By the middle of the 1980s, Afghanistan
had become a critical theater in the ongoing proxy war between the
United States and U.S.S.R. During this time, in a calculated effort
to frustrate Soviet expansionism, the Central Intelligence Agency,
with assistance from Pakistani intelligence, funded and armed
Afghani rebel groups who were resisting Khalq militants and their
Soviet benefactors. Much thanks to their Western sponsors, these
Mujahideen freedom fighters emerged victorious, eradicating the
threat of communism and splintering the nation into a multitude of
disjointed, warlord-controlled territories. The subsequent power
struggle was as foreseeable as it was vicious — affording
victory to the most well-trained and preponderant Mujahideen bloc:
the Taliban. After almost a decade of despotism, religious
fanaticism and reckless state-sponsored terrorism, it took the
heinous brutality of Sept. 11 for the United States to recognize
the consequences of abetting radical and vehemently anti-Western
organizations in order to address short-term geopolitical threats.
In the late 1980s, a Central Asian policy expert with even the
slightest sense of foresight could have told you that funneling
weapons to fervent Islamic extremists with ties to international
terrorist networks wasn’t in the U.S.’s highest
security interests.

Sam Singer

Yet despite having been severely scalded for our reckless
foreign policy of the ’80s, the Bush administration continues
to flout the value of historical hindsight. Even in the face of
historical red flags and a wary State Department, the Pentagon has
grown increasingly cozy with some of Afghanistan’s most
ruthless outlaws. In order to compensate for an overstretched
military and virtual geographic illiteracy, the U.S. has relied
upon the Northern Alliance, a coalition of formerly repressed
ethnic warlords and their private militias, to assist in cleansing
the embattled nation of al-Qaida cells and their Taliban
supporters. Unfortunately, minus any direct assaults on U.S. soil,
members of the Northern Alliance share a similar violent and
malevolent notoriety with their Taliban counterparts. Taliban
fighters were not the only combatants who indiscriminately murdered
masses of innocent civilians in the 1994 clash between rivaling
clans in Kabul. Taliban headmen are not the only leaders who subdue
and torture political opponents in their private penitentiaries.
And Taliban clerics are not the only figureheads who spout
anti-Western venom to crowds of submissive fundamentalists.

Still, in spite of their bloodstained histories, the U.S.
continues to finance and equip these warlords — often
offering them political elevation in exchange for tactical military
support. Abdul Rashid Dostum, the Afghan President’s special
envoy for Northern Afghanistan, Muhammad Fahim, the current Defense
Minister and Burhanuddin Rabbani, an influential power broker, each
infamous for their collusion with the widespread brutality of the
early ’90s, have all managed to navigate themselves into
authoritative roles within the new government. As the U.S. had
hoped, the warlords of the Northern Alliance have generated the
strength to demolish the Taliban infrastructure. They have aided
U.S. troops in peacekeeping and security operations and have
provided invaluable tactical support. Regrettably our new
bedfellows have grown increasingly recalcitrant.

It is now abundantly clear that the U.S. and the Northern
Alliance view their relationship in a very similar light: a
temporary strategic partnership to further ambitions of control
over the war-torn Afghani state. Regional headmen have grown
progressively unresponsive to U.S. Central Command as scores of
clandestine militias begin to wield more muscle. Despite the Bonn
Agreement’s prohibition of private or mercenary forces from
remaining in the capital city, Muhammad Fahim refuses to withdraw
his army from Kabul. As the warlords stride towards financial and
political independence, the U.S.’s footing as a legitimate
and conciliatory occupying force continues to slip. It is almost
certain that once again, the U.S. will suffer from its shortsighted
foreign policy. Milton Bearden, former CIA liaison to the
Mujahideen fighters, best explains the diminishing relationship:
“At what point, with all of this money coming in, do they
look at us … and say ‘Thank you very much, we are
quite happy with the way it is?’”

Singer can be reached at

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