Zaman Stanizai is professor of Mythological Studies at the Pacifica Graduate Institute in Santa Barbara.
"The Soviets sold the Afghan ethnic minorities the tactic of divide-and-conquer disguised as a narrative for the promotion of civil liberties. The U.S. stumbled upon this narrative designed to promote civil war and adopted it for its own militarist agenda. The pursuance of this vindictive political engineering was bound to further provoke ethnic conflicts, if not by design then certainly by default."
"The Pentagon and the State Department seem to be pursuing divergent and even opposing policies in Afghanistan. The State Department is trying to reach a political settlement peacefully while the U.S. military is sabotaging the very strategy aimed at a peaceful reconciliation. They have increased the dreaded drone attacks and night raids that drive away people from the U.S.-installed government."
"The people of Afghanistan have been dying in the name of one or another foreign ideology since 1978. It's time to end the long-lasting genocide that is devouring Afghanistan's second war-born generation. Have we succumbed to the addiction of warfare and are lost in its insanity or is there any hope within the compass of our conscience and compassion to honestly rise and embrace our ideals."
Fighting by the Book Failing by Design: The U.S. Military's Inherent Conflict of Interest with Peace in Afghanistan
Sep 09, 2011
—They say there is no war in utopia.
—Yes, but a vicious war has been raging for years next door in Somalia.
This side of utopia, the American military's obsession with wars has turned U.S. economy into a virtual war economy that thrives on sustained perpetual wars. While our political leadership speaks of a drawdown and troop withdrawals, our military leadership always seem to find a way to get us involved in one or another armed conflict. Those engaged and employed by the military industrial complex wouldn't seriously contemplate peace even when the military spending constitutes nearly 60% of our national budget at a time of economic depression.(1) Perhaps because peace doesn't pay dividends to the war profiteers that our military is currently engaged in two conflicts of occupation and is indirectly involved in several others by proxy and extension from Yemen to Somalia, from Pakistan to Libya….
President Obama appointed General Petraeus in the hopes of replicating the ‘Iraqi success' strategy in Afghanistan. Evidently, instead of the Iraqi stabilitymodel, they replicated the 1992 pre-Taliban model in Afghanistan. In Iraq the U.S. toppled a suppressive regime of the Sunni minority and by omission rather than by design enabled the Shi'ite majority to take power—the most likely reason for a modicum of stability in an otherwise chaotic situation. What most political gurus don't understand and military strategists don't want to admit is that in Afghanistan the situation is the exact opposite of Iraq. In Afghanistan the U.S. is trying to impose the rule of incoherent minorities over a vilified majority—a failed experience in Sovietization of political identities.
The Soviets sold the Afghan ethnic minorities the tactic of divide-and-conquer disguised as a narrative for the promotion of civil liberties. The U.S. stumbled upon this narrative designed to promote civil war and adopted it for its own militarist agenda. The pursuance of this vindictive political engineering was bound to further provoke ethnic conflicts, if not by design then certainly by default.
Before their departure, the Soviets deliberately embroiled Afghanistan in a civil war designed to prevent the spillover of an Islamic liberation movement into Central Asia. The American objective on the other hand is to leave a stable democratic Afghanistan. Yet in spite of these diametrically opposed objectives, the United States continues to pursue the Soviet policy of imposing a government of the disgruntled Northern Alliance minorities on a vilified majority. This is not only undemocratic, but it is also counterproductive for any ‘nation building' effort in Afghanistan.
Under the U.S. military, the situation is exacerbated by yet another Soviet era tactic of deploying Afghan soldiers across ethnic lines in counter-insurgency operations. This has made a bad situation worse as the U.S. is bribing its way through a civil war created through botched military operations and drone attacks based on ‘incentivized' questionable intelligence. The U.S. has politically disenfranchised and economically marginalized the Pashtun majority, reinforcing the insurgency belief that the Tajik-dominated Afghan army fights at the behest of the American military, who brought them to power in the first place.
As a direct consequence of this ‘northerly tilt,' the Afghan security forces suffer from a systemic ethnic discrimination in which the U.S. is an accomplice. As a Foreign Policy report hints, "the existing ethnic recruiting goals ignore the socio-political and historical realities of Afghanistan."(2) Antonio Guistozzi, an expert on Afghan military, warns about an inherent long-term danger of crossing internal ethnic fault lines in the Afghan National Army (ANA). "Since 2005 both the MoD (Ministry of Defense) and the Americans have securely guarded any data about the ethnic composition of the ANA, but there is evidence that a genuine ethnic balance has not yet been achieved." He adds that, "Tajiks are still overrepresented, particularly in the officer corps. According to one estimate, 70 percent of the battalion commanders are Tajiks."(3) The situation isn't any better in the Afghan National Police force.
