A joint post written by Jawad Sukhanyar, Strategic Communications for Peace, Office of the First Vice President of Afghanistan and Jason Criss Howk, Adjunct Professor for Afghan studies and religious tolerance leader

There are two primary shared interests between the U.S. and Afghanistan; first, fighting terrorists and countering violent ideologies; and second, defending the institutions of democracy. While we cannot waiver from carrying out these two objectives, we should continue to find other common interests between us and work towards bettering both America and Afghanistan, especially as we enter into this new phase of the Afghan peace-building process.

America has done more than its fair share for Afghanistan and the Afghan people over the past 19 years, and Afghans know it. When Afghanistan was experiencing its worst days, the U.S. always stood by our side and did what it could to help us move forward. Billions of dollars were spent to help Afghans get on our own feet. The resources provided allowed Afghans to achieve as much as was possible under the conditions of a bloody war. No one can deny the financial sacrifices of the US. What Afghans will remember the most is the ultimate sacrifices some American families made. We will always remember the sons and daughters you sent to serve in our nation, and Afghans will always be grateful.

The tremendous gains in Afghanistan society, and the ever-increasing stability to this point in Afghanistan was due to our durable national government and continuously improving provincial and local governance. The U.S. and the world know that solid and fair governance is the key to a brighter future in Afghanistan. They also know a destabilized Afghanistan with no national government could not be a helpful friend to the U.S. and would only add to America’s headaches in the region.

It is crystal clear that together we will succeed, and divided we will fail. Without American formal support for the Afghan government, things will reverse direction. But, with the support of the United States, Afghanistan will continue to make great progress. Its promising democracy will continue to improve, and the Afghan Defense and Security Forces will continue to eliminate the terrorist activities in the country. On the security front, most importantly, the Afghan National Army Special Operations Command (ANASOC) will also be able to unite the region’s counter-terrorism forces to promote synergy to counter the regional and international terrorist threats. Helping the ANASOC to become the regional leader in counter-terrorism is the long-term solution to many of the security concerns of the NATO and coalition nations. This will allow Afghans to lead the regional counter-terrorism fight, as NATO and coalition forces withdraw and switch to a sustainable counter-terrorism training partnership.

It has become clearer every day since September 11th 2001, that Pakistan has not been the positive actor they have claimed to be for the U.S. during the Afghan war. Many neighbors have unfortunately been seeking their own selfish interests in Afghanistan. It should be obvious that delegating any decision about future U.S. policy towards Afghanistan, to the Pakistanis would be naive.

The Taliban militia, who are Pakistan’s proxy force, have committed unspeakable crimes against Afghans and their NATO and coalition partners since 2001. They have opposed the modern ideas of the world since their creation, they have opposed democracy and human rights for decades. The recent Op-ed written by the deputy Taliban militia commander in the NYT endorsing women’s rights does not accurately explain the Taliban ideology. Afghans have not seen anything in Taliban behavior showing they accept modern women’s rights or even tolerate women having a role outside their homes. The world must closely monitor the peace process and the Taliban actions during the talks. The Taliban are the ones that need to earn the trust of the Afghan people and the world. The Taliban are the outsiders that must ask for forgiveness and prove they are willing to change. Afghans will not go backwards.

Afghans and the region have been abandoned before by America and other allies. If the U.S. quickly and recklessly leaves their strong partnership with the Afghan people, those old bitter feelings of abandonment will return. Afghans aren’t asking for Americans to keep sending their youths to fight Afghan battles; you have done your share and more, and the ANDSF will continue to lead in battle. Afghans are asking that the U.S. and NATO coalition stick to their commitment to withdraw forces based on the improving conditions of the peace process.

A rapid withdrawal without ensuring the Taliban are: following a cease fire, making good-faith progress with the Afghan government, and demobilizing their militia forces will have disastrous consequences. Pakistan might see this as a fourth opportunity to launch a reinforced proxy force against the Afghan government. Pakistan cannot economically afford to manage their own nation right now, there is no way it can manage Afghan affairs as well. Afghanistan and Pakistan, with assistance from the US and NATO, must learn to live as neighbors and stop interfering in each other’s countries. Anything less than this will result in disaster.

Americans and Afghans have a common love for free nations, nature’s beauty, and individual liberties. We both hate to see innocent people suffer, and are quick to lend a helping hand to those in need. Together, our nations will continue to support democracies, human rights for all, and oppose terrorists and their violent ideologies of supremacy and hatred.

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Jawad Sukhanyar serves as a member of the Strategic Communication Team for Peace, at the Presidential Palace in Kabul focusing on the current peace process with the Taliban. He is a media adviser to the First Vice President of Afghanistan. Jawad is an Afghan journalist who reported in Afghanistan for many years including for The New York Times. He has a BA in Political Science from Goa University, and an MA (MPS) from Indira Gandhi National Open University. Jawad was a Knight Wallace Fellow at the University of Michigan in its class of 2019.

Jason Criss Howk is an adjunct professor and has been a frequent advisor for reintegration, reconciliation, and peacebuilding issues in Afghanistan since 2002. He is an interfaith dialogue leader that increases tolerance for all religions and specializes in explaining Muslim cultures to non-Muslims. He holds a BA in Criminology from Auburn University and an MA in South Asian and Middle East Security Studies from the Naval Postgraduate School. His comments are solely his own views.  

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Jason spent 23 years in USG service conducting defense, diplomacy, intelligence, and education missions globally. Now he teaches, writes, podcasts, and speaks publicly about Islam, foreign affairs, and national security. He serves on the Board of Directors for 2 non-profits and aids conflict resolution in Afghanistan.