US legacy in Afghanistan: What 11 years of war has accomplished
The lives of four Afghans provide a lens on how America's longest conflict has changed a nation – and the divisions and dangers that persist.
(Page 7 of 8)
Across the border in Pakistan, where insurgents continue to find havens in the loosely governed tribal areas of Northern Waziristan; Bajaur district; and the outskirts of Peshawar, Pakistan; Taliban supporters say they won't stop fighting until the foreign troops leave.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
"Everyone knows American power is fake, and they cannot win this war because they are fighting for no reason, no goals," says a Taliban supporter in Peshawar who refuses to give his real name. "Their soldiers are fighting for nothing; and our mujahideen are fighting because it is their religious duty, which they were created for."
As chief of security for Nangarhar Province – a crucial link in Kabul's attempts to control areas along the Pakistan border – Abdullah Stanekzai may have one of the hardest jobs in the country. Not only does he have to fight insurgent groups, such as the Taliban and Hizb-e-Islami, but he also faces internal corruption and a new wave of kidnappings that leave the province increasingly uneasy about their security.
"When we fight the insurgents, we are successful in beating them," he says. "But when we return to the city, the Taliban come back to the villages because they have relationships with the people there."
IN PICTURES – Inside Afghanistan: Remnants of America's longest war
MELTING POT OR CALDRON?
Armies around the world have learned this lesson: Put together people from different ethnic and economic backgrounds, force them to fight together, and you build a common sense of purpose and identity.
It was true for the Anglo-Saxons, Italians, Boston Irish, Poles, Jews, Latinos, native Americans, and African-Americans who fought under the US flag during World War II. There is no reason it shouldn't have worked for the 180,000 men and women serving in the Afghan National Army. But it hasn't fully.
Ahmedullah, an Afghan Army major and an ethnic Pashtun, feels confident that the men under his command are getting better training and feel more of a sense of national purpose than any other Afghan soldiers have since King Ahmad Shah Durrani united Afghanistan in 1747. But if international donor support is withdrawn from Afghanistan when foreign troops leave in 2014, he says, his battalion will probably disintegrate without the discipline and cultural unity the Westerners help enforce.
"If foreign support is taken away after 2014, then things will go back to the days of civil war," says Ahmedullah, who agreed to talk on the condition that his name be changed. "If a man is Uzbek, he will run away to General [Rashid] Dostum. If he is Tajik, he will go to the Panshir. If he is Hazara, he will go to [Hazara politician Mohammad] Mohaqiq. And if he is Pashtun, he will go south."
This raises a question for many Afghans: If the Army disintegrates, who will defend the country from a return of the hated Taliban?
Of all Afghanistan's challenges – from security, to corruption, to social liberation – probably the most difficult is the task of creating a single Afghan identity. Afghanistan's population of 30 million people is made up of a dozen or more violently feuding ethnic groups. Karzai came to power promising ethnic reconciliation – even his clothes preached integration, from his silky green Northern chappan (cloak) to his Pashtun sandals – but his government has been characterized by ethnic rivalry. With Karzai reaching out to the mainly Pashtun Taliban for peace talks, and surrounding himself in the presidency with Pashtuns, many Tajiks, Uzbeks, Turkmens, and Hazaras are starting to look to their own ethnic groups for leadership.