Afghanistan Also Battleground of Ideologies
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 5, 2002 Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said Afghanistan is not only the scene of a war on terrorism, but also the battleground of opposing Muslim ideologies, and the relationship of the Muslim world with the West.
The United States cannot just find and kill terrorists, it must offer the world's 1.5 billion Muslims an alternative to radical Islam, Wolfowitz said at the Brookings Institution here Sept. 5. The deputy secretary was the keynote speaker for a seminar putting the events of the last year in perspective.
"The arena where we will most readily be judged is Afghanistan -- and that is one reason why it is so important to succeed there," he said.
Wolfowitz said the struggle in Afghanistan at its heart is the war over modernity, secularism, pluralism and economic development. He said the West must work to bridge a dangerous gap that separates the Muslim world and the West.
"Part of bridging this gap is helping to expose the lies at the heart of the terrorists' methods and convincing their potential followers that theirs is a blind alley leading to defeat and ignominy," Wolfowitz said.
Afghanistan has seen much progress since Sept. 11, 2001. "The Afghan people have been liberated. The Taliban is out of power and -- along with portions of al Qaeda -- they are killed, or dispersed and on the run," he said. "This fact alone has paved the way for other significant developments, some of which are transforming the landscape in that war- torn region, both literally and figuratively."
Afghanistan under the Taliban was facing famine and starvation. Wolfowitz said more than 5 million Afghans were reduced to surviving on cattle feed, grass and insects.
"When military operations began last October, humanitarian efforts were an integral part of our military missions from the very beginning," he said. U.S. cargo planes dropped humanitarian rations and military engineers helped open roads and other supply routes into the country.
The United States and the U.N. World Food Program provided more than 575,000 metric tons of food to almost 10 million Afghans. "Today, the picture (in Afghanistan) is vastly different, Wolfowitz said. "Famine has been averted, and refugees have returned in record numbers."
But assistance is more than food. The United Nations, nongovernmental agencies and individual U.S. and coalition troops have pitched in to build more than 50 schools in the country.
"That means that some 62,000 more children -- boys and girls -- youngsters whose first lessons taught them that the sound of gunfire was a natural part of life -- can now go to school and learn new lessons, dream new dreams," he said. "And that is certainly one of the most far-reaching ways we can help these young Afghans build their own better world."
But rebuilding Afghanistan physically is the lesser part of the battle. Rebuilding the country politically and socially is far more important. Wolfowitz said there are encouraging signs including the loya jirga electing Hamid Karzai as president of the two-year transitional government.
"One senior adviser to Karzai said that, for the first time in more than 20 years, the people of Afghanistan are acquiring a voice," he said. "But, now, we must empower the Afghan government, whose ministries are weak and whose governmental coffers hold less than a third of what their modest budget requires. And we must reinforce President Karzai's popular mandate with enough resources to fulfill promises to the Afghan people."
Security plays a large part in allowing the Afghan people to rebuild in peace. He said the United States would work with other nations to find a leader for the International Security Assistance Force now led by Turkey. The Turks' six-month term ends in December. Wolfowitz said the United States favors expanding the ISAF outside Kabul, the Afghan capital.
"I think there are some benefits that could come from using ISAF in ways outside the capital that would include patrolling, training the Afghan National Army, police, and border guard forces, and 'buddying-up' with graduated Afghan National Army battalions," he said. "We welcome and support these developments and encourage the international community to provide the leadership and resources necessary to make it happen."
But, he said, the ISAF must continue to enforce stability in Kabul.
Wolfowitz said success in Afghanistan is crucial to the United States, and that America is in the struggle for the long run. "We remember the steep price there was to pay when Afghanistan was a failed state," he said. "Having come this far, and done so much, we will not walk away."