Most Afghan and Western diplomats agree: they must. Time’s clearly far overdue for a ceasefire and clear path ahead to end one of the deadliest conflicts of the 21st century, Afghanistan’s most recent 20-year-old civil war.
The estimated combat death toll of Afghans in the war so far is estimated to be more than 31,000, along with more than 2,500 U.S. troops. Among civilians, fatalities from local fighting, hunger or disease are at least 115,000 since the turn of the century.
MSN’s Alex Ward reports that on March 7, “after weeks of sensitive deliberations and closed-door meetings, two secret Afghanistan documents were leaked to the public, revealing their behind-the-scenes push for a peace agreement between the Taliban and Afghan government that would facilitate the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the 20-year war.
Until the documents’ formal release, Mr. Ward reported, “the belief has been that the Biden administration was discussing three broad options about how to proceed in Afghanistan:
- The first was to adhere to former President Donald Trump’s deal in preliminary talks with the Taliban to withdraw all remaining 2,500 troops from Afghanistan by a previously agreed date of May 1 this year
- The second was to negotiate an extension with that insurgent group to permit American forces to remain in Afghanistan beyond early May. That might enable the Taliban to reach a solid and enduring peace agreement with Kabul, and
- The third was to keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan with no definitive withdrawal date until a final, guaranteed, and internationally verified peace is reached.
With May 1 just about six weeks away, pressures are growing each passing day for signs of solid diplomatic progress toward resolving the conflict. Washington Post correspondents Missy Ryan, Karen DeYoung and Susannah George reported March 13:
“The United States appears poised to extend its troop presence in Afghanistan beyond the May 1 deadline agreed to last year with the Taliban, as it races to secure an interim peace deal that could end America’s longest war and allow President Biden to move toward an elusive foreign policy goal.”
Snapshots through a VOA lens
A half century ago, I visited Kabul as a VOA correspondent. It was striking how friendly the Afghan people were. It’s difficult to imagine their plight today. The Taliban, who fled the country in late 2001 after the U.S. invasion, are now preparing to come back, hopeful that after the 2,500 American peacekeepers and allied forces leave, that they can regain control.
My experience with Afghanistan continued some years later, when I served as a VOA senior executive in the 1990s. VOA had just expanded its Afghan language reach by adding a Dari service to the pioneer Pashto service.
A relatively new native Afghan speaker at the time at the Voice was the late Spozhmai Mawandi, who died in 2020 some years after her retirement. Spozhmai was kind enough to share with me the harrowing experience she and her daughter had when they left Afghanistan in the early Eighties.
“We approached the southern frontier with Pakistan, and found the guards there quite reluctant to let us through,” Ms. Maiwandi recalled. Finally they relented. “OK,” one said, “the actual border is a couple of hundred meters over that meadow you can see from our toll station window. You’re free to go.” Ms. Maiwandi and her daughter ran as fast as they could downhill to the border, and the rest is history.
Spozhmai joined VOA on her eventual arrival in Washington, and immediately was commissioned to help recruit for a second Afghan language service, Dari, to join the fairly new Pashto Service at the time. Shortly after that, the two services joined forces to a single Afghan broadcast unit.
VOA Afghan Today
In a TV report last month, the Voice’s Afghan Service reported the remarkable story of a 70-year-old Afghan farmer, Ghaltam Mohammed. Why, at that age, is he tilling the fields? For unbelievably grim and urgent reasons: two of his sons have been killed in strife-torn Afghanistan, and he now heads the entire family of 11. As Galtam Mohmmed puts it: “Feeding them all is a real struggle.”
“Upon seeing our story of this devastated family,” the service reports, “people including Afghan-Americans, contacted our reporter to connect them with Galtham Mohammed. Many have agreed to help him financially on a monthly basis. Our story generated 634,000 Facebook views and more than 30,000 reactions on Facebook.”
The urgency is clear. For humanitarian reasons alone, rapid diplomatic action is essential for a humanitarian solution to save not hundreds but perhaps thousands or even millions of lives in a long procession of crises afflicting Afghanistan.
As a 36-year veteran of the Voice of America (VOA), Alan Heil traveled to more than 40 countries a foreign correspondent in the Middle East, and later as director of News and Current Affairs, deputy director of programs, and deputy director of the nation’s largest publicly-funded overseas multimedia network. Today, VOA reaches more than 275 million people around the world each week via radio, television and online media. Read More