Released on November 2, 2021

After the U.S. War in Afghanistan, Discussion, Oct. 31, 2021

Return to page: U.S. Policy in Afghanistan

Video, Audio and Text Transcript

Transcript of the video:

Helena Cobban (00:00)

Hi, everybody. Thanks for joining us at this timely discussion on Afghanistan. I'm Helena Cobban. I'm the President of Just World Educational and a Quaker who worships with the Friends Meeting of Washington. Today's discussion is being presented by the Friends Meeting's Peace and Social Concerns Committee, of which I'm happy to be a member. This is the first hybrid webinar we've organized, so bear with us if there are technical problems. I'm sitting in a side-room in our meeting house, and I'm about to walk through to the bigger room in which the in-person group has been gathering there...

Dr. Zaher Wahab (00:01)

Good morning, Helena. Good morning, Graham. Good morning, everybody else. Greetings from Portland, Oregon. I want to thank Helena and the organization for organizing this important event, and I'd like to thank Mr. Fuller for his membership on the panel regarding the first question as to what went wrong. Okay, fine. In my view, the American assault, invasion and occupation of Afghanistan was wrong from the very beginning. It was reflective. It was thoughtless, it was illegal, it was immoral, and I think it was criminal because Afghanistan, as we know, Chomsky, John Pilger and many other people have pointed out, and I believe that Afghanistan had very little to nothing to do with the crime of 9/11.

But the US administration went ahead and assaulted Afghanistan to show American power, to rehearse for the Iraq invasion and to once again remind the world as to who is, sort of, in charge. But also, I want to point out that it wasn't the first time the Americans had intervened in Afghanistan, but the Americans began intervening on a massive scale. In 1978 with the Carter administration, Brzezinski and others went about organizing the Mujahideen and Al-Qaeda undermine and eventually overthrow the progressive government of the PDPA. So the United States has been meddling in Afghan Affairs since 1978, for more than four decades. And now we know as ,John Sopko of SIGAR has been speaking over the last two or three days in office and also we were reminded by Craig Whitlock in his "Afghanistan Papers" about two years ago and Jane Ferguson of the PBS two nights ago on Friday, all [these] and others demonstrate that the United States and so-called allies have destroyed Afghanistan. At this point, as we speak, two thirds of the Afghans are food insecure, and by the end of this year, we're being told by the United Nations, the World Food Program, the UNSCR, the UNAMA, the UNDP, other statesmen and people and observers that by the end of this year, unless something miraculous can happen, 97% of the Afghans would be below the poverty line.

There's no food, there's no money, there are no banks, there are no schools, there's no work, there's no payment, there's no heat, there's no transportation, there's nothing. There's hardly any functioning government. All of this because of the United States' aggression, assault, invasion and damage done to Afghanistan. The United States and its allies-- at one point, there were 52 different countries from all over the world, the US and NATO and so forth-- which had troops in Afghanistan. In the process, it has killed hundreds of thousands of Afghans.

Hundreds of thousands have been maimed. Millions have been displaced, four million have been internally displaced. People are hungry. They're cold. Children are dying. The situation is desperate. As Antonio Gutierrez said, unless we do something fast, we're on the verge to the biggest disaster in human history.

Helena Cobban (00:05)

If I could just interject here, I think you have really done an amazing job framing the issue for us all, for Quakers and non Quakers, for everybody who is with us on this webinar and live there in the room. Since we are doing this in a Quaker context, I want us all, just bearing in mind the situation that you have just described to us to take a moment of silence in memory of all the lives that have been lost and in memory of all the people. Well, in thinking about all the people in Afghanistan who are facing this situation, let's just take a minute together our thoughts and then I'll resume and talk with Graham a little, and we have a lot to do.

Dr. Zaher Wahab (00:06)


Helena Cobban (00:07)

Thank you, everyone. I'm sorry about the logistical snafu is up at the beginning there I was going to give an introduction to Dr. Zaher. He's here. He's really on top of the situation in Afghanistan. He's spent, I think, ten of the past 20 years in the country as a leading educator. He also has a position in the Department of Education at Lewis and Clark University in Portland, Oregon. So he definitely knows of which he speaks. And so does our next panelist, Graham Fuller, retired intelligence analyst and writer.

