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Afghanistan, the longest war

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Reuters via @FT

Afghanistan: ‘This is not over yet’

May Jeong in Kabul, Geoff Dyer in Washington and Victor Mallet in New Delhi (FT)(

December 14, 2014 7:06 pm

On September 12 2001, Abdul Rashid went to the house of a Kabul friend whose living room had become popular among the neighbours for the rare presence of a satellite television. Mr Rashid, then 23, was sitting there, taking tea, when he first saw the images of the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Center falling on the previous day. He finished his tea and walked home with a heavy heart: he recalls thinking that the killing of innocent civilians was an un-Islamic act.

Mr Rashid could not have known how his life, and the lives of millions of fellow Afghans, would be profoundly affected by events thousands of kilometres away.

With Nato having formally closed its International Security Assistance Force joint command last week, Afghans are reflecting with a combination of nostalgia, resentment and indifference on the foreign intervention that followed the 9/11 terror attacks on New York and Washington. The conflict has killed more than 3,484 allied forces, including 2,356 Americans and 453 Britons, cost an estimated $1tn and become the US’s longest war, with American troops finding it hard to leave. Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies estimates at least 21,000 Afghan civilians have died.

Locals and foreigners alike look to the future with a mixture of foreboding and hope: will the Taliban Islamists who ruled Afghanistan in 2001 return to power, or will they be held at bay as the war continues to destabilise the region? Will the US have to reverse its decision to pull out of Afghanistan by 2016?

Back in December 2001, the US and its Afghan allies quickly overthrew the Taliban regime that had hosted Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders responsible for 9/11. Three years on, they installed Hamid Karzai as president, planted a western-style democracy in the unpromising soil of Afghanistan’s tribal politics and set about trying to modernise the country’s economy and its society.

Millions of girls, deprived of education under the extremist and puritanical Taliban, started going to school. Mobile phones and media outlets proliferated. The desperately poor economy initially grew at double-digit rates — and that was only partly because of the flourishing of the opium trade.





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