The Afghan war is going nowhere. Taliban and their support groups, several thousand strong, still run parts of the country and have played the game of patience really well, where the response is measured over decades and centuries, the kind of time NATO and the Americans do not have.

9/11 happened in the year 2001. This is 2017. Look at the map of Afghanistan. Look at the ring of countries surrounding Afghanistan and then the ring surrounding those countries. In Afghanistan today we the Americans are out of time and place and with no endgame in sight. We had it good. We tried to make it better. Now we have neither.

There were lessons from history ignored all along. Lessons from the Vietnam war, the fact that no foreign power has ever ruled over Afghanistan and the Pashtun mindset. Pashtuns make up the largest portion of the Afghan population, the Taliban, and their allies. My mother was a Pashtun, and I know a thing or two about the culture.

The best analogy of the Pashtun psychology though not exactly is the American Rednecks. Conservative, proud of their heritage, seemingly arrogant, heavily armed per capita, warriors, hunters, resilient, stubborn, at times self-destructive with a die-hard and never quit attitude, and I am only scratching the surface. That a four to five figure army of Taliban and the Haqqani network has held off a once six-figure NATO and the American troop presence is what I am alluding to. That the modern wars run guerilla style in towns and cities, killing mainly nonparticipatory populations, are not winnable is what I am talking about.

I would have bought the bashing of Pakistan if it was on a joyride in the last decade all the time while America was grinding its teeth. The reality is anything but. There was a time a few years back when Lahore, the city I grew up in, a bustling metropolis of over 11 million, where a lot of my family still lives, was getting sabotaged by regular terror attacks and bombings. I can never forget when one of my relatives told me that when they leave home in the morning, they are not sure how many would be back that evening. What we as Americans need to understand is the direct and indirect devastation our actions and these wars have brought upon a lot of this World’s population who had absolutely nothing to do with the falling of those towers on that ill-fated day in September.

To blame Pakistan for the Afghan conundrum is like blaming the cornerman for the result of a boxing match, a cornerman who has himself received a lot of blows during. Pakistan has had its own love-hate relationship with these groups, has been ravaged by terrorism from these groups and of course and rightly so is going to watch its own interest first and find its own mechanism for dealing with these groups. It has had some success lately as evidenced by a significant decrease in the number of terror attacks there.

Please understand that in the modern world of easy access and sharing of news one person’s terrorist may be another’s Robin Hood. Even our adversaries and terrorists of today were our comrades and allies in the war against the Soviet Union, a war where Pakistan helped America across the finish line. While we in America call out others for terrorism, there are those who consider us the same. Gone are the days of American moral superiority. These long, drawn-out wars and especially the Iraq war with its massive casualties and all that for what again, has ripped the topsoil off the American moral high ground.

And then there is the philosophy of war. In a heavyweight vs lightweight contest there is only so much sympathy, and for so long the heavyweight is going to get even if the original reasoning for the conflict was correct. The heavyweight is more powerful, has more options and thus more responsibility and thus more blame to share and especially when the conflict keeps going on and on and on. Remember human instinct usually favors the underdog in a contest. No wonder today America is left holding the hot potato with its associated cost and consequences almost all by itself and I can see where President Trump is coming from in calling out NATO and UN on this.

Let the local dynamics play and sort it out as painful as it may be in the short term. The long-term, tenable solutions have to come from within, and the best American influence is not by force but by example.

Open them schools in Afghanistan and then some more. Persistently and passionately educate the children of our enemies and then some more. Leave behind loads and loads of books and pencils, blackboard and chalk. How hard can this be? Is it more expensive than 17 years of war?

While we are at it, please fix the year-round potholes on my way to work in Wisconsin and give us all Americans better health care. Yes, we do need money here at home. Please.

As a Physician I live by, “First do no harm” dogma every single day. I came to America not because it had the strongest army but because it was the most caring, generous and advanced society on this planet. Fight these wars with better ideas, better alternatives, better opportunities, better modernity, better sharing, better living and better of all and everything good there is. This is the America I know and live in, and this is when the city on the hill shines its best.

Dr. Arif Ahmad
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