He was the CIA station chief in Kabul in the 1970s and was deputy chair of the National Intelligence Council in the mid 2000s. Graham has thought a lot about the kind of the moral dimensions of what he and various American administrations were doing in Afghanistan. So welcome to Graham. Graham, can you tell us what you think went wrong with the US intervention in Afghanistan? And I would like the two of you to be able to interact a little bit. So if each of you can keep your introductory remarks a little short, that would be great.

But tell us, in a nutshell, what went wrong with the US intervention?

Graham Fuller (00:08)

Well, first of all, I agree with here on nearly every point that he made regarding the mistakes and errors. I would just like to suggest that perhaps there has been a confusion of goals, or perhaps not even a confusion of goals, but a deliberate effort to exploit the 9/11 situation for broader US geostrategic goals in the region. Now we all know 9/11 was an outrage, some kind of response needed to be taken, but that's a subject in itself worthy of much discussion. But the American invasion of Afghanistan was mainly put in the light of essentially, well put it bluntly, revenge to punish those who had taken this step.

Now as Zaher has pointed out the Afghans themselves had virtually nothing to do with 9/11, but they had made the terrible mistake of allowing Bin Laden and Al Qaeda to remain in the country after they had served as helpful military allies for a period in establishing Taliban control. But above all, I don't think the United States, well, let me say this: I think there is considerable evidence that the Taliban, realizing the magnitude of what had just happened at 9/11, was beginning to realize that they had better yield up Bin Laden to the west for justice if they wished to maintain any credibility as a state and avoid attack.

I understand that there were some negotiations about this. I think the Saudis were negotiating and others were. But Washington did not want to have any negotiations. I think Washington very much wanted its war, and furthermore, it makes a good public case to state that we are going after Bin Laden. But I would suggest that there were much deeper reasons involved here, and that was to establish and maintain American global power. And in this case right on the borders-- on the doorstep-- of Russia and China in Central Asia from which US could dominate as a hegemonic power that entire region.

This was far more important than simply getting rid of bin Laden. And as we know now, the US still wishes in some ways that it could maintain some kind of hegemonic power within Central Asia. But I think those days may be gone.

Helena Cobban (00:11)

Do you think anything good came of the US presence in Afghanistan? We are told a lot about women's rights in particular, and we are told that there were all kinds of development projects and trillions of dollars of our tax money went in an attempt that was sold to us as being to help the Afghan people. Doctor Zaher, did we help anybody?

Dr. Zaher Wahab (00:12)

There have been, of course, some benefits to the occupation, Ironically, but I want to sort of also reinforce what Graham just said. And that is, Taliban tried very hard to prevent an attack by the United States and have Bin Laden delivered to The Hague or the ICC or the Organization of Islamic. In other words, Taliban tried to sort of prevent the war and deal with Bin Laden and the attack in some other way. But it was George Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, our man Khalilzad, who I call the Afghani, if you know, Ahmed Chalabi, who refused to negotiate with Taliban and choose war.

And we know subsequently we have been told by the Afghanistan papers, Sopko, SIGAR, and other people that there actually was no clear agenda, objective or plan. It was just a reflective, angry response. But it was also a way to reassert American global hegemony to quote launch a so-called "War on Terror" because the war on terror has been very beneficial to the military-industrial and intelligence complex in America. But it has also been a way to assert American hegemony, American domination and also cover sort of for Islamophobia, which is very much real.

So 20 years, trillions of dollars, hundreds of thousands of foreigners, troops, experts, specialists and so forth. Yes, of course. I saw some changes in Afghanistan in terms of education, literacy, health care, the media, this and that.

But, John Sopko told us two days ago, 90% of the money was wasted. It was wasted, misused and abused and stolen. But at this point, why is it that Afghanistan is the worst disaster in human history? Why is it that after 20 years of all the money, all the expenses, all of the experts and the so-called nation building and reconstruction, this country cannot even feed itself? That shows the failure of this misadventure and this crime. Although some people said there have been some benefits. But by and large, most Afghans have no rights, not just women, but men do not really have real rights.

And most people are hungry. 75% to 80% illiteracy, 80% of the operation budget comes from abroad. So no matter how you look at Afghanistan, this invasion and occupation has been nothing short of a catastrophe. A calamity.

Graham Fuller (00:15)

I think it's also interesting to note that although the United States had very good reason to be concerned about the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, the Soviet period was actually at least in places like Kabul, a very positive period, especially for women. The Communist Party of the Soviet Union obviously has no particular anti-woman agenda at all, and the position of women in governance and teaching and all walks of life under the Soviet rule. I mainly stressed in Kabul because there was much chaos outside of Kabul, but it was a very good period.

