With the United States’ invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001 came an awesome responsibility; that of ensuring the emergence of a vibrant, democratic, Afghan-directed economy and government with the ability to provide much needed security throughout the country in order to prevent a re-incursion of al-Qa`ida-sponsored terrorists supported by a violent Taliban-led regime. That was a tall order. And now, with the recent discovery of vast deposits of rare minerals in Afghanistan, the mission in Afghanistan will enter a new phase and the United States’ commitment becomes even more paramount.
Unfortunately, today’s instant gratification society does not have the patience or discipline to see something of this magnitude through like we did with Europe post-World War II. Most people feel that our mission in Afghanistan should end with the destruction of al-Qa`ida and the elimination of its leadership, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, which will never happen. But that requires another post altogether. The war in Afghanistan is more like the war in Germany in WWII than most people will admit. Like Germany under Nazism, Afghanistan under the Taliban committed atrocities against and in the name of its own people. In 1945 the Allies opted to remain in Germany for a couple of reasons, to ensure Germany did not return to a war-like posture like it did under Hitler after WWI and to defend Western Europe against the Communists. These should be the same reasons we keep troops in Afghanistan; ensure a violent Islamist regime does not regain control of the government in Kabul and to defend against the various violent Islamist factions living and training along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
Fortunately, the mineral discovery absolves us of having to implement a long-term Marshal Plan like we did with Europe at the end of WWII. These deposits, while still years away from yielding significant income for Afghanistan, will more than ensure the country can develop and enter the 21st century international arena.
Nevertheless, as history has demonstrated in places such as Sierra Leone and Angola, the discovery of such a wealth of sought after resources in a country without an effective government or security force can lead to civil war and possibly even genocide. There are few if any examples of underdeveloped, heterogeneously ethnic countries with such vast resources that were able to peacefully develop and stabilize. Usually one ethnic group seizes control of the government and the resources and oppresses all other ethnic groups or one group controls the government while the other takes over the resources and they end up waging a bloody and brutal conflict over who has the authority to rule or control the country’s resources. It is imperative the United States and our allies ensure 1) these resources are kept in Afghan hands and used to benefit the whole of the country and not just one of the many ethnic groups and 2) these resources are not exploited by outsiders for the benefit and wealth of big corporations or other nations while leaving Afghanistan and its people in the Stone Age. We, the United States, must not abandon the Afghan people to the wolves that will almost certainly be at the door, if they are not already in the house, seeking to rape the Afghan people of their new found wealth.
This discovery presents Afghanistan with an incredible opportunity to build their future and become a respectable contributor to the rest of the world. Instead of being known as an exporter of terrorism they will be known as an exporter of rare minerals. Likewise, they will present the rest of the world, particularly their allies, with an opportunity to help them develop their mining technology, bringing the country into the 21st century and introducing other cultures to the Afghan people, some of whom, until at least 2001, were not too far removed from their ancestors in the 18th and 19th centuries as far as technology and quality of life were concerned.
The United States should take the opportunity to learn from the mistakes of the past. While we are in no way similar to the European colonial masters of Africa in the 19th century, there are lessons that we can learn from the mistakes they made, chiefly that we should not allow interlopers to come into Afghanistan to take advantage of the people by taking over and controlling the mines or mining operations, which are sure to be needed as the country grows, or that we simply do not abandon the Afghan people to the warlords who are sure to begin struggling for control of this new industry if the United States and its allies leave Afghanistan without a unified central government able to project power and security throughout the country as needed.
A safe, secure, stable Afghanistan is the best thing for everyone concerned and in three to four decades we should not be preparing to insert a Marine Expeditionary Force into the country to separate warring factions being financed by foreign high-tech companies and fighting and committing genocide over the control of lithium mines.