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US Shouldn't Just Abandon Afghanistan

ACCORDING to recent reports, the Bush administration's 1992 proposed budget does not include any aid to the Afghan resistance. If this is approved, it will end 11 years of US involvement in the conflict in Afghanistan. US opposition to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was probably the most successful foreign policy of the Reagan administration. Reagan's support for the mujahideen not only frustrated Soviet expansionist designs in the Indian subcontinent and the Persian Gulf, but it forced the Soviets to accept a humiliating withdrawal from Afghanistan. In contrast, the Bush administration's halting Afghan policy has been a total failure.

Before the completion of the withdrawal of Soviet forces in February 1989, the Soviets and their allies in Kabul were desperate for a political settlement. They were willing to make extraordinary concessions in return for an orderly transfer of power and nominal communist participation in a mujahideen-dominated government. But the Pakistani military authorities believed that the collapse of the Kabul government was imminent and they persuaded the Bush administration to support a military resolution of t h

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e conflict.

When the US- and Pakistan-encouraged mujahideen offensive against Jalalabad failed in March 1989, the Bush administration realized that the conflict had to be settled politically. However, the administration showed great indecisiveness in formulating an effective new policy. This enabled the Pakistan-based resistance organizations to veto any political settlement of the conflict. Despite the fact that, before the Persian Gulf crisis, the Soviets and their allies in Kabul repeatedly expressed their willi n

gness to allow the results of UN-supervised elections to determine the postwar Afghan government, the Bush administration did not effectively use that opportunity to achieve a just and comprehensive peace.

Many Afghans hoped that the termination of the Gulf war would lead to renewed superpower interest in a comprehensive solution of the Afghan conflict. Thus the administration's decision to eliminate foreign aid to the resistance without achieving a comprehensive peace settlement comes as a serious disappointment to many Afghans. To be sure, the cutoff of arms to the belligerents in Afghanistan is long overdue. But such a cutoff should be part of a comprehensive peace plan.

Unilateral disengagement is tantamount to quitting. Such a policy is likely to result in a number of undesirable consequences. First, it is bound to reduce the strength of pro-Western Afghan groups and enhance the power of those groups that are supported by Pakistan and Iran.

Second, unilateral disengagement is likely to strengthen the position of the Kabul government, as it could reduce the pressure on Najibullah to broaden political participation by non-communist groups. The overwhelming majority of the Afghans consider both the Kabul government and the Pakistani-based resistance organizations as illegitimate. Unilateral disengagement is likely to force most people to either withdraw from politics or negotiate their terms for participation with the Kabul government and the

Iran and Pakistan supported resistance organizations from a position of terrible weakness.

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And third, without a comprehensive peace settlement, the country will continue to suffer from disintegration. Afghanistan will remain divided among warlords, foreign-supported politico-military organizations, and the central government. Although unilateral US disengagement is likely to strength the Kabul government, the center will lack the power to enforce its authority throughout the country. This situation will indefinitely postpone the reconstruction of the country and the return of refugees to thei r


Conditions are conducive to a comprehensive political settlement in Afghanistan. The overwhelming proportion of the people are ready for a meaningful compromise and reconciliation. The Soviets and the Kabul government have expressed their willingness to accept a democratic solution. What is required is an American commitment to a comprehensive peace based on a political solution. Although the mujahideen object to a negotiated settlement of the conflict, they are in no position to veto a strong US peace i


Throughout the conflict, the US has supported the right to self-determination for the people of Afghanistan. The best way to realize self-determination is general elections under United Nations supervision to determine the nature and composition of the future Afghan government. Such a democratically elected and legitimate government should be supported by the international community, especially the US and the USSR, to enforce its authority throughout the country.

Unilateral disengagement is an inglorious end to American involvement in the conflict in Afghanistan. It is likely to increase the feeling among the Afghan people that the US never had any higher ideal than to use the Afghans to defeat the Soviets and to protect its own strategic interest. The Bush administration ought to seek a comprehensive peace, instead of a unilateral disengagement.

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