Recently, Benjamin Barber published an editorial entitled 15 REASONS WHY WE CAN’T WIN IN AFGHANISTAN. I want to thank him for neatly putting in one convenient place so many of the common distortions and lies propagated by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agency (“ISI”) to encourage the United States and our allies to abandon the Afghan people, who have suffered grievously for well over 30 years at the hands of various ISI sponsored criminals.
Below in italics are his jingoistic “15 Reasons,” thoroughly refuted, point by point.
1. There is no “Afghanistan,” only an inchoate collection of warring tribes, factions and clans.
First of all, Afghanistan was organized as a nation-state in 1747, more than 30 years before the American colonies won their independence from Great Britain; and 200 years prior to the establishment of Pakistan (by Great Britain).
There are several reasons why Pakistan promotes this blatant lie. Fundamentally, it is Pakistan which is only barely a nation. Afghanistan came into being when a group of elders from around the country got together in what Afghans call a “jirga” (council) and chose a king from among the group. At that time, the Indian subcontinent was under the colonial control of Britain, which, over the following 150 years, exerted constant military pressure on India’s western boundary, pushing more and more deeply across the Afghan frontier. Finally, in 1893, Sir Mortimer Durand negotiated a treaty with the Emir of Afghanistan, establishing what has come to be known as the Durand Line.
The Durand Line was so arbitrarily drawn that it not only divides large swaths of Pashtun and Baloch ethnic regions, it actually runs through the middle of towns and even properties. There are actually places along the border where it is possible to each lunch in Pakistan and go to the loo in Afghanistan. In establishing the Durand Line, Britain lopped off a large chunk of Afghanistan, dividing the Pashtun region nearly in half. When the British were leaving India in 1947, the Afghans began to eagerly assert that it was time for reunification of their country. Instead, Pakistan was created.
Pakistan is primarily comprised of four ethnic regions: Punjab in the northeast; Sindh in the southeast; the Pakhtunkhwa (Pashtun lands) in the northwest; and Balochistan in the southwest. For centuries, the Pashtun and Baloch peoples have been fighting against Punjabi domination of their lands, yet that is exactly the situation in which the British left them. Punjabis are the largest ethnic population in Pakistan. More importantly, Punjabis dominate the military in this country where the military is the government.
Because there have been Pashtun and Baloch separatist movements in Pakistan since the creation of Pakistan, and since many of Pakistan’s Pashtun are inclined towards reunification with their brethren in Afghanistan, ISI believes that, in order to keep its territory from fracturing down the middle (the Indus River), it must keep Afghanistan either unstable or under Pakistani control.
Therefore, in classic red herring style, ISI promotes the notion that Afghanistan is only barely a country, in order to divert attention from Pakistan’s own inherent instability.
2. To the extent there is an “Afghanistan,” its government is deeply corrupt and unable to control its own divided country.
Much of the current leadership of Afghanistan (including President Hamid Karzai) is actually controlled by ISI for the very reasons described above. Afghan leaders who do not avail themselves of Pakistan’s corrupting influence, and who refuse to go along with the plan to keep their country unstable, get threatened, are accused of the very corruption they oppose or are simply assassinated. Unfortunately, the US and NATO, who are largely responsible for having empowered corrupt leaders such as the Karzais, Gul Afgha Shirzai and Abdul Rasul Sayaf, did not come to understand this dynamic until fairly recently.
A simple rule of thumb for identifying who should not be governing Afghanistan would be to eliminate from consideration any Afghan leader who was based in Pakistan during the 1980s war against the Soviet Union. Far too many persons fitting that description lost their integrity to ISI influence at that time. This was evidenced in 1988, when Professor Sayed Majroo, director of the Afghan Information Service, published a survey taken among Afghans in the refugee camps in Pakistan. The survey demonstrated that less than 1% of the people polled wanted any of the Afghan mujahiddin faction leaders to govern their country after Soviet withdrawal. Assassination by ISI was Professor Majroo’s reward for publishing the will of his people.
3. President Karzai, our “ally” and the official representative of the “state” on whose behalf we fight, would prefer that we leave – at least when it comes to what he says for internal consumption.
