Afghani ambassador traces history of conflict

To understand why the international community still needs to be involved in Afghanistan, one must first understand why it was necessary to intervene there more than eight years ago, Afghanistan’s ambassador to the United Nations said in a talk this week as part of the Lehigh/U.N. Partnership Ambassadorial Speaker Series.

“What took the United States and NATO forces to Afghanistan was to deal with the threat that came from Afghanistan,” Ambassador Zahir Tanin said, referring to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States in New York and Washington, D.C.

“The United States needed to intervene because the terrorist groups using Afghanistan posed a threat to the United States and its allies. (They went in because) the situation in Afghanistan gave Al-Qaeda a place to prepare for further attacks against that United States and the world. We cannot forget that history,” he told an audience of Lehigh students, faculty and staff, and students from Allentown Central Catholic High School’s Model U.N. Team.

However, while the Sept. 11 attacks are commonly cited as the starting point for U.S. involvement in Afghanistan by the mass media, Tanin pointed out that one needs to review the preceding three decades of Afghan history to get a more accurate picture of the climate that led up to Sept. 11, 2001.

The true starting point, he said, dates back to 1978, when the former Soviet Union intervened in Afghanistan.

“Afghanistan became the last battle of the Cold War,” Tanin said. “Afghanistan became a new ground for rivalry between the original powers.”

‘When there is no state, they flourish’

Fast forward through about 20 years of almost constant war in Afghanistan in which, as Tanin said, “ultimately everyone got involved” and you are left with the perfect backdrop for the emergence of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in the mid-1990’s.

“With the withdrawal of the Soviet Union, the Afghan society underwent critical changes. The economy was decimated. The magnitude of the destruction in Afghanistan, when the society was broken, when the economy was weakened, when the state was disintegrated, that is when the Taliban and Al-Qaeda moved in, and when there is no state, they flourish.”

“The Afghani people became the first victim of the Taliban regime,” he said, “and the international community tried to tolerate what was happening. It was seen as something happening far away in an isolated nation.”

In the aftermath of Sept. 11, he added, what was going on in Afghanistan could no longer be ignored by the rest of the world.

To those who believe that the United States should not be involved in nation-building, Tanin said that Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups cannot be stopped unless Afghanistan is stabilized.

“You have to invest in a situation that prevents the Taliban and others from coming back,” he said.

Among the issues that have slowed progress in Afghanistan, he said, are the war in Iraq, which made Afghanistan a secondary war for the United States, diverting focus and resources, and a lack of coordination among the 40-plus international groups working in Afghanistan, which resulted in the wasting of aid monies and “money not being used in the best way.”

“It’s a problem with capacity,” he said. “It’s a big tragedy. As a result of 20 years of being at war, a generation has been lost. A good government is not about a leader with good will. A good government is about capacity and resources.”

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