America should not tarry too long in Afghanistan

Posted: Monday, October 22, 2001

After the Taliban, then what?

None of its neighbors support the wayward regime in Afghanistan and the opposing force inside that nation has a new lease on life with U.S. support for its cause. As a result of these new pressures, the Taliban probably will fall.

That, however, will not be the end.

The United States supported the Afghan resistance against the Soviet Union in the 1980s, but after the Soviets retreated, the United States withdrew support. To stay and choose a victor from among the competing interests would, of course, have been seen around the world as further evidence of U.S. "imperialism."

Nothing has changed.

Nearly eight years later, the Taliban emerged the victor, although it never has held the entire country and is a government in name only.

Indeed, the Taliban is a government in name only to a nation in name only.

Geography is one dividing factor. Afghanistan also contains several major ethnic groups. The Pushtuns make up 38 percent of the population. They are divided into two main branches: the Durrani and the Ghilzai. Tajiks make up 25 percent of the Afghan population, while the Hazara comprise 19 percent. Uzbeks are the final major ethnic group in Afghanistan, at 6 percent, while the remaining 12 percent of the population are drawn from a host of tribal and ethnic groups -- Including the Aimaks, Baloch and Turkmen.

Language and religion divide Afghans as well. Nearly all Afghans are Muslim, though 84 percent are Sunni and 15 percent -- primarily the Hazara -- are Shiite. Language reflects the geographic and ethnic divisions of the country. Some 35 percent speak Pushtu, 50 percent speak an Afghan variant of Persian and 11 percent speak Turkik languages, primarily Uzbek or Turkmen. Thirty minor languages are spoken in Afghanistan. That's diversity or the tower of Babel, depending on your point of view.

With the military now engaged in Afghanistan, and hoping to avoid the mistakes made by the Soviets, planners thankfully are looking beyond victory toward disengagement. The sooner the better.

President Bush already has announced a mini-Marshall Plan for the area.

But the plan should consist of writing a check to whomever is in charge and departing, without a look back. The United States is there to bring terrorists to justice, not build a nation out of nothing. Any attempt to choose from among the competing forces, each of which has a champion either in Russia, Iran or Pakistan, can only lead to trouble.

Self-determination is how this great nation was built. We should let others do the same. Some will turn out right. Others will not. There are no guarantees, and, in that part of the world, the right to be wrong seems highly prized.

-- Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville

Oct. 19

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