Afghanistan: Remembering September 11, 2001

Six years ago (ironically enough, a Tuesday then as well), fifteen hijackers took over four civilian airliners—two hit the World Trade Center, which eventually collapsed in flames killing almost 3,000 people; one hit the Pentagon, killing several of my family's friends; and one was crashed into a field in Pennsylvania after a battle for control was lost by the 93 passengers. It is an iconic event in American history, compared by many to the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, in that it awakened many Americans to events outside their borders, initiated a years-long war, and generated a fundamental shift in foreign policy.

Reading the American perspective of the event, however, is no longer very revealing considering the many layers of political disputes that have grown up around post-9/11 policies (though New Yorker in DC certainly offers a kind, positive message). But what of the first object of American attention—Afghanistan, recently described by former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld as a “big success“? Nasim Fekrat has a moving post about what it's meant for him:

If September 11 wouldn’t happened today Afghanistan was in control of wildest and brutal regime of Taliban. Almost 90% percent of the country was under their control. Today many Afghan says God bless Osama Bin Landin who attacked the twin tower and drove the world to look at our country which was in burning and also they say God bless America that saved our live and brought democracy, freedom and security. I am not talking about how the NATOtroops and international forces fulfilled their tasks and how much they are successful. I am talking about the importance of September 11 for Afghanistan and its people. Many Afghans says it is not important for us how many people have been killed in September 11 in twin tower in New York and Pentagon outside Washington but it is important that US saved our live and released our country.

To get an idea of what he might mean, Fahim Khairy places the 9/11 attacks in the context of a year of terror, at the hands of the Taliban:

Another terrorist attacks in Afghanistan, which demolished the Buddha of Bamyan, which were carved into the side of a cliff in the Bamyan valley of central Afghanistan. They were built during the 6th century. The statues represented the classic blended style of Greco-Buddhist art.

Another terrorist attacks in Afghanistan, which demolished the Buddha of Bamyan, which were carved into the side of a cliff in the Bamyan valley of central Afghanistan. They were built during the 6th century. The statues represented the classic blended style of Greco-Buddhist art.

Two Arabs who claimed to be Belgians originally from Morocco killed Ahmad Shah Massoud the First Leader of Anti Terror and the Head of Northern Alliance by a suicide attack. However their passports turned out to be stolen and their nationality Tunisian. The assassins claimed to want to interview Massoud and set off a bomb either in their video camera or in a belt worn by the cameraman while asking Massoud questions. Massoud fought against Soviet and Al-Qaeda Taliban. He lived all his life in a loam house with his wife and four children.

Ahh, Ahmed Shah Massoud—the Lion of Panjshir, the scourge of the Soviets, the last man standing against the Taliban (except for Ismail Khan, of course). I recently recounted a remembrance of the man:

In reality, Massoud’s history is far more complicated than his leadership of the Northern Alliance, his antipathy toward the U.S. in the 1980s, or the massacres he oversaw in Kabul in the early 1990s, or the large opium smuggling operation he ran out of Feyzabad. He has been elevated to something of a saint-like individual mostly out of a deep need for national heroes, even if they are slain, rather than anything substantive he did for the country. Nevertheless, Massoud deserves our respect, if nothing else for his superior fighting skills and strategery.

Forgive the flippant writing, as I do believe Massoud is worthy of commemoration (if nothing else to help foster a civil society). But things are not all fairy dust and unicorns in Afghanistan. At the Comment is Free blog, Conor Foley relates some harrowing stories from one of his Afghani friends:

“Things are getting worse,” he told me. “The insurgents now control half the country and without western support President Karzai's government would collapse. In many areas even where the Afghan National Army and coalition troops patrol during the day, the Taliban patrol at night. They visit the mosques and the village elders and tell them that they are the only effective force and that if people have problems they should come to them.

“Everyone talks about the Taliban, but the insurgency is bigger than that. In many places it is Hezbi Islami (led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar) that is leading things. They have a broader base of support than the Taliban, both geographically and ethnically, and that is why attacks are taking place in the north and the west. The other political factions are also treating Hekmatyar as a potential ally for the future. He is covered by the amnesty law that the parliament is supporting and which would shield the country's war lords for the crimes that they have committed.

“Jamiat-e-Islami, which used to back government are now the opposition. They were the dominant force in the Northern Alliance, which toppled the Taliban, and President Karzai is taking a great risk in alienating them. At the same time their former fighters are involved in much of the crime that is taking place including the kidnapping of international aid workers. The problem is that Karzai does not have an independent base of support and his own tribal areas are now controlled by the Taliban.

It's not just the warlords and Taliban making things bad—perhaps most brazenly, they shut down schools, ruining the future of the country, on International Literacy Day no less.

September 9th is the international literacy day, in Afghanistan‘s insurgency-hit southern provinces; there are concerns that hundreds of schools will remain closed due to insecurity.

“At least 300 schools in Helmand, Kandahar, Zabul and Uruzgan provinces will not open because of insecurity,” Siddiq Patman, deputy minister of education, in addition to this another 180 schools has been torched down by the rebels.

Over six million students, 38 percent of them female, have been registered at schools throughout the country, up to 40 percent of them in the warmer south, the Ministry of Education (MoE) said. In spite of high enrollment rate in the south, there are less students in the upper classes due to high drop out rate. Only a quarter of children make it to the 9th grade in the south. More than half of school age girls in the south are not enrolled in schools.

Owing to insurgency-related violence and other problems, over 350 schools were closed down in the southern provinces in 2006.

All of which is really too bad. But small victories in the original 9/11 battleground are not impossible to come by: Abu Muqawama relates one positive story of how the Westerners are slowly but surely getting it right. There are others to be sure. And, despite the unfortunate (and, sadly, typical) bombast of Donald Rumsfeld, Afghanistan is still improving in places, at times.

Unfortunately, so long as Iraq continues to grind on, Afghanistan will remain a back-burner issue for the United States. Which is unfortunate, as it seems that is where the original, and the current, and quite probably even future, battle over extremism and terrorism will be fought.


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