As noted above, President Karzai is unduly influenced by Pakistan, which, as stated above, is dedicated to the policy that Afghanistan must be kept either, weak and unstable or under Pakistani control. This policy is misleadingly known as “strategic depth.” It is misleading, because it implies that Pakistan only wants to control Afghanistan out of fear of an Indian invasion. India has not invaded since 1972. Therefore, “strategic depth” is pure bupkis. At any rate, Karzai’s reputed (according to Barber) desire for the US and NATO to withdraw is far more indicative of ISI’s desires than those of the Afghan people.
4. Not that it matters what he thinks since the President of Afghanistan is for all practical purposes little more than the Mayor of Kabul – and that’s on good days.
This simple statement, which is patently untrue, describes a complex situation influenced by not only Pakistan and the corrupt Afghan warlords it controls, but also Karzai’s ability, to the extent he is interested, to effect change and nurture development in his country, a process which was hamstrung during the Bush years by the profound inadequacy of the security/military and development support being provided by the international community. What’s more, the United States owes this support to the Afghans, because we enabled Pakistan’s demolition of their country during the 1980s and 90s. According to journalist Selig Harrison and former UN Special Envoy Diego Cordovez, the Soviet Union began expressing its desire to withdraw from Afghanistan as early as 1981. It was American support for the Islamic fundamentalist militias (a/k/a Charlie Wilson’s “freedom fighters,” and predecessors to the Taliban) organized by Pakistan, which prevented them from doing so.
5. The only thing that unites this otherwise disintegral non-state is that the fractious tribes that despise one another hate foreigners even more.
This is simply Pakistani propaganda, similar to what was already refuted in Item No. 1. Its purpose is to convince the world that Afghanistan is not much of a country, and Afghans would be better off under Pakistani dominion.
The most deeply despised foreigners in Afghanistan are the Taliban. Sit with Afghans for three cups, or even three-quarters of a cup of tea, and you will hear them chant over and over, “They’re from Pakistan! They’re from Pakistan! The Taliban are from Pakistan!”
6. Foreign forces, whatever their intentions, will always be seen as occupiers and hence, the enemy.
In the autumn of 2009, a group of women traveled to Afghanistan as part of a trip organized by the well-known anti-war group, Code Pink. Simply put, every Afghan woman with whom they met expressed the firm belief that US/NATO forces were the only thing standing between them and the abject misery of life under the Taliban. Much to their astonishment, the women on that Code Pink trip came home with a very different perspective than what they had anticipated.
Make no mistake, a premature exit of US and NATO forces from Afghanistan will not result in peace for the Afghan people. It will result in a repeat of the horrors of the 1990s. It boggles the mind that people who generally take pride in their sense of compassion, have not only succumbed to mass amnesia, but also seem completely immune to the vivid reminders of that period as demonstrated by the Taliban upon the people of Pakistan’s Swat Valley over the past year.
7. Ghengis Khan, the British and the Russians all tried to “win” in Afghanistan, and they all failed; it would be an exaggeration to say their futile attempts brought down three empires… or would it?
This sort of sloppy scholarship is simply inexcusable from someone with Mr. Barber’s credentials. It is utter nonsense that Afghanistan has never been conquered. It was conquered by the Greeks under Alexander, who named the land Ariana (the name of Afghanistan’s national airline). It was conquered by the Persians, the Mongols, the Moghuls, the Tartars and … the British.
Ghengis Khan conquered Afghanistan, which remained part of the Mongol Empire for approximately 150 years, after which it was conquered by Tamerlane.
Most importantly, the Durand Treaty of 1893 made official Great Britain’s conquest of over half of Afghanistan’s Pashtun ethnic region.
However, the US is not trying to “win” or conquer Afghanistan. The mission of our military is to stabilize the country and assist in reconstruction, with the goal of leaving it strong enough to once again defend itself against the ongoing threat from its neighbor, Pakistan.
The purpose of the oft repeated propaganda, that Afghanistan has never been conquered, is simply to inspire a defeatist attitude; i.e., nobody’s ever succeeded there, so we might as well give up and go home; thus leaving the path clear for Pakistan’s minions to resume their pattern of scorching Afghan earth.
