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US and Afghanistan

THE war waged in Afghanistan against the Soviet invaders has entered its sixth year. What began as an internal conflict has become a tragic and devastating war which has caused the death of countless people in Afghanistan, destroyed hundreds of villages and towns, and driven about one-third of the country's population out of the country into refugee camps in Pakistan and Iran. At this point, there seems to be no end in sight. While nearly every war in recent memory has attracted its share of celebrities and liberal intellectuals who have helped mobilize support against the wars and the United States government's involvement in them, hardly anyone in this country, or elsewhere in the world for that matter, has been moved to protest the atrocities being committed in Afghanistan. The few who have shown any real interest in the situation have either publicly or privately urged the US government to help the Afghans to continue fighting the Soviet communists.

No one doubts the determination of the Afghan resistance to keep fighting until their goals -- to free the country from Soviet political and military domination and to realize the Islamic political, social, and economic aspirations of the peoples of Afghanistan -- are realized. There is also little doubt in the minds of most of the resistance fighters that these goals cannot be reached by war alone. It should be clear to us that, given the level of alleged military aid extended to the Afghan resistance by the United States government and its allies in the Middle East, the Afghans will never have the chance to prove themselves on the battlefield as, for example, did the Viet Cong. Despite recent claims by some United States government officials of increased levels of ``covert'' support to the Afghan resistance (reported in the New York Times Nov. 29), it is highly unlikely that the US will ever offer the Afghans the kinds of weapons that will make winning the war possible.

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It is becoming increasingly clear that the United States government has no real interest in ending the war in Afghanistan, and in fact may see advantages in prolonging it. The indefinite continuation of the war causes the Soviet Union political embarrassment, makes it pay a high economic price for its war, and appears to legitimize the United States' own covert wars and invasions in Latin America and the Caribbean. If the United States government continues to use the war in Afghanistan solely to further its own interests against the Soviets, then the outcome for the Afghans will be precisely what the Soviets have in mind: fighting to the last Afghan. Such an outcome could not be further from the aims of the Afghan people and the Afghan mujahideen (Islamic resistance fighters) -- the establishment of peace, freedom, and justice in the country.

The people of Afghanistan welcome any moral or material support extended to them in their armed struggle against the Soviet occupation forces and their puppet regime in Kabul. But for the Afghan mujahideen to achieve their goals of peace, freedom, and justice in Afghanistan, they need genuine help from people and governments around the world to search for alternatives to the war in order to end the suffering of millions of people both inside and outside Afghanistan. So far the United States government has not supported the efforts of the United Nations to reach a negotiated settlement in Afghanistan. Although the UN efforts, through its special envoy to Afghanistan, Diego Cord'ovez, have achieved no tangible results thus far, these talks will reportedly resume once again in February. The United Nations talks are the only peace initiatives to have emerged in all the years of war in Afghanistan. It is to be hoped that the American people will urge the government to support these efforts by Mr. Cord'ovez as a first step toward reaching a possible political settlement. It is also to be hoped that the US government, together with Islamic and nonaligned countries, will actively look for other ways to end the tragedy in Afghanistan.

M. Nazif Shahrani was born and raised in Afghanistan and educated in the United States. He is an assistant professor of anthropology at Pitzer College, Claremont, Calif., currently on leave as an Andrew W. Mellon fellow at the Stanford Humanities Center, Stanford University.

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