Recently, I’ve been reading Stephen Coll’s insightful and terrifying book Ghost Wars, about the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and the creation of Al Qaeda, and it has made me see the parallels between the situation in Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion and the current situation in Syria.
- Both sides are supported by foreign powers.
Russia is a major arms supplier to Syria, just as it was for Afghanistan’s communist government. Russia has defended the weapons shipments, saying that governments have a right to defend themselves and that the contracts are of longstanding. Is that if up the show is also used its vote on the Security Council to oppose an arms embargo against Syria. Iran is also supplying weapons. According to a U.N. Security Council report, “Syria continues to be the central party to illicit Iranian arms transfers,” and Iran has been one Syria’s most steadfast allies. On the other hand, several gulf countries are supplying weapons to various opposition groups in the white house has announced that it will provide Communications and Equipment to the rebels. Some members of Congress are lobbying for the US to begin arming the opposition as well.
- Foreign fighters are coming to join the “jihad”
In the 1980s, Afghanistan’s native mujahedeen were joined by fighters from other Muslim countries. In the same way, young men from throughout the Muslim world, mostly Lebanese, Iraqis, Palestinians, and Jordanians, are crossing into Syria to fight alongside Syrian rebels. Experts estimate that there are now about 18,000 of these mujahedeen in Syria, making Up about 4% the opposition force. Some of these fighters are joining the main opposition group Free Syrian Army, while others are forming their own independent militias. Some Saudi clerics are playing on the Sunni-Shiite divide to call for a jihad against he Shiite Assad regime. The presence of these mujahedeen complicates the situation on the ground because they are an armed force outside of the two groups the U.N. has been negotiating with
- The conflict is a microcosm for regional tensions
Just as the Cold War confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union was played out on the ground in Afghanistan, the battleground in Syria is a proxy for several current conflicts and controversies. First, the Syrian uprising was born out of the “Arab Spring” protests shock shook the Arab in early 2011. Second, as previously mentioned, some people are couching the clash between Syria’s government and its people as a battle between Shiites and Sunnis, with Iran supporting the Shiite regime while and the Sunni-ruled gulf countries back they opposition.
The parallels between the Cold War Afghanistan conflict in the unrest in Syria have interesting implications. In Afghanistan, the mujahedeen’s various foreign supporters back different rival factions, to the extent that they often worked against each other. A similar situation could develop in Syria as the conflict continues. Rivalry between the opposition factions and their supporters could lead to the set of long-term Instability that was seen in Afghanistan. It is important to remember that not all the parties to support Syria’s opposition to have the same goals. Another factor that contributed to instability suffered in Afghanistan was presence of foreign fighters, and just as the nations supporting Syria’s opposition have their own agendas, the foreign fighters may have different goals and then the local opposition. Finally, since many regional tensions affect how other countries are dealing with the situation in Syria, international tensions are fuelling the conflict in Syria.
Possibly the most important lesson to be gleaned from the aftermath of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan is the importance of reconstruction. If foreign backers and other allies pull out a soon as the fighting is over, it sets the stage for further unrest, particularly given the presence of foreign fighters not associated with mainstream opposition groups. In the case of Afghanistan, the unrest has lasted more than 20 years.
Perhaps if we learn from history, we won’t have to repeat in Syria.