Afghanistan! It's a hard place, a stark environment, a rugged, ancient land that seems almost religious in its desire to remain in the dark days of antiquity and ignorance.
Over the last two decades it has become the seat of terrorism and the basecamp for the West's most feared and hated terrorists group called Al'Queda, the people responsible for the devastation of 9/11.
There are others in the land, particularly the Taliban, the warlord-type regime that ruled Afghanistan for nearly three decades and gave Al'Queda and its leader Usama Bin Laden safe haven for years. The Taliban rule was responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths and torture of Afghani citizens by adapting an extremist radical interpretation of Islam's Qur'an.
Some groups, such as RAWA, UFORJE and others are faint glimmers of light in the vast darkness, but for the most part, even after 8 years of American troop involvment, there remains very little hope that the country will be freed from the hard-closed fists of the various warlords, Taliban and Al'Queda supported factions.
The citizens of Afghanistan still have little in the way of real freedom of expression, freedom of religious worship, women's rights are all but non-existent, and their value remains less than that of a water buffalo.
Fortunately for those 50 years or older they now have several forms of government control to compare. From the 10-year occupation of the Soviet Union, through the Islamic fundamentalist control by the Taliban and now a pseudo-democratic process Karsi-led government and an 8-year U.S. troop presence. Question is, will the average citizen even bother to make those distinctions? After centuries of depression, oppression and subjection to the harshest of cruelties, are the Afghan people even capable of rising to the level of making that personal price of freedom for themselves?
As one who spent some time in that country 40-years ago I can honestly say that I'm not sure they are up to the task. One small sign of hope I do see coming out of the country is the fact that many common citizens are openly admitting that the time of the Taliban was the darkest period in their country's long and ancient history and, while they view Americans as occupiers, for the moment they are greatful for their presence. They see them as the only recourse to keeping the Taliban, still a force to be reckoned with, particularly in the north country, at bay as they take their first baby steps toward a fledgling democracy. While I am slightly optimistic at this news, I still view it with a jaundiced eye, knowing full well how opinions in that region can change on a dime when it relates to the West.
Nearly 6-years ago the Afghan people were given a taste of freedom when they elected their first democratically-formed government and chose Hamid Karzai as their new President. A one-time supporter of a monarchy, Karzai won re-election with nearly 55% of the vote in 2009. His government since has been snared in corruption and extortion.
This increased corruption and moderate police state-like activity of the Karzai government has allowed the Afghan people to see their new era of promised freedom begin to erode into life as usual. The sweet honey taste of freedom has turned to vinegar on the lips of many. The U.S. troops, after 8-years and regardless of their good intentions, are now seen more and more as occupiers on the same level as troops from the former Soviet Union. The common Afghani is no longer assured as he was in 2001 that the U.S. has his best interest at heart.
Many within Afghan's borders and those without who are keeping a very close eye on the situation are beginning to believe that regardless of President Obama's decision to either increase or decrease U.S. troop involvment, Afghanistan will soon revert to a full-scale civil war with the U.S. caught in the middle, making this war Obama's Vietnam. This, many believe will signal a return to the former warlord Taliban-styled government.
While I don't believe this will become America's new Vietnam, I must admit that we may be at a time when it matters little what a U.S. President decides as Afghanistan appears to be running headlong into its dark past.