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Afghan Rebel Victory 13 Years Ago Paved Way for Taleban, Al-Qaida


Afghan President Hamid Karzai inspects troops before a parade in Kabul
The world media is paying considerable attention to coverage of the anniversary of the fall of Saigon and the end of the Vietnam war. Yet the anniversary of another military victory has drawn little attention, though it had a profound impact on the world today.

The passage of the 13th anniversary of the final collapse of Afghanistan's communist government drew little notice. On April 28, there was a parade of the fledgling army and national police forces through Kabul and a speech by President Hamid Karzai that included a plea that his country not be forgotten again by the world community.

Speaking to VOA, Afghan ambassador to the United States Said Tayeb Jawad says Afghans remain nervous that the United States and other nations will turn their attention away from Afghanistan with disastrous results, just as happened in 1992.

"Afghanistan is a country that first became a victim of Cold War, and then became a victim of the end of Cold War, " said Said Tayeb Jawad. "Afghanistan was important for the international community to defeat communism. The communists were defeated, so Afghanistan lost its strategic significance. I don't think there is any resentment on the part of the Afghan people, but Afghans are still cautious and very much eager to make sure the international community remains engaged in Afghanistan."

Many Afghan analysts depict 1992 as a lost opportunity. Larry Goodson, a professor of Middle East Studies at the U.S. Army War College with extensive experience in Afghanistan, says that if the United States and the West had not lost interest in Afghanistan so quickly, it might not have evolved into the training ground for terrorism in the 1990s.

"We were, I think, missing that opportunity, an opportunity that in retrospect might have saved us from some of the really subsequently terrible events, as well as Afghanistan from some of the subsequently terrible events," said Larry Goodson.

When Afghanistan was invaded by the Soviet Union in 1979, the occupying forces faced little resistance. Armed with air power and tanks, the Soviets easily outgunned the mujahedin, or holy warriors, as they were known, who were poorly armed and trained.

But, sensing a chance to complicate matter for the Soviet Union, the United States began arming and training the mujahedin through Pakistan's ISI intelligence service. With better weapons, including shoulder-fired missiles that could bring down aircraft, the rebels began inflicting serious harm on the occupiers. In 1989, the Soviets withdrew, leaving behind their client government of President Najibullah.

Some of these Islamic rebels included the nucleus of what would later become al-Qaida. Mr. Goodson says that through its sponsorship of the mujahedin, the United States unknowingly empowered future Islamic terrorists. But, he adds, there was little choice at the time.

"But given who we had in office at the time, what our world view was, the Afghan situation, whether it was the waning days of [President Jimmy] Carter or the early days of [President Ronald] Reagan, really presented us with an opportunity to really push back at the Soviet Union," he said. "We did so, and we used the tools that were available, which included these Islamist guys who were prepared to fight. And then when we pulled out, we left them sort of left them behind, unsupervised and unmanaged."

With the Soviet Union collapsing, Moscow could no longer prop up the Najibullah government. On April 28, 1992, the mujahedin entered the capital, and Najibullah fled to sanctuary in a U.N. compound.

But the guns did not fall silent. The euphoria of the mujahedin victory quickly evaporated as the rebels almost instantly fell to armed clashes among themselves as various factions battled for power. The resulting civil war left some 50,000 people dead in Kabul alone and much of the capital in rubble.

Nazif Shahrani, an Afghan who is a professor of anthropology at Indiana University, says that vacuum allowed for what he terms meddling in Afghanistan by neighboring Pakistan and Iran.

"If the U.S. and the Europeans, particularly the United Nations, had been more assertive in managing the crisis, not allowing Pakistanis, particularly, and the Iranians, to meddle and continue the civil war, I think people probably would have had a better chance of putting a government together that would have essentially strengthened the gains of the local communities and regions during the jihad," said Nazif Shahrani.

Ambassador Jawad says Afghans failed to fight back against the internal power squabbles.

"We Afghans to some degree actually failed to perform as well as we performed in the fight against communism," he said. "It is true that the world neglected us. But we should also keep in mind that most of the destruction was carried out by Afghans. So we were also to a large degree responsible for the destruction that came about afterward."

The ultra-strict Taleban, many of whom trained at religious schools in Pakistan, were welcomed when they first came to power because of the population's anger and disgust over the inter-factional fighting among mujahedin factions. One of the Taleban's first acts was to seize Najibullah from his U.N. sanctuary and hang him from a street lamppost.

U.S. forces and former mujahedin fighters ousted the Taleban in 2001 after they refused to turn over Osama bin Laden, architect of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and a one-time anti-Soviet guerrilla fighter.

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