Opinion Extra

Nouri, Green: Afghan-Americans can help shape exit strategy

It is time for Afghan and Afghan-American voices to be heard regarding President Obama's decision to send more troops to Afghanistan. American public opinion is split over whether the president is sending America's military men down a black hole of hopelessness, or if the Afghan war is justified by statements like "we need to smoke al-Qaeda out of their caves," "Osama is wanted dead or alive" and "we will destroy, defeat and dismantle" the enemy.

Such catchphrases will continue as needed to justify involvement in Afghanistan as long as the voices of typical Afghans, and particularly Afghan-Americans, continue to be unheard.

Afghanistan's current prominence is inspiring so many commentaries and analysis so that they are becoming a daily theme from all corners of the world. You turn to any TV channel and find individuals who claim they are experts on Afghan ethnicities, tribal issues and history how have never been to Afghanistan or have only read one or two books on the country.

Having a family legacy in Afghan politics - my father was the very first member of the Afghan diplomatic corps to set up the still-standing Afghan embassy in Washington in 1947 - and having been a keen observer of events in Afghanistan for the past 37 years I, Khalil Nouri, and my colleague, Terry Green, a student of Afghan history, are not overnight experts on Afghanistan.

Comparing the latest from Afghan media with information obtained in the West's media networks, we see dissimilarities between the two. Western polls show high resentment of troop deployments to Afghanistan. But the Afghan populace, mainly in Kabul, Kandahar and Jalal-Abad, speak favorably of foreign troop deployments. However, they want foreign troops to be specifically stationed along the southern and eastern border regions to seal the Afghan-Pakistani border; they do not want foreign troops roaming the cities and open countryside.

Our study also suggests that the current U.S. and NATO operations should remain in the form of counter-terrorism along the porous Afghan-Pakistani border areas instead of counterinsurgency in the populated urban and rural regions. The Durand Line is where weapons, explosives, drug money and militants are crossing daily to destabilize the governments on both sides. This is where extraordinary efforts are needed to snatch success from the jaws of failure and defeat.

Furthermore, all security operations within the Afghan population centers should be carried out by well-trained Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police. The existence of coalition troops in the rural and urban areas in Afghanistan and their lack of Afghan cultural and tribal knowledge and deep sense of history only frustrate the typical Afghan, who has a very strong sense of allegiance to family, tribe and self-worth that Westerners cannot see.

Afghans are a very proud and autonomous people, and poverty does not dictate or diminish their self-worth as a people. This lack of understanding on the part of Westerners makes it very difficult to win over the hearts and minds of the Afghan people. Just like our forefathers, Afghans refuse to be pushed into second-class status in their homeland by any foreign individual or force.

The real problem in Afghanistan comes from a lack of trust. Afghans do not trust one another because they have been on opposite sides in recent civil strife. The West does not trust Afghans because of alleged corruption; and Afghans do not trust the West because Western support has been inconsistent or totally unreliable.

While typical Afghans are tired of images of foreign troops kicking in the doors of fellow Afghans, they continue to hold onto the hope that somehow the Americans and their Afghan-American brethren will not abandon them again.

Afghanistan needs a successful middle class to overcome distrust and become a successful nation. Some might say that it will take more than a decade for that to happen. We beg to differ! Afghanistan already has a successful middle class; however, nearly all of that middle class lives outside of Afghanistan. Therefore, it is time for all Afghans to come to the aid of their country, no matter where they are in the world.

We firmly believe that Afghanistan's path toward a clear exit strategy can begin with Afghans outside Afghanistan. Afghan-Americans are the ones who will make it possible for American military personnel to exit Afghanistan in the time frame outlined by President Obama.