So it's sobering to realize that the overthrow and expulsion of the Soviet Union also helped damage somewhat the position of women's and human rights women in particular.

Dr. Zaher Wahab (00:16)

Although Graham, I think people and I went there at the time, even though, and my problem is that I am caught between two of my countries, my country of origin and my adopted country, the US and Afghanistan. So it's a very difficult position to be in. But over the last 20 years and not just 20 years. But since I've been here, I have gone numerous times, during the Taliban, I have gone and visited and during the so-called Communist too. But they tried. I mean, the progressives tried to build the country and make it self sufficient, autonomous, independent, and dignified.

But there is a school of thought, as you all might know, that the crime committed by the United States and its allies in Afghanistan to keep it under-developed and dependent and desperate is deliberate. It's by design. The United States Empire would not allow any Third World resource-rich country to become self sufficient, autonomous and independent. But in one way or another, it will undermine it that's the case shows. Right now, the United States is involved in several wars, and it has military bases in 750 people throughout the planet.

Helena Cobban (00:18)

How can we prevent--we who are US citizens and people who are here-- how can we prevent catastrophes like this from happening again? I just remember, back in 2001, at the time of 9/11, there was one vote in Congress against the authorization for the use of military force. And I think I want to give a real shout out to Representative Barbara Lee because she, at a time of overwhelming apparent national unity around this revenge agenda, she stood out and said, no, let's just wait a while and think this through.

So what can we do as Americans, Graham, or Zaher either of you, to prevent something like this from happening again?

Graham Fuller (00:18)

Well, I think that's a tall order in many respects, because in some ways involves entirely rethinking the global role of the United States in the world after World War II. We all know the United States was one of the few countries left standing in a powerful position during the Cold War. The United States was the only country really able to organize the west and ensure that Moscow did not attempt to push its borders forward into Europe. But the United States basically became accustomed to leading the world, dominating the world, telling the world what it should do.

And while the world had been in very difficult circumstances, many of those countries accepted it. But I think over time this imperial role grew, and ironically, it was with the collapse of the Soviet Union as we all know that this became the one unipolar moment as it's called, when the United States was unchallenged anywhere in the globe. Sadly, since 1981, and that unipolar moment, we have become accustomed to being the world's sole global superpower. Stepping down from that role is proving extremely painful to the United States, both as a culture, as politics, as international politics and everything else.

So I would have to say, if we want to avoid things like this happening again, it would begin by recognizing that the United States is now no longer, for a variety of reasons, both domestic and international, no longer able to call all the shots around the world, no pun intended, to direct the direction of global movement. I think it's going to be. This is why the United States finds the China challenge, I think, extremely difficult. It's not just Chinese technical capabilities or even military capabilities, but the idea is simply intolerable to the United States, any other country should be a potential competitor, whether that country is friendly or not friendly or whether we choose to treat it as friendly or not friendly.

The very idea of a competitor power is intolerable. I don't know how we begin to change that except beginning to change our thinking and recognize that maybe we are going to have to live in a world in which many, many more countries are going to be significant players, some more, some less. But we don't have the monopoly over global politics anymore and need to act accordingly.

Helena Cobban (00:22)

I guess one thing...

Dr. Zaher Wahab (00:23)

If I may add to that, that Trump and Biden wanted to withdraw the troops because we lost the war. So I hope that the American Empire has learned the lesson. The military-industrial-intelligence complex has learned the lesson that there are limits, even a superpower. The Taliban defeated the United States and its allies in Afghanistan after trying for 20 years, and I would say good for them. And so there are limits to power. And two, that is pointed out, we don't live in a unipolar world, but we live in a multipolar world.

Three, we must end the plutocracy in America and institute a genuine democracy, a government of, by, for the people which it is not. And three, and four, we have to change our way of life. We must move away from consumerism capitalism, waste, redundance and greediness. And finally, the United States must recognize itself and behave like a nation and stop behaving like an Empire. It's no longer an Empire. It's a nation state. But also we must be very careful because we have based our whole economy, our way of life, of our culture, on war, on consumption, and waste, because if it's not Afghanistan, it's going to be China.

So we have a lot of work to do on our government, politics, economics, way of life and so forth.

