Tuesday, May 13, 2008

This morning I type "Afghanistan" into a Google News search and I select the story appearing at the top of the list (as sorted by relevance). It is an article published by The Associated Press:
Militants die in Afghanistan clash
By AMIR SHAH – 3 hours ago

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Dozens of protesters blocked a road Saturday in eastern Afghanistan, claiming U.S.-led coalition forces killed three civilians, and a local official said police fatally shot one of the protesters and injured three of them.

Villagers from the area carried three bodies to a major highway during the protest. Police allegedly opened fire, killing one and wounding three.

The coalition said its troops were attacked Friday while searching compounds in the Shinwar district of Nangarhar province.

"Several militants were killed" and nine insurgents were arrested, the coalition said in a statement Saturday.

With our ends in mind, i.e. to determine the truth about where we are, this report raises several questions: Who are the 'militants' and who are the 'protestors'? Who are the 'U.S.-led coalition forces' and why are they in this land? Is this reported 'clash' an event that's somewhat representative of the current experience of the human condition by people in this place we call Afghanistan?

The answers to any of these questions can serve as a starting point in beginning to understand what it is to be "here" in Afghanistan. So let's take the first question and see where that leads: Who are the 'militants' and who are the 'protestors' described in that report?

The people living in the land known today as Afghanistan are ethnically and linguistically mixed, reflecting the location of their homelands on historic travel routes leading from Central Asia into South Asia and Southwest Asia.

The 'land of the Afghans' is actually the land of families of Pashtuns, Takjiks, Hazaras, Farsiwan, Qezelbash, Uzbeks, Aimak, Turkmen, Baluch, Nuristani and other smaller ethnic groups. Excluding urban populations in the principal cities, most of the people of non-urban Afghanistan are divided into tribal and other kinship-based groups, which follow traditional customs and religious practices.

There's a clue to the identity of the reported 'protestors' in the location -- Shinwar -- in Nangarhar, one of the thirty-four provinces of Afghanistan. It is a location where the local people are predominantly Pashtun.

The Pashtun, a population of approximately 42 million in toto (13 million within Afghanistan and 29 million beyond its borders), are an Eastern Iranian ethno-linguistic group. These people inhabit primarily eastern and southern Afghanistan, the North-West Frontier Province, Federally Administered Tribal Areas and Balochistan provinces of neighbouring western Pakistan.

The Pashtun tend to be referred to as 'Afghans' (despite there being far more Pashtun living today in Pakistan than in Afghanistan), while other groups hold to their ethnic name. Herein lies a clue to the human condition as lived in the land of the Afghans. Indeed, it is something that characterises not only the human condition as lived in this land, but that lived in many lands. Individuals, families, clans, tribes; they draw on various identities. Could identity be at the core of clashing that characterises the human condition as experienced in this 'land of the Afghans'?

From its founding in 1747 by Ahmad Shah Durrani, Afghanistan had traditionally been dominated by the Pashtuns, who before 1978 constituted a 51% minority in the country. However, about 85% of the 6.2 million Afghan refugees who fled the war that broke out here in 1979 were Pashtuns. This, accordingly, lowered the percentage of Pashtuns inside Afghanistan temporarily and raised the percentages of the country's other ethnic groups (fuelling some tension in the land). By the mid-1990s many of the refugees returned restoring the Pashtuns to their status of the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan constituting about 45% of the population (and increasing the tension).

The 'Afghans' are a proud people. The true essence of their culture can be seen in the "code of ethics" that they live by - the unwritten Pushtunwali (the way of the Pushtan). Pushtunwali is followed religiously, and it includes the following practices: melmastia (hospitality and protection to every guest); nanawati (the right of a fugitive to seek refuge, and acceptance of his bona fide offer of peace); badal (the right of blood feuds or revenge); tureh (bravery); sabat (steadfastness); imamdari (righteousness); 'isteqamat (persistence); ghayrat (defense of property and honour); and mamus (defense of women).

The 'Afghans' are a people divided. They have divided themselves into tribal and sub-tribal groups to which they remain intensely loyal. These tribal divisions have been the source of conflict among Pashtuns throughout their history. Even today, the Pashtun parties are divided along tribal lines. The Pushtan tribes of Afghanistan are said to love or hate with equal intensity. They display fierce loyalty to friends, whilst exercising the right of badal - revenge or blood feuds - as far as enemies are concerned. An old proverb reveals much, "He is no Pushtan who does not give a blow for a punch."

