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A friend recently asked me the following question: ‘What is your view on what should happen in Afghanistan? I believe that a country should be ruled by the democratic principles of the early Chartists and Tom Paine etc. They are my moral compasses over here [in the West] not knowing yours, aside from Muhammad Ali Jinnah, of course. However, is there the will there to protect the way of life that allows women and girls to be educated? What should be done internally and how can people in the western countries involved [in the region] help?’

Here’s what I said in response:

Afghanistan is a mess and a byproduct of the Cold War. It has reached its present state due to plundering, both intentional and unintentional, by vested interests of internal and external powers. As is well known by now, in the 1980s, the CIA-funded extremist literature and systematic brainwashing created monstrous killing machines, not just in numbers, but in generations. Meanwhile, the Pakistani intelligence agencies knowingly remained tools in the grander scheme because they could salvage two cents from the dollars being pumped in.

As a result of those policies, the border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan became awash with foreign fighters culled by western interests from across the Muslim world to join the ranks of the mujahideen. These fighters aren’t acceptable to Pakistan or Afghanistan, and their home countries certainly don’t want them back. Of course, not all foreign fighters in the region became jihadi machines: some were doctors, some engineers, some preachers who settled down and had families. Bear in mind, we are talking about a period of over 30 years.

Also remember that the geography of the area has tribal customs dating back centuries. The tribals are hospitable people with traditions such as Pakhtoonwali and they’ll do everything necessary to protect those they deem as guests.

I need to bore you with the background because the future is closely linked to learning from the past. After September 11, 2001, the CIA, US government, and other western powers with regional interests, changed their minds, and with a snap of their fingers wanted to mow down on beliefs and ideologies they had sown for decades.

As a result, we have a myriad of muddles here, which each successive intervener with no foresight has complicated even more, both on the home and the international front. Now, there is no easy fix. The easiest solution, which would have had lasting impact and perhaps saved us from present-day travails, was education. Call me an optimist, but I see prosperity clubbed with knowledge as the only solution that can give people a sense of belonging and responsibility.

War brings destruction and creates divides that run deeper with each battle. You too might become a suicide bomber if ‘friendly’ mortar hit all your family and everyone you loved was charred alive before your eyes. Believe me, I have come across people with such harrowing tales. The way to end this cycle of violence is to give people something to lose and then let them guard it. Take away everything, and you have an unpredictable weapon that can explode in your face.

The only way the West can help in Pakistan and Afghanistan is by empowering democracy. Not the Karzai style, Washington- and London-approved version, but a system that expresses the actual will of the people. Let the Taliban get the vote, let them come to power and set ground rules. At this point, you cannot wish them away as they are a mighty force the West created. And if it took three decades to build it, it will take at least double that time to dismantle it.In the interim, build schools, build hospitals, build power stations, build roads, and when the Taliban destroy them, build them again. That is the only solution.

The Obama administration may be on the right track, but they have to do more to gain trust. The CIA’s not-so-secret plans of securing Pakistan’s nukes, just in case, of taking over Kabul, just in case, of securing Islamabad, just in case – these are manifestations of the white man’s burden that Washington needs to put to rest. Until a double game is being played, there is no solution to Afghanistan or to Pakistan’s tribal areas, no matter how many troops you send in.

Accept yesterday’s mistakes and facilitate a prosperous tomorrow.

Osama Bin Javaid is a Senior Duty Editor at DawnNews TV.

The following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.