8. You can’t win wars when you’re killing civilians, yet in Afghanistan where the boundary between combatants and civilians is blurred you necessarily are killing a great many civilians a lot of the time.
While there have been many tragic mistakes committed by the US and our NATO allies, the numbers speak for themselves. Between the fall of the Communist government in 1992 and the fall of the Taliban in 2001, Human Rights Watch estimates that over 400,000 Afghan civilians were killed. Not to diminish the loss to their families and communities, but since 2001, less than 16,000 civilians have been killed. Afghans consistently express the fear that if the US and NATO leave before Afghanistan can defend itself, the 400,000 figure will be greatly exceeded.
Upon taking command in the summer of 2009, General Stanley McChrystal issued new rules of engagement, whereby US and NATO soldiers were ordered to hold fire if pursuit of the enemy put civilians at risk. This policy reduced by 28% the number of civilian deaths caused by western forces in 2009.
Moreover, Barber’s statement that “the boundary between combatants and civilians is blurred” promotes the impression that the Taliban is a native movement. It is not. The Taliban is a Pakistani paramilitary force. Every soldier serving in Afghanistan knows that the Taliban come from Pakistan and go home to Pakistan.
The Taliban is not even a Pashtun movement. There are people spreading the notion that, because they are Pashtun, the separatists in Pakistan support the Taliban. Nothing could be further from the truth. Since 2003, the Taliban has assassinated hundreds of Pashtun tribal leaders in Pakistan and destroyed hundreds of schools in the Pakhtunkhwa, so that families have no choice but to send their sons to JUI madrassahs, i.e., Taliban training centers. In the past year, they have busied themselves blowing up bazaars in the region and even the UN Food Program. This is a direct assault on Pashtun women and children, and no one makes friends with a group that targets their children.
9. Occupying places where Muslims live (and where they die at your hand) will always been (sic) seen as a war against Islam rather than a war against terrorism.
Again, Afghans do not view us as conquerors, but rather, defenders.
10. You can’t make people free at the barrel of gun.
This is a cute slogan, but it’s absurd.
11. There is no better way to create terrorism than to make war on Muslims in the name of fighting wars against terrorism.
The US and NATO are not creating the terrorists. Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are doing that. The Saudis provide the funds. Pakistan provides the weapons and training.
12. America can’t save the world, and risks losing what is best in America when it tries.
This head-in-the-sand statement is not only heartless, it ignores the fact that, since the invention of the passenger jet, isolationism is simply not possible.
13. Military force and overwhelming firepower applied from the outside are more likely to undermine than sustain the development of democracy inside a developing country.
The military force being applied to undermine democracy in Afghanistan is coming from Pakistan, not the United States.
14. Al Qaeda is not Afghanistan and it is not the Taliban either; it is a malevolent NGO and winning Afghanistan or defeating the Taliban cannot vanquish al Qaeda.
Though this statement is true, it is demonstrative of the severe shortcomings of Mr. Barber’s memory. If Afghanistan is not properly defended and restored to some semblance of national health, then it will be overrun, once again, by the Taliban, which is sympathetic to the global pan-Islamist goals of Al Qaeda. That is how Afghanistan became a safe haven for Al Qaeda and a spawning ground for global terrorism in the first place.
15. We can’t pay for questionable wars abroad and afford justice and economic recovery at home and trying to do so is likely to lead to losing the war and undermining justice.
The United States provided the cash, weapons and training utilized by Pakistan in its destruction of Afghanistan during the 1980s and 1990s. We, therefore, have a duty to rebuild and defend that country, until it is strong enough to defend itself. To Mr. Barber I say, yes we can… we must.
Melissa Roddy is the director of CONFLICT OF INTEREST, a documentary film focused on underlying and previously unreported issues regarding Afghanistan and Pakistan. Like several of the principals in the saga of that region, she is also a native Texan. In December of 2007 she achieved worldwide attention with the publication of a print article and documentary short exposing propagandistic misinformation in the movie “CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR.”
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