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'Afghan War is Defining Moment in History of Whole Region' – Scholar

© AP Photo / Sergei GritsAn Afghan peasant ploughs near Soviet-made D-30 howitzers just outside the village of Ai-Khanum, Northern Afghanistan, Friday Nov. 9, 2001.
An Afghan peasant ploughs near Soviet-made D-30 howitzers just outside the village of Ai-Khanum, Northern Afghanistan, Friday Nov. 9, 2001. - Sputnik International
Friday, 15 February marked the 30th anniversary of the withdrawal of the Soviet troops from Afghanistan. Sputnik discussed the event and the situation in the country today after decades of war with Dr Joseph Fitsanakis, associate professor of politics in intelligence and the national security studies programme at Coastal Carolina University.

Sputnik: How much does the echo of the Afghan War reverberate in the country?

Dr Joseph Fitsanakis: Well I think it's a defining moment for the history not only of Afghanistan but of the entire region. I think the reverberations of this significant event. That war, [which] really defined an era, is still with us in so many ways; in fact, I would say that's the most important parameter of modern Afghan politics and one of the most important factors in the region is as we speak.

Sputnik: The US is still involved in this war, they've been there for quite some time and some experts say the US has actually made its own enemy with its actions during the Afghan War in the 1980s. Speaking of the Taliban, which at one point was supported by the US prior to having morphed into Al-Qaeda* and getting involved in a terrorist attack on 9/11, what are your thoughts on this?

Dr Joseph Fitsanakis: To be accurate, the group that eventually morphed into the Taliban was one of the groups that were supported by outside forces, including, in some cases, the United States, mostly through aid given to neighbouring Pakistan.

Gradual withdrawal of limited contingent of Soviet forces from the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan (the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan). A column of armored vehicles crosses the Afghan-Soviet border on the Friendship Bridge over the Amu Darya River. - Sputnik International
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But it's true, I think the 9/11 attacks that have defined the modern era in so many ways were a direct outcome of the experience of both the Soviet Union and the United States in the Afghan-Soviet War. Back in the 1980s, the Central Intelligence Agency had a major operation happening in Afghanistan, which aim was to make it difficult for Soviet influence to gain a foothold in the country, and at that point, some experts claim that the CIA operation in Afghanistan was, at the time, the largest in the world.

So it's interesting how this small, isolated, landlocked country became essentially a major piece in a game of chess between the superpowers; but, yes, I will agree with you, that things have happened since then, including the Afghan Civil War, 9/11 and America's response to 9/11 were in many ways a direct outcome of that experience.

READ MORE: Gromov on Afghanistan: US Did Everything to Halt Soviet Pullout or Ensure Losses

Sputnik: Do you think that modern terrorism is actually rooted in what happened in Afghanistan, or is it other conflicts that we've seen in Libya, Syria, or Iraq?

Dr Joseph Fitsanakis: There was no intention by either the Soviets or the Americans to create that sort of ripple effect that is still with us today, but these developments are very difficult to predict and forecast. So, it was the unintended consequences of that which brought us to where we are today.

What was interesting about the resistance to the Soviet invasion back in the 1980s was that it became bigger than just a nationalist attempt to push back the Soviets; it became a religious war and that was something that you could say was a defining characteristic of the local struggle to push back the Soviets.

The idea that they were not just fighting for taking back their country such as it was, but they were also fighting against sinful infidels, people who didn't believe in Islam.

The fact is though, the Soviets, just like the Americans after them, in many ways miscalculated the actual ethnic essence of the country, which is a country only in the imagination of the Soviets and in today's case Western citizens; Afghanistan is hardly a country, never really has been, it's just a collection of tribes, and it's that tribal essence of the country that has led to its instability ever since.

READ MORE: Gorbachev: Soviet Party, People Supported Troop Withdrawal From Afghanistan

Sputnik: Is there anything that can change that situation? Is there any way that it will become a country? What's needed for it, if that's a possibility?