Helena Cobban (00:23)

Yeah, I think it's definitely worth remembering that the US population constitutes 4% of humanity. So the idea that we would somehow have some God-given right to leadership, it sounds a little strange. And rather than going after leadership of the international community, perhaps it would be better for us to aspire to responsible membership of the international community.

Dr. Zaher Wahab (00:24)

Behave like a country, not like an Empire. Stop behaving like an Empire.

Helena Cobban (00:24)

Now we're coming to some really difficult questions that I have here. Well, one big difficult question. What can we Americans do to be most helpful to the 39 million people of Afghanistan who are undergoing such terrible humanitarian and governance crises right now, if either of you wants to start and give us some ideas, what we should do in the immediate term, what we might do in slightly longer term?

Graham Fuller (00:25)

Well, I think first of all, the United States needs to clarify in its own mind what its goals are in Afghanistan. Does the US still seek to cripple the Taliban rule, which I think we all would agree, is struggling, is in many ways ignorant, in many ways incompetent, in many ways too ideological and extremist. But I think that is possible that it will learn and is indeed learning from the realities of both inside and outside the country. So are we going to work with the Taliban to attempt to make this become a better place, or are we going to try to punish them directly or indirectly for having the temerity to have won the war against a superpower?

And secondly, I think we have to realize that this is not truly an American issue anymore. Afghanistan is about as far away from the United States as any place in the world is. It belongs to Central Asia. It is in Central Asia, and people who live in that region have the greatest stake of all. Now it's an irony that the three countries which perhaps play the greatest role, three or four countries that play the greatest role as neighbors of Afghanistan in a position to assist it are countries that we perceive as enemies or virtual enemies.

China, we almost openly call an enemy. Russia is almost openly considered an enemy. Iran is considered an enemy and the only state that is a little less of an enemy that matters a lot here is Pakistan. So it's going to be very painful, I think, for Washington to acknowledge that all three of these or four of these countries share the same goals as the United States has here. Ultimately, everyone wants stability by now in the country, nobody wants war, nobody benefits from war. It simply promotes terrorism and violence and extremism.

And people want an end to terrorism in the area and to see the region settle down. I think all of those States around, even though we may not like any of them-- Pakistan, China, Russia and Iran-- have that same stake in the country as we do. So I would hope that we will allow them and work with them to help bring about a better future.

It's quite an uncertain future, but to help try to bring that about with all the efforts that these countries can bring about, which are not basically contrary to what we want in Afghanistan.

Dr. Zaher Wahab (00:27)

Yes, we all see that the corporate press, which is the cheerleader for the American Empire throughout the world and in America, has lost interest in Afghanistan after the evacuation airport fiasco and drama. So although a lot is happening around Afghanistan, but you don't see much of it in the corporate press, for example, right now, two days ago, the foreign Minister of Turkmenistan was in Kabul for two days to revive and talk about the TAPI pipeline, for example. So there's a lot that can be done and must be done for the people who are left behind, not just the people that the United States in the Wes-- sort of stole away from Afghanistan, decapitated the Afghan elite in Afghanistan to take its best and brightest to solve its own labor shortage here, but also to keep Afghanistan dependent and underdeveloped forever. But I just want to list the things that can and must be done:

  • Recognize, engage in normalized relations with Taliban.
  • Release all of Afghanistan's money, the $10 billion in the US banks, the IMF, the World Bank, et cetera. This money must be released to the Afghan people, immediately.
  • Cease political, diplomatic, psychological and other kinds of warfare on Afghanistan.
  • Cease and stop all sanctions on Afghanistan, deliver massive humanitarian and development assistance and pay reparation to Afghanistan and repatriate all of the stolen money: money stolen by Americans, Afghans, Afghan Americans and other contractors. Repatriate that money.
  • Establish a Truth Commission, as John Sopko says, to tell us all about the wars. Who did what exactly and what went wrong? A Truth Commission and a tribunal to try all of the warlords in America, in Afghanistan, in Europe and other countries, all of the warlords, war makers, the military, industrial, intelligence and media complex must be put on trial.
  • Fund and support the UN-established Trust Fund for Afghanistan. What the UNDP did: just to establish a trust fund which will work with the Afghan who are left behind, going outside of the channels of the Taliban regime. This trust fund should be funded and it should be supported and observed.
  • Also to observe the independence, territorial integrity, sovereignty, and neutrality of Afghanistan forever.
  • And as I said, stop robbing Afghanistan of its best and brightest. Do not meddle, do not encourage, do not destabilize, do not polarize the Afghan society by taking those who worked for your project over the last 20 years and leaving the country in the hands of people who can't rebuild and reconstruct.

