1.08.2009

The U.S. in Afghanistan & What Afghans Want, Part I

(Editor's Note: This is the first of a three-part series on U.S. policy in Afghanistan and reactions to U.S. doctrine by Afghans. To read the next part, please go here.)

by
Kit-Bacon Gressitt

Most folks in the United States know only about Afghanistan what they have read in The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini’s beautiful, brutal novels set in the country’s tumultuous years of Soviet invasion, Taliban rule and the aftermath. Our minimal understanding of the distant land seems matched by our disinterest. Prior to the books’ publications, not even our October 2001 invasion of the country in pursuit of the terrorists behind the September 11 attacks and subsequent efforts to achieve stability could hold the public’s interest, when sidetracked by President George W. Bush’s push into Iraq in pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and paternal approval.

With the Iraq War winding down to a success or failure, depending upon whose public relations dominates, and a resurgence of Taliban atrocities reaching mainstream media, the United States is now refocusing on Afghanistan. But how do we truly succeed? How do we help stabilize a country ravaged by conflict, poverty, ignorance, neglect and uncoordinated efforts? It’s a question repeated around the globe, from the hallowed halls of government and academia to the classified planning conferences of the military to the dark closets of intelligence agencies. One of the common answers is to engage the Afghan people. While the answer seems obvious, it’s an approach at which the United States government has often failed; yet the call to engage the Afghan people is popping up all over the place.

— Ashraf Ghani, PhD, Afghan finance minister between 2002 and 2004 and founder and chairman of the Institute for State Effectiveness, wrote in a recent commentary: “[S]tability will only come when Afghanistan can govern itself. To reach that point, three key assets must be harnessed: first, American forces and resources; second, the instruments of national and international power; and third and most crucially, the Afghan people, who are as eager to see the restoration of order and justice.”

— The Atlantic Council of the United States published in its 2008 Afghanistan brief, “On the security side, a stalemate of sorts has taken hold. NATO and Afghan forces cannot be beaten by the insurgency or by the Taliban. Neither can our forces eliminate the Taliban by military means as long as they have sanctuary in Pakistan. Hence, the future of Afghanistan will be determined by progress or failure in the civil sector.”

— Army General Davis Petraeus, commander of the U.S. Central Command, and co-author of a controversial but well-embraced counterinsurgency field manual, said at an event in November of 2008: “[T]he terrain that matters most is the human terrain — the people. Clearly, we have to understand the people, their culture, their social structures, their religions, how systems that support them are supposed to work and how they actually work, and so on. And our most important tasks have to be to secure and serve those people, as well as to respect them, to facilitate the provision of basic services: the establishment of local governance, and the revival of local economies.”

— And, an Afghan named Ibrahim wrote, “I think it will be better that Afghanistan and friendly countries put more attention in construction in peaceful areas as an example to those people who still persist in fighting. Poorness, hunger and not having a job are big problems in Afghanistan. Some poor people, to rescue their families from death because of hunger, are hired by the Taliban, so I think if the new administration brings job facilities besides military action, it will be most effective.”

Ibrahim directs literacy programs for Afghan girls and women, sponsored by the San Diego County-based nonprofit Rescue Task Force (RTF). Kurt Swann, an RTF volunteer, recently toured the programs in the Ghazni Province of Afghanistan, operated despite Taliban opposition. Swann and Ibrahim reported successes in the small Hazara towns of the province, where the Taliban are not active. But driving there from the capitol Kabul is dangerous, with Taliban-operated roadblocks and the Taliban proclivity for killing anyone who works with foreign agencies and governments.

According to Ibrahim: “The ways especially in southern parts of Afghanistan are not safe. Hundreds of sinless passengers lost their lives during crossing from those areas. The Taliban are daily blocking the ways to find and kill social workers or those who are working with NATO forces or the Afghan government.” Indeed, Ibrahim’s actual identity is protected here because his position with the RTF has made him a target: His brother was killed by the Taliban who mistook him for Ibrahim.

Ibrahim shared via e-mail information about the literacy programs and his country that reveals the ongoing Taliban violence, U.S.-NATO weaknesses and Afghans’ resilient hope for progress, information that can help us better understand what at least one Afghan wants for his country.

(To read the next post in the series, please go here.)

(
Editor's Note: This piece is cross-posted from Kit-Bacon Gressitt's personal blog, Excuse Me, I'm Writing.)

(The photo shows a soldier in the Afghan National Army on lookout duty during a patrol. The photo is by Staff Sgt. Justin Holley of the U.S. Army. The photo is from the U.S. Department of Defense and is in the public domain.)








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