Fahim Dashti was with Ahmad Shah Massoud, the charismatic Tajik leader who commanded the Northern Alliance of minority groups, when he was fatally wounded by two terrorists posing as journalists two days before the Sept. 11 attacks. Dashti's face and hands were burned when one of the journalists blew himself up as the interview began. Even now, Dashti's hands are not strong enough to twist the cap off a bottle of water.
Despite his experience, Dashti, who now directs the National Journalists' Union in Afghanistan, doesn't think his country is headed toward a civil war.
"I do share the concerns of the people, no doubt. But there are some positive points such as the (growing) capability and the ability of the Afghan security forces," he said in his office.
Donor nations have pledged to continue supporting the Afghan forces, which will avoid civil war and prevent Afghanistan from becoming a sanctuary for international terrorists again, Dashti said. He's more worried about the upcoming presidential race.
"There is no one-man solution," he said, adding that a team of leaders from all ethnic factions needs to be assembled to lead the nation forward.
Gen. Majid Rouzi, who also commanded fighters in the civil war and is now an adviser at the Afghan Interior Ministry, agrees.
"Nobody has any justification for rearming," he said, sitting cross-legged on a rug in his home in Kabul. "The Taliban coming again? It is not possible. A factional war is not coming."
However, Gen. Sahki Dad Ghafel, who led 1,500 troops fighting under Hazara commander Abdul Ali Mazari during the civil war, says civil strife is inevitable unless a peace can be reached with the Taliban before 2014. And he's not optimistic that the Taliban will renounce violence, moderate their hardline ways and participate in the political process.
"Maybe if there is a deal between America, Pakistan and the Taliban, the Taliban might come with the tie instead of the turban," Ghafel, a round-faced military man with a small black mustache, said snacking on green grapes and melon in his office. "If the foreign troops leave, there will not be a good result. I am not confident about the future. I'm not optimistic."
Karzai has called for national unity and has tried to reassure his people that Afghanistan will not collapse when the troops leave.
"If the foreigners are not here, we are nothing?" he asked sarcastically at a news conference last week: "We were not a nation before NATO and the Americans came?"
Karzai claims there has been a decline in violence in areas where Afghan troops are taking over from U.S. and NATO forces and that Afghan policemen and soldiers will be strong enough to provide security in the future. He blames the media for scaring Afghans into thinking they have no future once the international coalition leaves. Those who share Karzai's optimism argue that despite reports of drug use and unprofessionalism, Afghan security forces — now 352,000 strong — will be capable of securing the nation by international troops leave.
Coalition officials claim they have battered the Taliban and that while they are capable of staging suicide bombings and insider attacks, the insurgents cannot defeat the Afghan forces on the battlefield. They contend that keeping up the pressure on insurgents will push Taliban leaders to the negotiating table and that the international community's pledge to bankroll the Afghan army and police force in coming years will support the Afghan government as it works to provide better governance.
The more pessimistic view is that the Afghan forces won't be up to the task.
The joint international and Afghan force is fighting a losing battle, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in a statement marking the 11th anniversary of the start of the war. Mujahid claims the Taliban have infiltrated the Afghan forces and are responsible for the rash of insider attacks that have left more than 50 U.S. and NATO forces dead at the hands of their would-be Afghan partners so far this year.