So these are the things that Americans must put their mind to, and energy. And we need to work on our own problems in this country throughout the world: the environment, the waste problems, the class distinctions, the race, gender and class and also the racism, the violence, the environment and other issues. That's what I think we need to do.

Graham Fuller (00:31)

Helena, if I could just add one quick thing here, too. I think part of the general problem of US foreign policy, and this goes back even to the days of the Cold War, is that the US has rarely looked at other countries of the world in their own right, viewing them as: What are their internal problems? Where can we work with them? We have always viewed other countries in the light of the question back in the day, people saying, Well, what does this mean for Soviet policy or what does this mean, today, what does it mean for China?

We cannot deal with all the countries of the world and as if they were stand-ins for a chess game with China or Russia or Iran or anybody else. We really need to treat countries as individual states with their own rights and their own legitimate concerns, humanitarian concerns, and not just as international pawns on the chessboard.

Helena Cobban (00:32)


Dr. Zaher Wahab (00:32)

This is what Afghanistan's neighbors have been urging and trying to recognize, accept and deal with Afghanistan and even the Taliban and give them a right to exist. We're not all living in Virginia or Portland. We shouldn't.

Helena Cobban (00:33)

Dr Zaher, I really want to thank you for that great list of ABCs that you gave. We will be actually putting the video of this session up onto our website at just World Educational. And we'll also make a transcript. And I think that list-- you've given us two or three great lists! And both of you have given us an amazing amount to think about. So, for example, you talk about releasing the funds for the Afghan people, the US funds. I totally agree. But how do we do that? Who represents the Afghan people?

Does that involve recognizing the Taliban government?

Dr. Zaher Wahab (00:34)

No, as you know the European Union is about to reopen all of its offices in Afghanistan. The UNDP and the UNAMA never left. And they're also back in Afghanistan. Almost all of the UN agencies are back in Afghanistan and China and Russia never vacated. So all of them are saying that if you don't need to work with the Taliban or recognize it, you can work with them without recognizing. This is what the others are being saying. That's why the conference in Moscow last week, the meetings in Doha, for example, and the conference in Tehran two days ago, all of Afghanistan's neighbors have been saying Afghanistan has changed.

The Taliban are a new reality like them or not, whether they are fashionable or not. Beards, long hair and trousers. But do you want all of them to look alike? And so that we need to work with the Afghan people. And this was the reason for Mr. Steiner, the head of the UNDP, to establish the trust, funding all of the money that was earmarked for Afghanistan by the World Bank, the IMF, countries, organizations, et cetera, can now be put in the UN, UNDP trusted fund and spent in Afghanistan without going through the Taliban.

You have to work with the Taliban, but you don't need to recognize them or give them the money. And Germany has already made a contribution to this trust fund. Other countries have accepted, actually the idea of the trust fund, which will go pay all of the people for public work like school teachers, civil servants, small organizations, pay for small businesses, give micro loans for example, and give payment directed to people vulnerable people like old people, the handicapped, the crippled, the children and so forth and women's organizations.

They say we must inject massive amounts of cash quickly into what they call the people's economy. We can't wait for big organizations to work with the Taliban and then give the Taliban the money. We don't have to do that. There's no money in Afghanistan right now. You can't even send money because there's no money there to be given. So we must inject cash into Afghanistan. And these are some of the ways. So we need to put pressure on Washington, which has agreed in some ways and in other organizations, the UN, Antonio Gutierrez and the UN has been very concerned, very compassionate and very adamant about helping the Afghan people not to starve because starvation is imminent.

Helena Cobban (00:36)

So we have already some people with questions. And now, because this is a hybrid event, I'm going to hand over, first of all, to my fellow member of the Peace and Social Concerns Committee here at the Quaker meeting, Tamina Chowdhury, who will be moderating the in person event. And we thought we'd take like one question from the in-person people. And then one question from the remote people. And I can see that we have at least one coming in from Marian Morgan. But could people send their questions by chat to the host and panelists or something?

And then I will ask the questions from the remote people. So first of all, Tamina, could you speak up a little bit.