And the 'Afghans' are a people in pain. It is the Pashtuns who have been the main victims of U.S.-NATO bombing attacks on the Taliban, who are largely Pashtuns and operate almost entirely in Pashtun territory. In one authoritative estimate, Pashtun civilian casualties have numbered nearly 5,000 since 2001.

Many Pashtun are seen as 'militant' by the Westerners fighting in the "Afghanistan theatre" of the "Global War on Terror." The Taleban Islamic Movement of Afghanistan (TIMA), which formed in in September of 1994 "to rid Afghanistan of criminals," -- whether you believe the story that the 'criminals' referred to were those responsible for the rape and murder of boys and girls from a family traveling to Kandahar, or that the 'criminals' were the bandits harassing the "Afghanistan Transit Trade," -- comprised mostly Pashtuns from Kandahar in Southern Afghanistan. The term 'Taleban', is so often now used by politicians and the press in the West as a synonym for the 'militant' and 'insurgent' forces of Afghanistan, it is easy to see how in the eye of the one-eyed, the Pashtun 'protestors' may seem to merge with 'militants' and 'insurgents.'

Certainly that was borne out by what occurred in March of 2007, in the Shinwar district of Nangarhar (i.e. that place where 'protestors' gathered last week). What occurred was the Shinwar massacre. According to witnesses and the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, U.S. Marines responded to an attack by with excessive force, firing indiscriminately at civilians passing by on the busy highway 40kms to the east of , killing elderly men, women, and children. Akhtyar Gul, a local reporter who witnessed the shooting, claims that, even though they were not under attack, the Marines sprayed civilians with machine gun fire. The Marines murdered 19 people and wounded over 30 more.

Now, a little over a year later, these people have been dealt another blow. A less bloody blow perhaps than that dealt to them before by those U.S. Marines, but a blow nevertheless with potentially very bloody consequences. For the shooting this time was carried out by Afghan National Police (trained and supplied by U.S. Marines).

Whether the people are "militants," or "insurgents," or merely civilian "protestors," watch out for the blowback (again).

Orana gelar

News Archive for Afghanistan
Wikimedia Atlas of Afghanistan
Amnesty International: Human Rights in Afghanistan
Global Peace Index Rank 2010: 147
Human Development Index: 0.345 (Rank 2007: 174)
Literacy rate: less than 30%


orana gelar said...

Today is the anniversary of the 2001 launch of "Operation Enduring Freedom."

So after seven years of war, has "Enduring Freedom" been achieved?

Today as this war enters its seventh year, there are 53,000 foreign troops including 30,000 US troops in Afghanistan. These forces back up the Afghan National Army, which is 76,000-strong and well-equipped with billions of dollars’ worth of US military materiel.

US and NATO forces dropped 362 tons of bombs over Afghanistan during the first seven months of this year alone; bombings during June and July this year equal to the total dropped over the course of all of 2006.

According to the United Nations, 1,445 civilians were killed in the war during those same seven months---a rise of 39 per cent over 2007.

A British commander in Afghanistan, Brig. Mark Carleton-Smith, recently disclosed to the Sunday Times: "We're not going to win this war."

The British Ambassador to Afghanistan, Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, has warned, “The American strategy is destined to fail”.

The British view must be informed by the reality that US/NATO forces are part of the problem rather than the solution. The Afghan people are certainly not being won over whilst so many of them become 'collatoral damage'.

Regardless of these warnings, General Jeffrey Schloesser,a US commander in Afghanistan, has called for extra soldiers. He warns of a possible winter offensive by "the Taliban" and says "the militants" are preparing "spectacular attacks".

US officials predict a presence of the "International Security Assistance Force" (ISAF) in Afghanistan for at least another seven years.

orana gelar said...

The U.S. military have been contemplating use in Afghanistan of the "Awakening" strategy they'd employed in Iraq.

In Afghanistan the approach would have taken the form of arming "US-supported" Pashtun militias (Lashkars, Arbakais, Arbakis, Arbakees) to fight the "Taleban" groups.

