My Thoughts

This picture depicts laundry spread out to dry in Khowst province. It was taken by Andrew Smith.

A friend sent me the following link to an article on the military situation in Afghanistan:

And asked, “Your thoughts?”

Me:  There’s a lot of smarts in that article, especially in regard to trying to mount large operations against an enemy steeped in Mujahedeen fighting traditions. But I don’t think the analogy between the Soviets and their proxy government and the US and the Karzai government holds up. The article states, “The Soviets thought they could subdue Afghanistan through brute force, political indoctrination, and bribes. They wanted to put across the notion that their form of government had far more to offer than the jihad embraced by the mujahideen.”

Today it is the Taliban that attempts to rule through intimidation and violence, not the Afghan Security Forces, the Karzai government, or the US. It’s the Taliban that are blowing up schools and clinics, assassinating Western sympathizers, and shaking down the populace. The Afghans I met—many Pashtuns and ex-muj among them–were eager for economic prosperity, material possessions, Western educations for their children, TV/radio/film/music pop culture entertainment, a working judicial system, and a united Afghanistan. They practiced a relaxed, tolerant form of Islam that easily incorporated cultural traditions of hospitality and fairness. They didn’t just say these things for my benefit; it was plain to see they lived them and embodied them. They hated the Taliban, and recognized the extent that the Taliban had imposed their will on the people. They blamed Pakistan for permitting a toxic mix of Pashtun nationalism and Taliban zealotry to fester and then infect their beloved country.

Friend:  That makes sense. Still I wonder about any loyalty to a government vs a clan (for lack of better word). Some “experts” aren’t seeing the possibility of stability or progress w/o massive US aid/support for the long-run (which ain’t likely, given our political system).

Me:  The Afghans people are disappointed in the Karzai government because it has not provided the economic prosperity, the rule of law, or the security that Afghans of all ethnicities desire.

That the average Afghan can change or hide his true allegiances quickly is also true. Economic and physical survival depend on it.

But, still, I would resist equating disappointment with Karzai with fervent pro-Taliban support, even among the conservative and religious-minded people of the Pashtun provinces. Taliban sympathy is only partly ideological, and then largely a result of the personal influence of mullahs and village leaders who combine fundamentalist Islam interpretations with monetary pay-offs to sway their followers. Or, the local leaders themselves are playing the Taliban—using Taliban money and weapons to help consolidate their own power and settle old scores. Throughout the Pashtun provinces the insurgency is financed and energized by criminal-clans such as the Haqqanis and foreign interlopers, mainly but by no means all Arabs. Both groups use Pakistan as a safe haven and staging base for their attacks, for which Afghans hold the Pakistan government culpable.

Moderate Afghans—and I am suggesting that there are many–see Taliban sympathizers within Afghanistan as simple, or even stupid, people, who have contracted a dangerous disease that makes them ultra non-tolerant and violent. They want US help to seal the border and eliminate foreign influence, and feel they can deal with internal problems themselves.



One Response to “My Thoughts”

  1. Chris Brown Says:

    Hey Pete,

    Glad to see your back to blogging! I enjoyed the exchange with your friend–very informative.

    A random observation of no relevance whatsover: That picture reminds me of an excellent Iranian film called _Gabbeh_.


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