On Sunday, Dec. 28, 2014, US-led forces formally ended the war in Afghanistan, the longest war in American history. Some 18,000 foreign troops, and about 10,600 of them American, however, are staying under the terms of two security pacts the Afghan government signed with the U.S. and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The war formally ended but the war informally continues. Fariba Nawa is an Afghan-American journalist and author of Opium Nation: Child Brides, Drug Lords and One Woman's Journey Through Afghanistan. I interviewed her.
NAM: The US and NATO forces formally ended the war in Afghanistan but still have troops there. So what does it really mean, both for Afghanistan and the US?
End of U.S. combat means that fewer American lives will be lost in Afghanistan and less American money spent, but Afghans will continue to die, even more now because they no longer have the support of foreign troops.
The war officially ended but the news barely covered the event. Why is Afghanistan not on American mind, despite it being the longest war the US ever fought and cost us over a trillion dollars?
The American mind rarely holds on to any news longer than a week in this era of social media and gluttony of information. The bigger papers and outlets covered it but it was buried. For those who care about Afghanistan, they'll find the news. Unfortunately, Americans care more about Kim Kardashian's next shenanigan than the end of a war. As far as some Americans are concerned, the war ended when bin Laden was assassinated in 2011. The killing satisfied America's appetite for what some might consider justice and others revenge. Then it was time to move on. The American narratives on Afghanistan can be summarized in three categories.
1-The Racists: Afghans are too barbaric to be saved by us, so let's get out of there and let them kill each other. We've been there too long already.
2-The Isolationists: The U.S. needs to stop invading other countries and pretending to save them. We have enough problems at home to take care of before we help others.
3- The War Mongers: The U.S. war in Afghanistan should continue indefinitely until the Taliban and all other enemies are defeated.
As with Iraq, the US continues its military engagement long after it declared the war over, and in fact, expanding its airstrikes into Syria. On the ground, the war rages on in Afghanistan. And in Kabul we saw an increase in violence in recent months. What are the people of Afghanistan hoping to see happen next? Will the war continue unimpeded?
The people of Afghanistan want simple things: jobs, security, education. More of them have jobs and an education now than they did before the U.S. and NATO intervention in 2001. For those who have advanced, especially for women, they hope to hold onto to what they gained. The fear is that women will lose their rights again. But Afghanistan and Pakistan are intimately linked, and Afghans are watching to see what Pakistan does to the Taliban now after the Taliban Peshawar attack on the army high school, which killed more than a hundred children.
Many Afghans rightly believe that Pakistan wants to control Afghan affairs, and will seize the opportunity now that Western troops are only there for training and special ops. Pakistan has trained the Taliban throughout the last 20 years, and that training has created a monster on its own soil. The fate of Afghanistan is partially in the hands of Pakistan's government. The new Afghan president Ashraf Ghani is trying to root out corruption but the odds are against him in the face of broader geopolitics of the region. If Pakistan seriously tackles the Taliban on both sides of the border, then perhaps Afghanistan will enjoy a less turbulent future. I'm skeptical.
The Taliban declared that they have "defeated" the US and its allies. How much should we give credence to this declaration?
The old adage that there are no winners in war comes to mind. No side was defeated and no side has won. Most Afghans do not want the Taliban back, so they haven't won the support of the people, and they're not recognized as the official government. The war still goes on. The only change is that the U.S. has decided to sit on the bench instead of play in the field still. The war continues between Afghanistan's armed forces against the Taliban, who most likely are still supported by Pakistan and the Gulf countries.
What is missing in the US coverage of the war in Iraq in your opinion?
More coverage of different sides. All I've been reading in my newsfeed is ISIS killing Americans, killing Yazidis and enslaving their girls and why foreign fighters join ISIS. What about the rest of Iraq? News nowadays has social media cheerleaders -- if the article appeals to Western values, it goes viral. In the process, other viewpoints and angles are lost.
You wrote about war lords, child brides, and the drug trades in your "book," and how drugs have really damaged the lives of the Afghan people. How has the the situation changed since your book was published in 2011?
The drug trade is booming. Counter narcotics programs have failed and officials in the government and the insurgency continue to benefit from the trade. Afghan addiction is on the rise. Since my book was published, a few drug lords were arrested but most of them bribed their way out in Kabul. I know of four Afghan kingpins extradited and convicted in the U.S. but their drug rings continue to flourish. The drug trade will not go away unless sustainable economic alternatives take its place, and the war actually ends.
As someone who was from Afghanistan and who is passionate about your homeland, what are you hoping as the best scenario for the country?
The current government will prevail, confront corruption, bring some level of economic prosperity and bridge the gap between the rural and urban divide, support endeavors that confront human rights, including women's rights. I'd like to think that if the new generation of Afghans unite against ethnic schisms and corruption, there's a chance for the country to move forward. But it'll take time, perhaps decades.
Andrew Lam is an editor with New America Media and author of "Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora," and "East Eats West: Writing in Two Hemispheres." His latest book is "Birds of Paradise Lost," a short story collection, was published in 2013 and won a Pen/Josephine Miles Literary Award in 2014.