BEFORE ITS RISE to fame as a battleground in the war on terror, Afghanistan was known as a bubbling geyser of the Cold War. During the 1980s Afghan communists, installed and backed by the Soviet Army, struggled for years to overcome resistance from US-backed mujahideen. Now over a decade after the Soviet withdrawal and bloody ethnic strife that followed the communists are making a comeback. Running for office in today's Afghan parliamentary elections, they have assumed the mantle of modernism against fundamentalism. And in the highly unstable and ethnically fragmented political landscape, the United States seems to have found a friend in their former foe. Arguably, there is some logic to this apparent madness; but our new-found love for the communists could prove perilous unless handled with care.
Rather than using remnants of an "evil" empire (the former communists) to take down the new evil-doers (the fundamentalists), and risk alienating the local population, the United States should concentrate on good practices. A young Afghan, who blamed Russia "for everything that has gone wrong in Afghanistan in the last 30 years," attributed the resilience of the Afghan communists to the Soviets' human capital strategy. "The Soviets offered a significant number of scholarships to Afghans and trained scores of people in the Soviet Union. These people then came back to Afghanistan as the staunchest supporters of Soviet ideology," he said. "The Americans, if they want to succeed in winning the hearts and minds of Afghans, need to establish educational exchange programs. They should stop worrying about weapons of mass destruction and instead concentrate on building human capital. Trained people make the best ideological weapons. And this is what Americans need: ideological weapons of mass construction."