Tamina Chowdhury (00:38)

So my first question is, Dr. Zaher Wahab. You mentioned the problem of us, this propensity of the US to go to war and Afghanistan being the most recent and violent intervention in the world, is that if this problem is structural, is this something that we have in our system that is built in and something that we have been exercising in over 100 years in some form or fashion to solve problems in the world? Can peace and social movement be the answer to addressing that is the system to do that? What is the tangible, real solution that we can say the most transparent institution as part of our government, especially in foreign countries?

What is the level of clarity and intelligence within the CIA and government in the damages that we are causing in the world? It looks like the government is totally new to that information, it's not learning.

Helena Cobban (00:40)

Tamina, I think we need to let the - so I heard a question for Graham about the degree of understanding within the CIA of the damage that its actions caused. So I'm sure that's for Graham, and then a question, maybe for both of you, about social movements and peace and justice movements. So, Graham, yeah.

Graham Fuller (00:40)

Well, very quickly. First of all, I have to just point out that I retired from CIA, so that's a long, long time ago, the world has changed hugely since then, I would not even recognize the organization or even be probably willing to work within it. If it was the kind of CIA that emerged after 9/11, we all know the kind of psychic damage 9/11 did to the entire US, to the entire country. So I think CIA itself swept up into this kind of thing of find terrorists kill terrorists.

Yes, terrorists are very serious people. They need to be tracked. But I think it moved away from an intelligence gathering function, which was what I was almost exclusively involved in in the earlier period, into an almost paramilitary organization of identifying, catching, killing, working with the military in all of these ways. Basically, I think the CIA has had and probably may well, still have, but I have no touch with it whatsoever at this point for a long, long time. But I do think that there are probably some very thoughtful people with some good backgrounds in the region.

But the CIA is an instrument of the US government, and when the US government seeks to pursue policies of vengeance or militarism or whatever else, the CIA inevitably is dragged into it. Short answer, I think there are credible people who do understand the problem, but how much will they ever be listened to? This is a classic problem of intelligence organizations. How much do people really listen to it as opposed to going with domestic agendas?

Dr. Zaher Wahab (00:42)

Well, if I may add, the CIA, from what I know has been in Afghanistan for a long time. It even infiltrated the PDPA and apparently actually had an agent in the person of who became President of the PDPA and was assassinated by the Russians. Then also, if you listen to Matthew Hoh, whom I know, you know, the CIA has been up to here in Afghanistan, but also sometimes there are differences. The CIA, for example, apparently told the Pentagon and the State Department recently about the fall of the crook Ghani government.

But the Pentagon and the State Department apparently didn't listen to the CIA, so it's normal for the CIA to be functioning. In the last article, the CIA has been recruiting heavily in Afghanistan. They were on the ground. They were the first ones to go when the Mujahideen took over. They were about the Northern Alliance, apparently. Now the is CIA working at both ends, recruiting in Afghanistan, as we speak, apparently, and also among the Afghan diaspora in the United States and other countries. This is what I hear, but sometimes Pentagon and State would listen to them, sometimes they would not.

Helena Cobban (00:44)

So I want to actually make a kind of segue from a remote question that we have from Marian Morgan. So Marian asks, "Are there any useful, applicable lessons to be drawn from the relationship that evolved in the years after wars end in 1975 between Vietnam and the United States?"

Graham Fuller (00:44)

Well, again, I think we come back to the issue of how much are we looking at the issues of Vietnam and Afghanistan as independent countries, and how much are viewing them as part of a greater simply 'pawns on an international chess board' in maneuvering against either Russia or China or against Iran or others. It's natural that we should think about these things, but when it becomes obsessive, I think this is part of the problem, frankly, being a superpower is that everything is viewed in entirely global terms, and the interests and the functioning of individual countries really just drops off the table at that point because it's not part of the grand international strategy that people like Cheney or Brzezinski before him. George Bush wasn't even intelligent enough to understand these issues.

But, most people in Washington did continue to see it in these very broad strategic terms that had very little to do with Vietnam as such, or with Afghanistan as such, or even today Cuba or any number of other countries. Syria is another case in point. There are many others in which the issues on the ground are essentially ignored.

