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Ventura County Perspective | YOUTH ESSAY

Preventing Conflict, Promoting Peace

July 04, 1999|MONAMI CHAKRABARTI | Editor's note: Monami Chakrabarti, a 1999 Newbury Park High School graduate, won first place in state-level competition in the National Peace Essay Contest sponsored by the United States Institute of Peace. The institute, created and funded by Congress, sponsors the contest to promote education on international peace and conflict resolution. Chakrabarti joined other winners in Washington, D.C., June 19-24 and will receive a scholarship. Her essay follows

It is a perforated, light blue swatch of mesh that represents the obstructed view of the world for a nation of people who were once free. Embedded in this piece of the burka is the story of the Afghan people--the story of the tears, suffering and suppression of millions of Afghan women, the denial of human rights and the history of a conflict that brewed for years. Although many international organizations and national governments attempted preventive measures to head off this violent international crisis, their efforts proved unsuccessful and, in 1996, the radical Taliban militia seized power. Unlike in Afghanistan, conflict in the Balkans unveiled new aspects of the role of international organizations and national governments in preventive diplomacy. In Macedonia, preventive measures were taken at the urging of the Macedonian government and, as a result, the violent conflict in the former Yugoslavia was prevented from spilling over.

According to most historians, preventing an international crisis is about memory, truth, history and justice, and the daunting yet unavoidable duty to weave them into an intelligible whole. To avert a conflict in its early stages, it is imperative that the history of the conflict be understood. The roots of the Afghan conflict date back to the decade of the Soviet Union's occupation. The first year of the occupation, 1979, also marked the first in the tragic history of external interference that would long color Afghanistan's destiny. According to scholar Paula Newberg, central Asia, Iran, Pakistan and the United States were perpetually intervening. Newberg says that the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan proved to be a sort of proxy war between the United States and Soviet Union and spawned horrific destruction, since the rebel moujahedeen, or freedom fighters, as they were called, were trained to form internal opposition to the Soviet regime. However, after Soviet troops left Afghanistan, the image of the moujahedeen soldiers changed from heroic warriors to that of zealous reactionaries unable to form a stable government.

The situation, as Peter Marsden writes, "became suddenly complex. . . . It was hard to know who was fighting whom and why." The moujahedeen movements and opposition factions suddenly transformed into a mosaic of confusion, and this confusion laid the groundwork for the emergence of the Taliban. Although this confusion and lack of national authority after the Soviet withdrawal appeared to signal an imminent and violent international crisis, international organizations failed to take a strong stand and prevent escalation. In 1994, the United Nations secretary general sent a special mission to Afghanistan to explore the future role of the U.N. in fostering national dialogue and reconstruction. Discussions were held with Afghan refugees, Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Options considered included a substantial U.N. presence and free and fair elections, but to date these talks have continually been sidelined.

International humanitarian agencies and nongovernmental organizations were also ready to support the millions of Afghan refugees who had fled during the Soviet occupation. Nongovernmental organizations began to restore the agricultural base, clear mines from roads and set up hospitals. However, the help came too late. The radical Taliban had already taken control of portions of southern Afghanistan, plunging many areas into a full-scale system of "gender apartheid" through the pretense of Islamic tradition.

The unseated Afghan government made last-minute pleas to the U.N. in 1996 to prevent the entire nation from being plundered by the Taliban. The former leader of Afghanistan urged the U.N. Security Council to implement a peace plan to prevent a crisis. Points included a military withdrawal from Kabul, removal of heavy weapons from the capital, recognition of the city as a demilitarized zone and introduction of an international police force formed by the U.N. and the Organization of the Islamic Conference. But this plan was viewed with skepticism by other U.N. members.

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