Thursday, May 24, 2007

Goodbye Afghanistan

According to a Canadian Press story of May 24, 2007, an Afghani legislator by the name of Malalai Joya has been banned from the parliament in Kabul for the remainder of the session for criticizing other MPs. Her criticism was harsh; she referred to some of them as “criminals, warlords and drug lords” and Canadian Press adds this explanation: “Many former commanders involved in factional fighting in the 1980s and 1990s now hold positions in parliament or government.”

The Canadian government’s position on our role in Afghanistan is two-fold: 1) to quell the insurgency so that security is assured for the people, and 2) to restore infrastructure so that necessary services are available to Afghanis. These are laudable goals, although the question of whether or not either is achievable given the escalating violence there is highly pertinent. A benchmark, I am told, will be the Afghani government’s ability to maintain security and to govern the country without outside assistance.

What happened to Malalai Joya is disturbing in light of these objectives. If the parliament we’re shoring up in Afghanistan does, in fact, include enough of the factional and criminal elements of that culture to make her ouster possible, then what exactly are we supporting over there? Isn’t it possible that we’re simply doing the dirty work of quelling the Taliban so that the war lords can again exercise their particular brand of tyranny without the Taliban’s interference? If the Afghani parliament were truly a government “of the people, for the people and by the people,” would Malalai Joya be on the outside looking in? Imagine a Canadian legislator being expelled from parliament for criticizing another MP. Who would be left on the hill?

We continue to cloak our efforts in Afghanistan in noble terms, and I feel for the soldiers who risk their lives believing that they are pursuing lofty goals. Historically, though, when one culture has entered militarily into another culture’s community, the result has been disappointing. Think Vietnam, Ireland, Nicaragua, Cuba, Palestine, etc. Does our government really think that thousands of years of cultural habit won’t reassert itself in Afghanistan whenever NATO leaves there?

The expulsion of Malalai Joya is just one more signpost of the future, I’m afraid. There are others. The incredible poverty of Karzai’s leadership is another. The man spouts platitudes, says all the right things, inspires no confidence in me, at least, whatsoever. That’s another signpost. And then there’s the incredible reluctance of our NATO allies to throw in on the dirty work there with our troops. Do they sense something we don’t sense, or are they just chicken?

But the most glaring signpost is the lack of progress on the security front. Afghanis are not impressionable children to be guided tenderly toward democracy by us. They know their country and their local communities. They have engrained loyalties and aversions that we won’t change. They have religious faith that is not ours and that we won’t change. The threads of cultural power and influence – suppressed for the moment by the foreign presence there—are known to them, not to us. When we leave there, they will do what’s locally practical, growing poppies for a living, supporting the local Taliban if that looks beneficial—the local war lord if it doesn’t.

Like the Russians had no future in Cuba (or Afghanistan), the Americans in Korea or Vietnam or Iraq, the Japanese in China, so we have no future in Afghanistan. We might agree to continue “assisting” the Afghan “government” for a specified time (to save face, primarily) and then leave, or else commit ourselves to policing that country for ever. We could also withdraw arbitrarily and immediately, by far the most practical solution, even for Afghanis.

©George Epp, 2007

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