Congressman Jim McGovern made several great points about domestic policy and the economy as reported in this paper Sept. 2. However, I disagree with the comments that we should, and I'm paraphrasing what was reported, "pack up and leave Afghanistan." Here's why Afghanistan is important.

Afghanistan is in desperate need of support. If the international community, including the U.S., turns its back on Afghanistan now, when it is very vulnerable to a resurgent Taliban, we are going to be making the same mistake we made in 1989 after the Soviets left; we are going to allow the country to destroy itself. And for those who don't think this is our problem, it is.

After the Soviets were defeated in 1989, civil war broke out and the Taliban eventually came to power, which then provided a safe haven for Al Qaeda.

Politically, it sounds nice to say "bring our troops home now," but practically, history has something harsh to say about prematurely abandoning support for a nation in need.

When the Soviets "surged" troops in the mid 1980s in Afghanistan, it went in vain and ultimately ended in defeat. However, the U.S. has a completely different mission in Afghanistan than did the Soviets.

Virtually the whole of Afghanistan fought against the Soviets. We are welcome in a much different fashion. Many if not most Afghans enjoy a U.S. presence. The Taliban are not really Afghan; its leaders are Pushtun of Pakistani origin and many of its leaders were "students" in strict Salafi-Deobandi Islamic madrassas in Pakistan (hence the name Taliban, an offshoot of "talib," which means student).

They relocated to Afghanistan where they could do as they wished. Afghans, Pakistanis and many others from the Middle East have described to me that the type of Islam practiced by the Taliban bears no resemblance to mainstream Islam. While I was living in London, my Muslim roommate from Turkey, for example, offered me a drink of alcohol while out for dinner, and many of the Muslim students I attend school with at Harvard also drink alcohol, skip prayer and are very moderate.

The notion that Afghanistan has corrupt elections is all the more reason for an international presence, and one led by the U.S. The U.S. is not the world's police, but the presence of the Taliban, and Al Qaeda to a lesser degree, makes it in our national security interest to see to it that Afghanistan is stable. What is less certain today is whether or not the Taliban would harbor terrorist organizations again.

For a project unrelated to this column, I interviewed several Afghans temporarily in the U.S. on a visa, many of whom had a father who fought as a mujahideen against the Soviets. They have told me that had 9/11 not happened the U.S. would never have given any attention to Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the rights of women, children, and minorities would have continued to be trampled on by the Taliban. And if that is not bad enough, the nation would continue to have been a breeding ground for terrorist training compromising our security and that of our allies.

The Taliban is already strong and that is with a U.S. presence and if we turn our back on Afghanistan now, there is virtually every indication that it will fall into a civil war again, as it did in the early 1990s and the Taliban will make resurgence. This is bad for our security.

PAUL HEROUX of Attleboro lived and worked in the Middle East and has a master's in international relations from the London School of Economics. He is a candidate for a master's in public administration at Harvard University's JFK School of Government. He can be reached at

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