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Painful Resemblance: The Russian Invasion of Ukraine and the Bleeding Wounds of Afghanistan

Najeeb Nangyal is a 2023 McCain Global Leader from Afghanistan. He is an activist working for democracy and writing against violent extremism. He was a diplomat at the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Embassy in Washington, D.C., until March 2022 and is now living in exile in the United States. He ended his diplomatic career due to the regime change in Afghanistan and the forceful takeover by the Taliban.

As the world commemorates the second anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, my heart is heavy with empathy for the Ukrainian people. Their valiant struggle for sovereignty mirrors the ordeal my family endured during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan—a narrative of resilience against a common adversary.

Like Ukrainians today, my family experienced firsthand the horrors of Soviet aggression. My childhood was filled with stories of indifferent bombings that decimated civilian homes and shattered the fabric of Afghan society. The Soviets showed no mercy, even to their leftist allies who dared to oppose them. The killing of President Hafizullah Amin ( ) and the abandonment of President Najibullah, who later met a tragic fate under the Pakistan backed-Taliban regime, stand as stark reminders of Soviet ruthlessness. This invasion thrust Afghanistan into a maelstrom of turmoil, devastating our infrastructure and leaving scars that bleed to this day.

Today, my solidarity lies with Ukraine. I implore the global community, especially the United States, to steadfastly support Ukraine in its battle against oppression. The Ukrainian people deserve unwavering assistance in their quest for autonomy and the reconstruction of their nation in the aftermath of conflict.

Yet, as we rally behind Ukraine, we must not overlook the ongoing tragedy in Afghanistan. The Afghan people were instrumental in vanquishing the Soviet Union, a victory that heralded a decline in global authoritarianism—a threat that looms large once again. The fall of the Afghan Republic on August 15, 2021, was a harrowing spectacle and a stark reminder of the fragility of freedom. The desecration of our tricolor flag, a beacon of hope and progress and the obliteration of decades of sacrifice, underscore the profound consequences of hasty decisions and strategic missteps.

The plight of the Afghan security forces, who stood shoulder to shoulder with the United States against terrorism, is particularly poignant. Now forsaken, they face relentless persecution by the Taliban. We owe them protection.

The resurgence of the Taliban, with their draconian edicts against women and girls, is a regression for our society. Engagement with the Taliban has proven fruitless. The time has come to champion a new generation of Afghans committed to democracy, human rights, and the prosperity of Afghanistan.

The precipitous U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Doha agreement with the Taliban have cast doubts on America’s reliability as an ally. Forsaking Ukraine now would further erode trust among allies and embolden tyrants.

This moment is crucial for the U.S. to bolster its global stature by adopting decisive measures and articulating a coherent strategy to dispel the skepticism pervading Ukraine. A steadfast commitment to Ukraine, alongside support for the Afghan allies, will underscore the U.S.’s dedication to liberty and stability worldwide.

My participation in the McCain Global Leaders Program, inspired by Senator John McCain’s legacy of service, reinforced my commitment to democracy and human rights. Senator McCain’s words in Kyiv’s Maidan Nezalezhnosti resonate deeply, “The free world is with you. America is with you. I am with you.” His steadfast approach exemplifies the strength and resolve needed to defend democracy.

As we stand with Ukraine, let us also remember Afghanistan. Our collective efforts can forge a world where every nation cherishes the freedom to determine its own destiny, free from authoritarian aggression. This pivotal juncture calls for solidarity and unwavering support for all who champion freedom, not just in Ukraine but globally.

DISCLAIMER: McCain Institute is a nonpartisan organization that is part of Arizona State University. The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not represent an opinion of the McCain Institute.

Najeeb Nangyal, 2023 McCain Global Leader, Afghanistan
Publish Date
March 14, 2024