Helena Cobban (00:46)

Yeah, if I could just jump in there because this is something I've thought about a bit. I didn't grow up in this country, but I followed the politics here quite closely for a long time. And as people have alluded, the United States is pretty bad at losing. I mean, the fact that we are still punishing the government and people of Cuba 60 years after the Bay of Pigs because they beat us at the Bay of Pigs. I mean, just the viciousness and the cruelty of the sanctions on Cuba that continue is amazing.

And the United States has done the same to every other single country that beat it except for Vietnam. And I think there were sanctions on Vietnam. And there were some terrible things that happened in Vietnam with the reeducation camps and everything that will always happen in the aftermath of a very difficult war. The US pulled people out of Vietnam. But now we have this amazing, rich commercial relationship with a government that is ruled by the Communist Party in Vietnam. And I think maybe one of the determining factors there is that at that time when the US was at war in Vietnam, there was a massive popular peace movement in this country, and that was what really ended the war.

But now we don't have that kind of massive popular peace anti war movement. I don't know. What do you think?

Dr. Zaher Wahab (00:47)

Well, I think the analogy in some ways is correct, but in other ways, it's not. Afghanistan is not Vietnam. But I think war is war, and government should look at what happened to British in Afghanistan, what happened to the Russians, what happened to Alexander the Great, and then now the Americans. And so it has been said that the United States has actually engaged in many wars throughout the world, but has not won one of them since 1945. It has lost every single war. So a war does not work, even if it's the Empire of the United States versus a little developed, very poor underdeveloped country like Afghanistan.

Eventually, war, apparently its own contradictions, at least to defeat. But the real winners in any war are the military-industrial-intelligence complex. So what if the Americans get killed and maimed or the Afghans or the Vietnamese? We have to look at the very morality in the practicality of the war, the sheer waste, the inanity, the stupidity and the injustice of it, and also what it does to the nation itself. I think the blowback, we need to look at what's happening in this country right now in race, politics, gender, in the streets, poverty, people et cetera.

And I would say all of this is the consequence of the blowback from American misadventures in the last few years. People have memories or people have experience. But also, I think if you had universal conscription, there would be a different attitude in America also against the Afghan war. Today, only 1% of the American population participates in the Pentagon activity. 1%. 99% are worried about our barbecues and skin texture. So there are reasons. But I think we have to say that war is unjust, it's inhuman, it's criminal, and we shouldn't treat other people as dots on a spot or quote 'strategic points' or iron wells or mines or resources, et cetera.

We need to deal again with people. We have to accept people's humanity, but we also need to accept our own humanity as our own limits and live within our limits and mind our own business.

Helena Cobban (00:50)

Great point here. Tamina, do we have somebody else with a question there in the room? No.

Tamina Chowdhury (00:50)

We don't have any questions. Okay.

Helena Cobban (00:50)

So I can actually come up with a question that I had. Definitely, it's the issue of what's the best way to help women in Afghanistan, especially for you Zaher.

Dr. Zaher Wahab (00:51)

Help men and women. For one thing, I have to say that don't take everything that you hear from the corporate media is true or serious. The corporate media in this country is a cheerleading entity for the American Empire. They develop the narrative, they develop the consensus and they project a certain image of this country and also of other countries. So there are reasons for that life in Afghanistan other than economic hardship. I listen because I'm fluent in both of the local languages, Pashto and Dari. I read three or four of their papers like 08:00 a.m., Khaama Press and TOLO News, and Radio Liberty.

If you read these are in English, they're also in English, so women can demonstrate, women can organize. There are limits placed on them, men and women. And everybody. There are limits because the Taliban keeps saying we were not ready to move in. There was an agreement that there would be a coalition transitional government between Ghani and the Taliban and others. And then there will be an interim government and then Ghani would leave and the Taliban would move in. But Ghani, fearing or imagining things, escaped and escaped with truckloads of money.

So the agreement fell apart. The Taliban were not ready and Hekmatyar Karzai and Abdellah invited and asked the Taliban to move into Kabul and control and maintain law and order. So you have these guerilla fighters who were not prepared, trained already to govern the country. So obviously there are going to be problems. But back to the women thing, we work directly with women's organizations. There are women. But I would say don't so much work with the Afghan woman in diaspora. These do not represent the woman.

Then they do not represent the vast majority of the women in Afghanistan now. So go through the UN agencies or other organizations, Save the Children, UNICEF, UNESCO, UNAMA, UNDP, and other such Mercy Corps in Portland, there are organizations that you can channel or establish lines with women and help.