Around mid-December 2007 the British PM, Gordon Brown, was openly advocating the idea.

Why do these people think warlordism can work to bring peace to this country when it hasn't ever worked elsewhere?

Ah, but some will argue that it is working in Iraq now. Let's just see how sustainable the strategy proves to be in Iraq, shall we?

orana gelar said...

A re-drawn map of South Asia has recently been making the rounds among Pakistani elites, showing their country truncated. The map comes from a 2006 edition of US Air Force Journal and is accompanied an article of retired Lieutenant-Colonel Ralph Peters, a strong supporter of the 2003 invasion and ongoing war in Iraq.

Peters article was titled: "How a better Middle East would look?" In it he stated:

"Iran, a state with madcap boundaries, would lose a great deal of territory to Unified Azerbaijan, Free Kurdistan, the Arab Shia State and Free Baluchistan, but would gain the provinces around Herat in today’s Afghanistan — a region with a historical and linguistic affinity for Persia. Iran would, in effect, become an ethnic Persian state again, with the most difficult question being whether or not it should keep the port of Bandar Abbas or surrender it to the Arab Shia State.

"What Afghanistan would lose to Persia in the west, it would gain in the east, as Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier tribes would be reunited with their Afghan brethren (the point of this exercise is not to draw maps as we would like them but as local populations would prefer them). Pakistan, another unnatural state, would also lose its Baluch territory to Free Baluchistan. The remaining “natural” Pakistan would lie entirely east of the Indus, except for a westward spur near Karachi."

Just that maps circulates within Pakistani circles, the U.S. National Intelligence Council, publishes Global Trends 2025, and is within it predicting the map of Afghanistan could be re-drawn in the midterm, along with the maps of Pakistan.

"... If Pakistan is unable to hold together until 2025, a broader coalescence of Pashtun tribes is likely to emerge and act together to erase the Durand Line."

The probability of a greater "Pushtanistan" has many Pakistani Punjabis worried.

orana gelar said...

An interesting article has just been published in The Observer (UK) today. It was authored by Jason Burke in London, Yama Omid in Kabul, Paul Harris in Washington, Saeed Shah in Islamabad and Gethin Chamberlain in Delhi.

The article discusses the notion that 'Pashtunistan' holds key to US President Obama's 'mission' of solving the 'Af-Pak' question.

What follows is from a section of the article under the sub-heading 'Divided Pashtun Nation':

Which nation with homogenous ethnic make-up, a common language, religion and values is not a nation? The answer: Pashtunistan.

The Pashtuns, of whom there are now an estimated 40 million spread from south-western Afghanistan through to central Pakistan, (plus communities in cities such as Karachi and abroad in the UK), were divided on lines drawn by Sir Mortimer Durand in 1893, when he separated the British Indian Raj and the Kingdom of Afghanistan.

Throughout the 19th century the Pashtun tribes fought ferociously, following their honour code of revenge. In Afghanistan, they dominated the emerging state.

But it was not all war. Pashtun culture, particularly poetry and a famous love of flowers, also flourished.

In the post-colonial era, an educated elite campaigned for a nation state but with little popular support. In the past decade, Pashtun identity has fused with more global, radical Islamic strands. Experts, however, warn against branding current violence a 'Pashtun insurgency'.

orana gelar said...

Bob Wall, a friend who is always on the ball, pointed out this insightful article by Tom Engelhartdt:

War of the Worlds, London, 1898, Kabul, 2009

In it Tom includes this plea:

"General McChrystal, President Obama, Proconsul Holbrooke, The War of the Worlds, old as it is, offers a rare example of how to imagine us from the point of view of them."

"I urge you to study it with the intensity you now apply to counterinsurgency and counterterrorism strategies."

"After all, in our own way, we could be considered the Martians of the twenty-first century and (how typical!) we don't even know it."

orana gelar said...

Bob Wall has drawn my attention to another insightful article. This one, by Pepe Escobar, is in two parts:

Welcome to Pashtunistan;

Breaking up is (not) hard to do.

about inapertwa ...

In Arrente mythology, the Inapertwa are the simple creatures with which the Numakulla formed all life on Earth.

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