This results in alienation, absenteeism and out right desertion where according to a recent report one-in-seven Afghan soldiers abandons his post within the first six months. A recent Congressional Budget Office study delineates the problem as "shortages of trainers, problems with corruption, absenteeism, illiteracy and most recently" an auditor's report that said Defense Department trainers vastly overstate the Afghan soldiers' "operational capabilities."
Corruption has plagued the police force much the same way. "NATO trainers can't even come up with an accurate count of the Afghan police force, raising the likelihood that more than 10,000 of the people receiving salaries are ‘ghost police.' "(4)
Ethnic rift is widened further by placing large numbers of primarily Pashtun ‘suspected' insurgents in jails run by non-Pashtuns. Due to reports of rampant torture and abuse these detention centers have essentially become alternatives to the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, only worse as away from the media limelight and world opinion controversies they have been filled beyond capacity as "the prison population has exploded, from 600 prisoners in 2001 to about 19,000 now, according to figures in a United Nations report."(5) Only when the accusations of torture and abuse recently became undeniable did NATO stop transferring detainees to these Afghan jails.
The Pentagon and the State Department seem to be pursuing divergent and even opposing policies in Afghanistan. The State Department is trying to reach a political settlement peacefully while the U.S. military is sabotaging the very strategy aimed at a peaceful reconciliation. They have increased the dreaded drone attacks and night raids that drive away people from the U.S.-installed government. They have also rebuffed President Karzai's National Reconciliation Program by targeting those very Taliban commanders who pledge allegiance to the government by laying down their weapons to participate in the civil society as demanded by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.(6)
Jeremy Scahill reports on one such chilling story. "On March 26, 2009, Mullah Sahib Jan, a militant Taliban imam from the Mohammed Agha district in Afghanistan's Logar province, walked into the office of the Independent National Reconciliation Commission …escorting fifty Taliban fighters who, he said, had committed to ending their fight against the Afghan government and entering the process of integration…. But on the morning of January 14, Sahib Jan's bullet-riddled body lay on the ground outside his family's mud-brick compound in Logar's Safed Sang village. According to local officials and his family, he was killed in a night raid by US Special Operations Forces."(7)
It is no wonder that a mere 700 Taliban have been "reintegrated" under the government's pacification program."(8) This is why Richard Holbrooke, President Obama's special envoy, "believed strongly that the only way out of the mess in Afghanistan was a peace deal with the Taliban, and his team was secretly engaged in outreach to figures linked to the Taliban."(9)
If ethnic balance is not achieved in the Afghan armed forces before U.S. withdrawal, the country will plunge into another bloody civil war—much like the previous one that drove the people right into the arms of the Taliban who were the only force that reigned in the warlords in the many fiefdoms of an Afghanistan on the verge of collapse. It was the accomplishment of that impossible mission that gave the Taliban legitimacy in the eyes of the disparate but vulnerable people who were willing, at least initially, to put up with the Taliban's draconian laws of the dark ages. The people of Afghanistan paid a heavy price to remain an indivisible political entity.
Like any other society, a stable and democratic Afghanistan needs the rule of the majority and the protection of minorities. Towards that end, the Kabul government should be allowed and encouraged to pursue a policy of reconciliation and reintegration with the predominantly Pashtun insurgency. This will achieve ethnic balance in the armed forces, a necessary prerequisite for long-term stability, which will also reduce political alienation and drain the pool of dissenters from which the Taliban recruit, which will in turn eliminate the need for prolonged U.S. military presence.
The people of Afghanistan have been dying in the name of one or another foreign ideology since 1978. It's time to end the long-lasting genocide that is devouring Afghanistan's second war-born generation. Have we succumbed to the addiction of warfare and are lost in its insanity or is there any hope within the compass of our conscience and compassion to honestly rise and embrace our ideals.
1. "2011 Recommended Discretionary Spending." One Minute for Peace.org brochure. AFSC. 2011.
2. Thomas Johnson and Matthew Dupee. "Transition to nowhere: The limits of "Afghanization," Foreign Policy, May 15, 2011.
3. Antonio Guistozzi. "Afghanistan's National Army: The Ambiguous Prospects of Afghanization," Terrorism Monitor Volume:
4. Joel Brinkley. "War costs more than admitted – and it's continuing to climb" Des Moines Register. September 4, 2011.
5. Ray Rivera. "Afghan Jails Accused of Torture; NATO Limits Transfers" The New York Times September 7, 2011.
6. Hillary Rodham Clinton. "Remarks at the Launch of the Asia Society's Series of Richard C. Holbrooke Memorial Addresses" New York, NY. February 18, 2011.
7. Jeremy Scahill. "Killing Reconciliation," The Nation, November 15, 2010.
8. Tom Hayden. "U.S. Military Admits: We Don't Understand Afghan Insurgency", The Peace and Justice Resource Center - The Peace Exchange Bulletin, May 13, 2011.
9. Nicholas D. Kristof. "What Holbrooke Knew," New York Times, May 14, 2011.