Helena Cobban (00:53)

Those are wonderful suggestions. I noticed that the World Health Organization was able to get a very important agreement about vaccination campaigns, resuming vaccination campaigns nationwide throughout Afghanistan that had been interrupted for a long time, partly because there was a lot of popular distrust of vaccination programs, which the fortunes of Pakistan and Afghanistan had actually been used by the CIA to gather...

Dr. Zaher Wahab (00:54)

I think our support should be more and more political diplomatic than monitoring so much. I think the idea of the UNDP trust fund, which would help all of the working affairs and most of them including healthcare, education, small businesses, micro loans, etc. And most of these are done by women. So by helping the trust fund to quickly inject money into the Afghan economy at the grassroots level outside of Taliban, you are helping women and men and children and all living things in Afghanistan. So I would say support the trust fund to quickly move the money into the grass roots in Afghanistan.

Graham Fuller (00:55)

And I think, above all else, it is essential to try to avoid any recurrence of violence, military struggle at all. But as we all know, it is war. It is civil war. It is day to day violence that inevitably encourages and supports the most extreme elements, whether from the right or the left or religious or secular or whatever. This makes space. So above all else, I think it is imperative that no effort be made to try to support one faction of the country against another, which probably would turn into some kind of military conflict and which guarantees radical outcome and the worst of conditions for people to think in any moderate and progressive sense for the future.

Dr. Zaher Wahab (00:56)

Well, I'm so glad to see that I've been talking about the idea of the trust fund for months, and now I see that it's going to be implemented. This is wonderful. My other pet peeve is to quickly station a UN peacekeeping force in Afghanistan. Regardless, you need to keep the Afghans apart from each other because if the foreigners have left, if conditions get bad, there will be a problem, inter-ethnic conflict or even war, a civil war or several civil wars in Afghanistan. So the world must put in place a certain number of UN peacekeeping force in Afghanistan.

They will be cheap, they're credible, they're legitimate and they will be effective so that it can maintain peace and law and order in the country for the foreseeable future. We have UN peacekeeping forces from eight to ten different countries and they work fine. And I think we really need to put one in place in Afghanistan to prevent trouble.

Helena Cobban (00:57)

I think we're probably going to have to wrap up now because we usually want our programs to stay within 1 hour. But in a sense, I think this is the beginning of a great discussion for us here at the Friend's meeting of Washington. And for everybody who's been taking part, there are a couple of questions that we have not been able that came in the chat that we've not been able to address just before I leave and close down the meeting. I want to remind or inform everybody that the Friends Meeting of Washington is going to be making donations to the World Food Program's projects in Afghanistan.

Feeding people in the aftermath of war is a long Quaker tradition that goes back to the First World War. It probably goes back to the Civil War here in the United States. And it's always been something that we wanted to do because we know that wars hurt women, children, the most vulnerable members of society, including by inflicting starvation and hunger on them.

So the Peace and Social Concerns Committee is going to match dollar for dollar any donations that people can make to this project. Just go to our website and click on the donations and where it says information or memo just put, "For Afghanistan". And our administrator will send the money to the World Food Program's feeding projects in Afghanistan. That's a little thing that we can do. But I think it serves to remind all of us that there are 39 people in Afghanistan who are suffering-- 39 million people, that is...

And now, first of all, I really want to thank both of our panelists, the experience and the thoughtfulness that you have brought to the discussion has really enriched us also.

Thank you, Doctor Zaher.

Dr. Zaher Wahab (00:59)

Thank you and thank you, Graham.

Graham Fuller (00:59)

Well, thank you, Doctor Zaher. I learned a great deal of very practical and useful information from you, so thank you.

Helena Cobban (00:59)

And then behind the scenes, we've had Ian Mooney and Amelle Zeroug. So thanks to the two of you. And thanks to Tamina in the room there.

We will be posting the video of this on the Just World Educational website and definitely producing a transcript as well, so that we can actually amplify the many discussions that we've had here just before we all leave. Let's have a short period of silence together, and then we can get around the rest of our day, but join me in a few minutes, a few moments of silence.

Helena Cobban (01:00)

Thank you, everybody. Let's get out there and make the world a better place!

Dr. Zaher Wahab (01:00)

Yes. Thank you.

Graham Fuller (01:01)

Thank you.

Speakers for the Session


Dr Zaher Wahab


Graham Fuller


Helena Cobban

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