On invasions, wars and libraries

January 05, 2019 08:29 pm | Updated January 06, 2019 12:56 pm IST

An injured U.S. Army soldier in Arghandab valley, Afghanistan, in July 2010.

An injured U.S. Army soldier in Arghandab valley, Afghanistan, in July 2010.

In a press conference held on Wednesday in Washington, U.S. President Donald Trump made comments with regard to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the subsequent war.

“The reason Russia was in Afghanistan was because terrorists were going into Russia. They were right to be there,” Mr. Trump told reporters, justifying the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan, which culminated in an extended conflict that has continued till now, barring brief periods of peace.

“The problem is, it was a tough fight. And literally, they went bankrupt. They went back to being called Russia again as opposed to being the Soviet Union,” he said, in defence of reducing the U.S. spending on what has become the country’s longest war.

The statement angered many Afghans, who view many of the mujahideen fighters who fought Soviet forces as national heroes. Many of them also took to social media to point out that the very fighters Mr. Trump referred to as “terrorists” had in fact been supported by successive U.S. administrations over the years in their fight against the Soviets. “We didn’t send terrorists to USSR in 79. USSR invaded us,” Waheed Omar, the Afghan Ambassador to Italy tweeted, further pointing out that U.S. governments funded Pakistani intelligence, which resulted in further instability.

Many Afghans also spoke up against Mr. Trump’s jibe at the Indian contribution to peace-building efforts. The U.S. President mocked Prime Minister Narendra Modi for saying that India built libraries in the war-torn country.

“You know what that is? That’s like five hours of what we spend. And we’re supposed to say, ‘Oh, thank you for the library.’ I don’t know who’s using it in Afghanistan,” Mr. Trump told the media.

Indian assistance

While India has invested in several small infrastructure projects such as schools and libraries, the overall contribution made by New Delhi in development assistance of Afghanistan is close to $3 billion, the largest among countries in the region.

“India, as a trustworthy partner in Afghanistan, has [contributed] and continues to contribute to the reconstruction and development of Afghanistan in a number of different ways,” Javid Faisal, a former government official and a parliamentary candidate, told this writer. “We look forward to expanding our relations further in the best interests of the two brotherly countries,” he said, in response to Mr. Trump’s comments.

Echoing a similar sentiment, Illyas Kamavi, a civil activist from Nangarhar province, defended Indian’s presence in the country. “Sure, India has its own interests, as every country does who supports us. But the role India has played here since 9/11 has been constructive,” he explained to this writer.

He also speculated that Mr. Trump’s changing strategy in Afghanistan was unlikely to impact Indian’s relations with Afghanistan. “Afghans have engaged with Indians, not simply on the basis of common interests but also on the basis of long-standing political history,” he explained, elaborating with the reference of political asylum-seekers in India.

“If we look at recent history, Dr. Najibullah and his family preferred to go India during [the civil war] and Afghan jihad and they were accepted by the Indian state,” he pointed out, referring to the former Afghan President who had sought asylum in India, but was later assassinated by the Taliban. “People of Afghanistan appreciate the support and cooperation of the Indian state in building Afghanistan,” Mr. Kamavi said.

Ruchi Kumar is a freelance journalist based in Kabul

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