MONDAY MUSINGS – The Places In Between (cont’d)

Monday – September 17, 2012

The last musing did not mention that for five days Rory had to plow through snow up to three feet deep nor that he did not see a useable road for three weeks.  Even those roads were heavily mined, but they were not designed to explode except under the weight of vehicular traffic. Paths along the roads were a different matter, mined extensively with antipersonnel cluster bombs.  Almost every evening as he sat in a mud hut   after dinner conversing with village men he was warned of the danger because they all knew of someone recently killed by the cluster bombs.Rory made his way across the country by obtaining letters of introduction from the tribal leader of one village to the tribal leader at his next stop, except in one instance in which a vendetta existed between the two.  In recent weeks one village had been raided by the other, killing 20.  In retaliation, the other village was raided and 30 were killed.  Why?  Who knows? Rory was advised to bypass the next village and given a letter of introduction to the village beyond.  Most of the village leaders had been war leaders, having fought either the Russians, the Taliban, or both, or other ethnic tribes supporting war lords they did not like.  He passed many villages that had been destroyed and abandoned, most recent ones because of American bombing of Taliban strongholds, and others burned to the ground by the Taliban to discipline the villagers for not practicing Islam to the extreme that was demanded, which meant, among other things, no music, no dancing, no alcohol, no woman allowed to go to school or to leave her mud hut unless escorted by a male relative.  Most stayed inside, weaving carpets in their spare time for which they could earn about $10 a month.  Most of them had never been more than a two hour walk from their village. Entering one village, Rory was shot at from a distance.  He found the village chief, delivered his letters and that night at dinner the chief admitted he was the one who had fired the shot.  Rory asked why?  The chief nodded to their dinner partner. “Because he bet me that I couldn’t hit you.” Another tribal leader was asked why he had fought the Russians.  “Because they didn’t require our women to wear head scarves and stole my donkeys,” he said.  When he was asked why he fought the Taliban, he replied, “because they stole my donkeys and made our women wear burqas (a from-the-ground up outer garment revealing nothing but two narrow eye slits.)  He then added, “they also cut off my toes for not having a beard.”  The most frequent question Rory was asked was how much it cost to buy a wife in Scotland.  Afghans were amazed to hear his answer.  Afghan custom is to pay the father-in-law about 3 years pay or the equivalent in donkeys and goats to buy his young daughter, unless a man marries his brother or sister’s daughter, a quite common custom since that kind of marriage is free.

Enough discussion of the book, which was all I originally intended.   For additional perspective, a brief history of Afghanistan is offered. With about 26 million people now, no outlet to the sea, not a single railroad, it qualifies as one of the most impoverished, illiterate, war torn and ravaged countries in the world from the times of its first invasions by Alexander the Great and the Mongols of Genghis Khan, through the British invasions from India during the 1800s (the first ended in 1842 when a single soldier – of about 15,000 who invaded – made it out alive to tell the story).  The British invaded again in 1878, captured a couple of the major cities and withdrew after setting up a puppet government. For the next 40 years the country was a British protectorate.  In 1919 Afghanistan  claimed independence and declared war on Britain.  The Brits didn’t stick around and until 1933 various war lords fought it out for territorial leaderships until one survivor established himself as king, a total autocrat for the next 40 years, but during that time Afghanistan was mostly at peace and became a safe “haven for hippies” along its roads in the 1960s and early 70s. In1973 the king was deposed by his cousin, who was then assassinated along with his entire family 5 years later.  Russia entered the vacuum, invading in 1978 and establishing its own puppet communist government.  The Russians were mostly disliked not because they were communists, but because they were foreign and did not show  respect for the Koran or religion. The mujahideen declared jihad, a holy war, and Afghans have been fighting ever since.  With CIA assistance, the Russians were expelled in1989, leaving behind an Afghan communist government to fend for itself.  It collapsed in 1992 amidst civil war, and until 1995 different war lords skirmished in turf battles, each supported by their own militia, and took control of various cities.  Out of the strife, corruption and internal fighting, a new movement arose – the Taliban.  Born from refugees who had fled to Pakistan and the Pakistani students who had attended the religious schools there, they entered Afghanistan, picked up local Pashtun support, and quickly swept the country, driving the war tribes of the Northern Alliance out of Kabul in 1996 and occupying 80% of the country, leaving only a small pocket controlled by the Alliance in the north.  Initially, the Taliban were  well received.  They were expected to end corruption, restore stability, gain more  respect for Sharia law and the Muslim religion. But soon they became brutal enforcers of a most fundamentalist Muslim state, killing many Hazeras and Shia Muslims, anti everything Western, and allowed the former Mujahideen, Bin Ladin, to establish anti western terrorist camps in the mountains comprised mostly of foreign Arabs and Pakistanis. When 9/11 occurred and the Taliban refused our request to turn over Bin Laden, the U.S. invaded.  Many Afghans never even knew the reason, but within 3 months the Al Qaeda terrorists had fled and the Taliban were thrown out of power and dispersed – and Rory began his walk.

