’ war against Afghanistan continues. Even though it is impossible to predict the outcome of the future, it appears that the relationship between the United States and Afghanistan is shifting yet again. U.S. President Barrack Obama, who in his first year as president sent 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan (Mullen) and is now calling for more, has proposed a tentative time constraint, stating he does not foresee American soldiers in “a combat role beyond 2014, provided of course that the security situation allows us to move into a more supportive role” (Jackson). The pressure for an exit strategy for Afghanistan has increased recently as foreign and American support for the war, now approaching its tenth year, has declined.
A steady trickle of American casualties, “the scale of ballot tampering and the minimal adherence to legal procedures for dealing with the fraud” have collectively led to “eroding domestic support for international efforts in Afghanistan” and “forcing donor countries to partner with a de-legitimized government” (Mullen). The global recession has also impacted the opinions of Americans, as funding the war is expensive. According to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the taxpayers of America are concerned a “dollar spent in Afghanistan doesn’t reach the Afghan people the way it should.”
As a result, the intention of “America towards Afghanistan as a people, as a country, is not reflected.” However, a complete and total exit is not inevitable, because as the intentions of the American people are changing, the interests of Washington regarding the Eurasian continent are changing as well. In “recognition that the Taliban and its al-Qaida affiliates are increasingly finding haven in western Pakistan,” the United States government is contemplating “a single policy encompassing both countries” (Mullen).
The implementation of such a policy would undoubtedly take advantage of Afghanistan’s strategic position in dealing with the perceived threat in Pakistan. It would have far-reaching implications for the future of the relationship between the United States and Afghanistan.
Since the United States emerged as a global power, its foreign policy towards Afghanistan has shifted from vying interest to covert support, to lack of action and, finally, all-out war. The complexity of the relationship between the two countries isn’t that complex at all: the methods most advantageous to American national interests in Central Asia and the Middle East are what matter more than anything else. When it was beneficial to support the Afghan mujahidin, the United States sent billions of dollars in weapons and aid.
When it was no longer useful, the U.S. abandoned them, and then, when the Taliban threatened potential American stores of energy, the U.S. toppled them. These radical actions were allowed to be carried out by a country based on democracy mainly because Americans’ attitudes toward the Afghan people reflected the stigmas associated with the unfamiliar culture and the skewed representations of Afghanistan in the media. As the United States continues Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan almost indefinitely, the future nature of American-Afghan interactions unknown.
However, one can conclude that until the United States government radically alters its imperialistic approach to foreign policy in the Middle East and Central Asia, conflict is inevitable.
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