Dr Joseph Fitsanakis: That's been really the goal of the policy of the Soviets and the Americans ever since the late 1960s, to be honest, but I just don't see how this collection of tribes that have very limited interaction with a neighbouring village, let alone, other tribes that often speak a different language and have different customs and history, and traditions, would ever change.

U.S. soldiers patrol the perimeter of a weapons cache four miles of the US military base in Bagram, Afghanistan (File) - Sputnik International
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It's just the country itself geopolitically, but also geographically, is one that doesn't offer itself very easily to a lot of social interaction between isolated pockets of populations. The place is very inhospitable, the Soviets built some roads while they were there, but nothing really close to what the country would need for this kind of interaction to take place. Telecommunications today are very much non-existent in the country.

The animosity that carries over from previous decades is still there, and so essentially still the idea of Afghanistan very much remains imaginary in the minds of outside forces.

Sputnik: Perhaps, infrastructure projects? Would they make a difference? Modernization, or is that something that the people just don't want or need?

Dr Joseph Fitsanakis: The problem with that is that because of the experience of Afghanistan, not just with the Soviets, but also before them, with the British and so many other attempted conquerors that go back centuries, they've come to associate any kind of modernization attempt with attempts to change their lifestyle and to impose some kind of cultural rules over them.

Let me remind you that a very large reason for the resistance to the Soviet invasion of the country in the 1980s was cultural. Attempts by pro-Soviet politicians in the country to curtail religion, curtail religious effects on women etc., etc., to change traditional ways of ruling small towns and villages in the countryside, [this] is what lead to the mass uprising against the Soviets and their allies in the country.

There is definitely a very small, urban, educated, Westernised, in those days pro-Soviet elite, but that is very small and very isolated and does not really have much in common with the majority of the country that lives in very destitute conditions in the countryside.

1st Lt. Chris Richelderfer, Executive Officer of Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 1st Squadron, 91st Cavalry Regiment (Airborne), looks at possible enemy positions during Operation Saray Has July 19 near Forward Operating Base Naray, Afghanistan. - Sputnik International
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Sputnik: Now an agreement on the possible withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan was recently reached, in any case, according to reports, between the US and the Taliban. How probable [is] and how soon do you see a US pull-out?

Dr Joseph Fitsanakis: I don't see a US pull-out happening in any meaningful way anytime soon, and to be honest with you, I just don't see any time when America is not going to have a significant political, military or diplomatic presence in the country.

It's significant because of its location in that region, right next to Pakistan, which is a Muslim country with nuclear weapons, shares a very large border, a long border with Iran, it is closer than many other countries in the region to the Indian Ocean. In itself, it's not perhaps as significant as many have suggested, but the location is what makes it so significant. So I just don't see America backing out of that country, leaving that country in any significant way any time soon.

READ MORE: Number of Daesh Terrorists in Afghanistan Could Grow to 10,000 — Envoy to UN

Sputnik: What is next for Afghanistan in the coming decades? Do you think people will ever be able to enjoy peace?

Dr Joseph Fitsanakis: I'm not very optimistic about the future of the country. I think the legacy of blood that is still with it after so many decades of war has become an everyday reality. For most Afghans fighting is just what they do; they have never really experienced, in several generations life without it, it's become almost a part of what they expect.

Soviet troops on the way home. 14 February 1989. - Sputnik International
War is Over: 30th Anniversary of Soviet Military Withdrawal From Afghanistan
So their expectations, I think, are quite limited and low; not to mention, of course, the interventions by neighbouring countries, both from the region and from further out, in the case of the United States, have tended to be typically not to be constructive, quite damaging for the stability of the country. Because I don't see an end to these interventions from outside, things will become even more complicated in the future years.

Views and opinions, expressed in the article are those of Dr Joseph Fitsanakis and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik

* Al-Qaeda is a terrorist organisation banned in Russia

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