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 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).
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%