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Uncomfortable but possibly correct thoughts on Afghanistan

04 Apr

It isn’t very often that I recommend something in Quadrant, but I do recommend Justin Kelly’s How to Win in Afghanistan – even if the title is perhaps rather ambitious. What he says is certainly worth placing beside whatever other sources you may be following. “Kelly is a recently retired Australian army officer. He commanded the Peace Monitoring Group on Bougainville, was deputy commander of the peace keeping force in East Timor and was director of strategic operations in the US headquarters in Iraq from November 2006 until September 2007.” So it is frankly written from a military perspective, but he does get at least some vital facts correct.

Originally law belonged to a people. It was a common possession which defined the group to which individuals “belonged” and which was marked by their subscription to the weight of custom, ritual and obligation entailed. In return, membership of the group regulated the interactions between individuals and families within the group and offered advantages in dealings with other groups…

From this germ evolved the idea of the modern state as a geographically bounded area within which “a law” prevailed…

These two conceptions of law—as belonging either to a people or to a state—are irreconcilable and the conflict between them is being played out in domestic and international politics across the world. Insurgency and counter-insurgency is a competition to establish whose law will prevail in an area. The counter-insurgent force is attempting to establish its coercive authority in areas in which that authority is contested by insurgents. In Afghanistan, NATO forces are acting as proxies for the government of Afghanistan in the extension of its authority. The Taliban is resisting that attempt while also endeavouring to extend its authority over the remainder of the country.

Modern-day Afghanistan is largely a figment of the Western imagination. Its present boundaries emerged only during the nineteenth century as a result of imperial competition between Persia, Russia and Britain. It is the rump of a larger Pashtun empire (the term Afghan having its roots in the Persian for Pashtun) that had previously extended well into modern-day Pakistan and Iran. The northern boundary, only stabilised in the 1870s, was originally a zone through which Pashtun influence was in balance with that of the steppe-dwelling Uzbek, Tajiks and Turkmen, who remain ethnic minorities in northern Afghanistan today. Peshawar, in Pakistan, was until the early nineteenth century the winter capital and “pearl of the [Pashtun] Durani Empire”…

I still think a good case can be made that the whole Iraq thing – whatever you now think of it – was a terrible distraction from attending properly to the place where Al Qaeda really was, under the friendly shelter of the Taliban.

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2 responses to “Uncomfortable but possibly correct thoughts on Afghanistan

  1. John Maszka

    April 4, 2009 at 2:45 pm

    Hello,

    I’m doing research on terrorism, and I’ve put together a pre-survey questionnaire that I’m circulating in order to get feedback on what a non-biased (non-western, white, male) survey might look like. The final survey will go out later this year.

    The survey can be accessed at johnmaszka.com/SURVEY.html

    Would you post it, and possibly circulate it? I’m very interested in incorporating the views of women, non-whites, and people living outside of America and Western Europe.

    I’d appreciate it.

    Thanks!
    Take care,

    John Maszka

     
  2. Neil

    April 4, 2009 at 3:15 pm

    The above is I think genuine, but the site does produce a runtime error.

     

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