Abdulateef Al-MulhimAbdulateef Al-Mulhim
Commodore, Royal Saudi Navy (Retired)

The former Soviet Union (USSR) invaded Afghanistan at the end of 1979. The overall planning and execution of the Soviet invasion took the world by surprise, or that is what the United States intelligence agencies wanted the international community to believe. The billion-dollar question is what if the US did not interfere in the internal affairs of Afghanistan and had allowed the Afghans to deal with their neighbors on their own? According to subsequent reports, the Soviets were complying with a treaty signed between the two nations in 1978. Regardless of the reasons behind the invasion, had there been no American interference, it would have ended with much less casualties and less damage. The invasion turned into a war that lasted 9 years, one month, three weeks and one day. If we go by official facts and figures, the conflict began on Dec. 25, 1979 and ended on Feb. 15, 1989. But in reality that country never saw peace since the day it was invaded and another superpower started meddling into its affairs. Soon after the invasion, Afghanistan turned into a cauldron of chaos wherein we saw tribal wars fueled by foreign players and a parallel struggle to drive the Soviets out of the landlocked country. In its war with the Soviets, Afghanistan did not see regular foreign forces with clear command and control structure and proper plan of action. Instead, Afghanistan witnessed an influx of fighters from all across the Muslim world who entered the country to fight the communist non-believers. The United States took full advantage of the situation and Afghanistan turned into a graveyard of USSR and the ideology behind it i.e. communism. The Soviets lost the battle and the war from day one. It was the world against the USSR. Again the same question comes to my mind: What if the US had maintained a safe distance like it is presently acting while dealing with the Syrian issue? The US was able to turn the conflict from a full-scale war between Afghans and the Soviets into a kind of religious conflict that was very tempting to many in the Muslim world. It was in the wake of the Soviet invasion that words like “Jihad” and “Mujahideen” made their way into the English dictionaries. It is true that the tactic and the doctrine was useful to inflict defeat on the Soviets and to drive them out of Afghanistan but the US failed to understand the social fabric and the delicate tribal relation among many tribes and sects of Afghanistan. Loyalties among the tribes can be bought. To cut a long story short, had the US left the Afghans and the Soviets to settle their issue on their own, the situation in Afghanistan would have been very different today. All along, the US knew that the mighty USSR was struggling financially since the rise of communism in 1917 due to which it would have withdrawn its forces from Afghanistan within a few months or even at the most within a few years. With the intervention, Washington knew when to go in and break the back of its archrival but it didn’t take into consideration the long-term consequences of its interference. The result was devastating not only to the US but the whole world continues to suffer till today. The above argument does not, in any way, justify the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan but at the same time we have to admit that the US intervention was equally wrong. Afghanistan became a battleground between two superpowers and such powers always drag others into their conflicts. In Afghanistan, the world saw the birth of the most dangerous and most threatening phenomena that we know today as terrorism. We have to face it, there are countries that are surviving and stable but their social fabric is so delicate that all it takes to harm it is to have an outside intervention. The world had paid a hefty price of the US intervention in Afghanistan because it was not done on humanitarian grounds. It was part of a long-term strategy. The US did not intervene to save Afghanistan but to destroy the Soviet Union. It is true that America got rid of the Soviet threat once and for all but now America and the entire world has to deal with a new enemy i.e. terrorism. Had the US not interfered in Afghanistan, there would have been no 9/11 and the Americans would not have invaded the same country, they had claimed to protect from the Soviets. In other words, the Americans turned from liberators of Afghanistan to invaders of Afghanistan. The Americans entered Afghanistan in 2001 and left in 2014. That is almost four years longer than the Soviet presence in Afghanistan. In 2003, the Americans went into Iraq and later on we saw the demise of Al-Qaeda and the birth of Daesh. Some countries are better left alone and some issues should be left to time to get resolved. Written by Abdulateef Al-Mulhim. The Big Question reprinted with permission of Arab News and Abdulateef Al-Mulhim.