| ||Shifting Views on Afghanistan|
By Roohullah Rahimi
The continuation of the insurgency in the south of Afghanistan has put renewed pressure on the international community and the government of Afghanistan to provide security; seen as a prerequisite to reconstruction and development and eventual NATO departure from Afghanistan. Military tactics and counter-insurgency efforts adopted so far have by in large failed to bring stability to the country. To this end, alternatives to a military option need to be utilized to tame the insurgency in the south and to ensure the prevalence of peace in the country.
Southern Afghanistan where the insurgency is particularly strong is primarily occupied by the Pashtun ethnic group, this region of the country has always been a volatile region due to continuous inter-tribal rivalries and chronic underdevelopment. The Pashtuns are a proud people; they have historically been very averse to the presence of outsiders. Their egalitarian culture forbids them to submit to any outside authority, explaining the historical power struggle between the central government in Kabul and these tribal areas. Furthermore, it has been pointed that the Pashtuns have provided the bulk of the forces of Taliban, and subsequently have had to bear the brunt of violence as a result of NATO's campaign against the Taliban.
Canadians situated in Pashtun strongholds need to be at the forefront of this new strategy and must work in concert with the Afghan government to integrate the Pashtun tribes in the Afghan political structure. This would require the central government in Kabul to negotiate a settlement with Pashtun tribal leaders about tribal autonomy. This type of settlement could lead to the eventual isolation of hardcore Taliban and Al Qaeda; it is common knowledge that any insurgency needs the support of the population as its main body of man power and for operation bases. A settlement between the government and the tribes in the south can thus strengthen the government and alienate the insurgency.
Let's face it, those who compose Taliban are Afghans, they cannot be eliminated in a militaristic sense, that would entail the complete destruction of the organization and the people who make it up. A possible shift in mental framework is essential: Taliban can no longer be understood in the same sense as they were during their ruling years. Taliban today represent a different phenomenon. It is seen particularly by those living in the south of the country as a legitimate body resisting foreign presence and their overall dominating influence in the country. In some instances, the view almost parallels that of the Mujahedeen in their resistance against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan during the Cold War. The view has a strong religious and nationalist sentimental backing and is ultimately a fundamental foundation of the culture with obvious political connotations. Thus, it is not pragmatic or possible to attempt to defeat, such an integral aspect of the culture rather it must be reconciled through compromise.
Most NATO countries would be more then happy to call it mission accomplished in Afghanistan, but for this to happen, they must reconsider their approach to Afghanistan. They must understand the complexities of the task, and recognize that the military option as the only mechanism to fighting the insurgency cannot lead to success. Reconciling with the Pashtun tribes of the south which would also mean negotiating with the moderate element of the Taliban is the way to move forward. This must be done in light of the historical and cultural realities of Afghanistan: which are simple. Afghanistan must be understood as an underdeveloped conservative Muslim country, inhabited by heterogeneous and often divided ethnic and tribal groups. Most of the Taliban ideals are not so different from cultural beliefs upheld by the majority of Afghans, therefore expecting a moderate secular order to emanate from such a primordial land over such a short period of time is nothing short of foolish.
These efforts would have to be coupled with serious attempts by the Afghan government to eradicate corruption and spread social services to the rural areas. The majority of Afghans live in rural areas, where the government is virtually non-existent, beyond a meagre police or military presence and the development campaign has had little or no impact on the lives of many Afghans. This underdevelopment has provided a perfect order for poppy cultivation, and an opportunity for Taliban to further demonize the central government, a popular tool for recruitment of new personnel. In most of rural Afghanistan and more so in the south, unemployment is high, while most people depend on subsistence farming, and in a country ravaged by years of drought the prospects for many look bleak.
Naturally the Afghan government does not have the resources to combat these problems; therefore the international community must increase its development aid to Afghanistan. An alternative to the military option as the only mechanism to fighting the insurgency needs revision preferably in the form of a political alternative. This does not mean completely abandoning the military presence, however in order for the military campaign to succeed it needs to be supported with an extensive political campaign spearheaded by the Government of Afghanistan in reconciling with the Pashtun tribes of the south. Such a move may lead to a more extensive and quick military victory for NATO and might strengthen peace in the country.
Roohullah Rahimi <firstname.lastname@example.org>, Centre for Afghanistan Progress