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Insanity rules after ten years of war in Afghanistan


Today is the tenth anniversary of the war on Afghan jihadists. Exactly 10 years ago, the United States and its allies declared war on a Taliban government for failing to deliver up al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Ladin to American justice.

Allow me to use less reverential words. We civilised Westerners decided we’d had enough of barbarians flying planes into our skyscrapers, killing thousands of our civilians. And hence we sent our own planes to drop huge bombs on their villages and towns.

Australia was and remains part of that allied force. A number of Australian troops have died, but the closest thing we’ve had to an Afghan invasion of Australia is a few hundred fishing vessels carrying desperate Afghans from Indonesia.

It’s all so ironic. But for those of us born before the mid-80’s, the ironies don’t end there.

The Allies were fighting a set of Taliban militias led by people who, hardly two decades previously, had fought on our behalf. Mulla Omar, the head of the Taliban, was a former fighter for the Hizb-i-Islami, an Afghan faction led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and one of many factions the West and its allies backed in pro-Western Afghan jihad against the Soviet Union.

I spent my late primary and entire secondary school years caught up in this Western anti-Soviet jihadi consensus. I was in Year 9 when I became addicted to Rose Tattoo’s powerful anthem I Wish. Here’s what lead singer Angry Anderson had to say about the Afghan jihad.

I wish I was a hero

Fighting for the rights of man
Wish I was a tribesman in
In the hills of Afghanistan
I wish I was a soldier
Fighting for the peace …
Fighting insanity, inhumanity.

In July last year, ABC Radio National religious broadcaster Rachael Kohn introduced me on a program as 'a former jihad enthusiast'. Somehow I doubt Angry Anderson and I were alone in regarding the Afghan jihadists as warriors for peace or a war on insanity and inhumanity. In those days, no one spoke of jihad as a euphemism for terrorism or suicide bombing. The only religious extremists on the radar were the Libyan-backed IRA and the Iranians led by Ayatollah Khomeini. But the Afghans were heroes.

The war on the Soviets during the 1980s was a conservative jihad, supported by just about anyone who wasn’t a communist and loudly and proudly promoted by the political Right. Indeed, it was assumed that anyone who opposed the Afghan jihad was a communist or a fellow traveller.

The late President Reagan, perhaps the biggest jihadist of his time, welcomed Afghan militia leaders to the White House. Imagine what would happen today to men in turbans and sporting big beards if they came anywhere near the White House.

Afghan jihadist representatives openly raised funds in Western capitals. A former Afghan ambassador to Australia was spreading the message of jihad in mosques and churches and public gatherings and on TV and radio (and no doubt Liberal and National Party branch meetings) across the country. Jihadi texts which are today banned as terror tracts were then being printed and distributed in Western cities.

The Soviet troops behaved insanely in Afghanistan. Soviet military tactics involved attacks on civilians, especially children. Entire Afghan villages were destroyed. A corrupt puppet government was installed by Moscow. Millions of Afghans poured into Pakistan and Iran. The region was transformed. Human rights actually meant something in the West. Or maybe I was too young to remember Vietnam.

The man who worked behind the scenes to bring this jihad to the centre of world attention was a congressman who represented the second district of east Texas in the US House of Representatives from 1973 to 1996. As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, Wilson helped secure huge sums of money for the various Afghan factions collectively known as mujahideen, a term which in those days was used to mean 'freedom fighters'.

Men like Charlie Wilson funded and fostered not merely the military but also the ideological side of this war. Communism was presented as anti-religion. Islam and Christianity were allies in the fight for freedom. Those conservatives who so often today demonise Islam were back then the biggest jihadists.

Wilson also warned his anti-communist allies of what could happen if they ignored Afghanistan after the Soviets defeat. He tried in vain to convince his colleagues in Congress and the President that the US now needed to rescue and repair Afghanistan in much the same way as it did Western Europe after the Second World War. They ignored his pleas. 'These things happened and they changed the world,' Wilson remarked, 'Then we f-cked up the end game'.

And young Australians are risking – and in some cases giving – their lives to clean up the mess Wilson insisted America needed to do back over two decades ago.

Irfan YusufIrfan Yusuf is a Sydney based lawyer and blogger

Topic tags: Irfan Yusuf, Afghanistan, jihad, United States, war, 9/11.terror, Taliban



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Existing comments

This article illustrates why Eureka Street is the only journal I read. Thank you, Irfan Yusuf...

Philomena van Rijswijk | 07 October 2011  

Fascinating history lesson.

Beth | 07 October 2011  

Western Foreign Policy: dim-witted, short-sighted and self-centred

ErikH | 07 October 2011  

Irfan Yusuf shows well how alliances can swap and change according to political priorities. He also shows how not doing things can come back to haunt you later. The treaty of Versailles at the end of WW I, the alliances made and broken by the West, the Axis powers and Soviet Russia befoore and druing WW II are grander examples of the same theme.

However, I find his analysis deficient as it seems he blames the whole mess on the West. Their sins of commission and omission are responsible for the bloodshed and mayhem. There is no blame laid at the feet of the brutal Taliban. The role that this bloody-thirsty, misogynistic pack of fanatics is overlooked. This is curious as other authors at Eureka Street note that most of the Afghani refugees are Hazaras who are fleeing the Taliban.

Whatever mistakes the West has made, billions have been spent trying to rebuild Afghanistan. It is dishonest to imply that the coalition forces' sole purpose in going into Afghanistan was to " drop huge bombs on their villages and towns."

BTW any future posters, I supported neither the war in Iraq nor Afghanistan.

Patrick James | 07 October 2011  

While this article highlights the twists and turns of us and our allies it completely ignores the changes in the Taliban, Isb-i-islami, Afghanistan etc. You pride yourself on being a voice for the countercultural but ignore the balance. Shame on you.

Bill Duffy | 07 October 2011  

Thanks Irfan, timely. I seem to remember the anti-Jihadists became the Northern Alliance who, many years ago espoused similar conservative views on women, girls' education, that former pro-jihadists now ascribe solely to the Taliban. And the jihadists also fought each other in a brutal civil war of which you still see spectacular evidence in Kabul. The sadness of all this is that, as the Taliban ramps up its international PR insurgency in Kabul and the rural insurgency grinds on, Afghans are looking for exit doors that are fast slamming in their faces. Irfan I'd like to see you review "Pakistan, a hard country" by Anatole Lieven for Eureka Street.

Jan Forrester | 07 October 2011  

Yes and I still don't know why we had to mass murder Afghans because of the crime of some Saudis.

Marilyn Shepherd | 07 October 2011  

"And hence we sent our own planes to drop huge bombs on their villages and towns."

No, we didn't.

Terrorist cells and terrorist training-grounds are forensically targeted, not civilian homes. If terrorists use the homes of civilians to carry out their operations, or to hide in, or to make their deadly arsenal in, then they have militarised them, and can legitimately expect those places to become targets.

Whose side are you on, exactly?

Should we simply not respond when terrorists bomb and burn civilians? Or perhaps say "tut-tut"?

Where do you think terrorists learn their trades, create their bombs, get money to buy weapons? It is a deadly industry, staffed by murderous fanatics.

Have you talked to the Chief of our Defence Force? Did you interview anybody actually involved in the response to terrorism? Are you aware of the training our troops have in the Law of Armed Conflict? Did you know that Australia has ratified - and abides by - the Geneva Conventions?

Afghani men are meeting our serving soldiers, being taught trades by them, and are impressed by them. Why do you think they are coming to Australia?

Have you spoken to survivors of terrorist attacks? Or to families of victims? There have been an estimated 17 000+ fatalities from extremist attacks throughout the world since 9/11. Extremism is the enemy.

Yes, it is strange when odd alliances have to form, to strategically defeat a powerful evil force. Once defeated, the alliance dissolves and new allegiances form, based on altered interests. To defeat Hitler, Churchill and Roosevelt had to join forces with Stalin. Once Hitler was no longer as a threat, Stalin became the enemy.

Sage | 07 October 2011  

This article is a poorly researched biased article insulting every single Australian. I fail to understand why Eureka Street gives a voice to such peddlers of hatred.

Ali | 07 October 2011  

Ali, you make many assertions in your short comment, but what evidence can you give for them?
1. How is the article poorly researched?

2. What bias, apart from that inevitable in arguing a particular case, does it show?

3. How does it insult any Australian to say their country has been engaged in a misconceived war? How can it insult all Australians, including those who agree with the author?

4. What hatred does the writer show? Anger, certainly; regret, too; but hatred?

5. Why should Eureka Street give a voice to you and to me, if it refuses a voice to the writer?

Dan McGonigal | 07 October 2011  

To Dan: Please make an effort to read this article in details! You may not about what he did not write about, mainly the ongoing mass murder of innocent people in many counties across the world. He seems to have forgotten mass murder in Bali, Pakistan, India, Iraq, England, and USA etc. of innocent people and lies about “our own planes to drop huge bombs on their villages and towns.” I wish for him to qualify that statement and give one single example where our armed forced ever bombed a village in Afghanistan!

Ali | 08 October 2011  

This site estimates the human damage done since 2001. Neither side can claim the high ground. There's been some talk of negotiation with the Taliban, wish they'd get a wriggle on. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civilian_casualties_in_the_War_in_Afghanistan_(2001%E2%80%93present)

In the initial airstrikes and invasion, most of the direct civilian deaths were the result of U.S.-led airstrikes and groundfire. In the years since 2005, the mounting insurgency has resulted in more direct civilian deaths being caused each year by insurgent actions than by coalition military action. Overall, however, the number of direct civilian casualties that have been attributed to insurgent forces by the available estimates remains less than the number that have been attributed to U.S.-led airstrikes and groundfire since 2001.

Lynn Davidson | 09 October 2011  

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