His book was first published in 2004, and when I read it I thought what a clue it could have given American leaders and our citizens when we embarked on our mission in Afghanistan 11 years ago.  About six weeks ago I decided to find out what had happened to him since.  He’s been busy. In 2003 he was appointed as a deputy governor of 2 provinces in Iraq (near Basra) by the British coalition forces during that war.  In 2004 he became a Fellow at the Carr Center at Harvard.  In 2006 he relocated to Kabul at the request of Prince Charles (he had been a tutor to William and Harry) to become CEO of a non-profit foundation trying to redevelop the commercial center of the city by building clinics and handicraft galleries.  A rogue British ambassador to Uzbekistan informed the media that Rory had been a member of  MI6 (Btitain’s equivalent of the CIA) during his walks.  It was denied by all and the ambassador was sacked. In 2008 Rory returned to Harvard as a Professor of Human Rights and a Director of the JFK School of Government.   During the summer of 2009 he was a consultant to Hillary Clinton and a member of our envoy Richard Holbrookes’s special committee on Afghan and Pakistan policy.  He left Harvard and in May 2010 was elected as a Tory Member of Parliament in the British House of Commons.  During that time he has had a lot to say in speeches, essays and his testimony before our Senate Foreign relations Committee on September 16, 2009.   The following is a condensed version of some of his opinions:

“The fundamental assumption of the western allies is that an ungoverned, hostile Afghanistan is a threat to global security.  This has been presented as a formal argument by President Obama:  ‘If the Afghan government falls to the Taliban, that country will again be a base for terrorists who want to kill as many of our people as they can.’  He proposed ‘to provide a more capable and accountable government affording security, opportunity and justice.’  NATO has gone further, proposing to ‘create a democratic state in Afghanistan.’ The fundamental problem with these strategies is that they are trying to do the impossible. Americans are particularly unwilling to believe that problems are insoluble. Conjuring that there can be only one winner, democracy and a strong afghan state, that failure is unacceptable, and  promising a final dream of legitimate governance, inflates our sense of power and moral obligation and creates an almost irresistible illusion.”

“Defeat of the Taliban is now unlikely. They are stronger than in 2005, but no longer able to take over the country as saviors like in 1996.  Their brutality, incompetence and primitive attitudes have been exposed.  The opposition to their presence now by the majority is too strong.  Maintaining a troop presence of more than 100,000 and spending more than $130 billion a year does not lead us to believe that our presence might be unwelcome, perceived as illegitimate or that we might be making things worse.  In the past 2 1/2 years more than twice as many NATO troops have been killed as in the prior 8.  The best policy would be to forget state building and defeating the Taliban, to reduce our troop level to about 15,000, conserve our resources, limit our objectives to assisting in counter-terrorism (not counterinsurgency) and development and be prepared to stay for 30 years working with Afghanis to, at best, possibly get them to the level of where Pakistan is today.”

These were Rory’s views 4 years ago, before the surge.  They are still his views, his major regret being the extra 4 years of waste that has occurred in the meantime.  I would be interested in your views. For more information, Rory has a blog, website and numerous speeches on YouTube. He is not going away.

Thanks for stopping by.

7 thoughts on “MONDAY MUSINGS – The Places In Between (cont’d)

  1. I read your blog with great interest. I particularly appreciated the clarity with which you exposed the facts and expressed your views. Many people are not aware of the political and military events that led us to where we are today in Afghanistan and they would profit from reading your blog. Thanks.

    • I don’t know. I just don’t know. There have been some improvements to women’s lives in Afghanistan since the iniasvon, but most have been purely cosmetic.I too have thought that the only solution would be to give asylum to any Afghan woman arriving in a foreign country. But for every one that succeeds in getting out, there are thousands trapped in the gulag for women they call Afghanistan. And of course, there’s the gilded gulag, Saudi Arabia.Just as an aside, if you need to read yet more on the Internet, I suggest looking at an interesting, yet ultimately frustrating take on women’s lives in SA: Susie is an American living in SA with her son and Saudi husband. It’s a fascinating blog, although I usually want to throttle her for actually agreeing to live in such a wildly misogynistic country Back to Afghanistan yes, if we (the West) are willing to invest in building schools and providing round the clock protection for students, teachers and their respective families, I’d be all in favour.In the final analysis, there don’t seem to be any meaningful options for improving the lot of women in Afghanistan. The presence of Western troops doesn’t seem to be successful by any stretch of the imagination.

    • To echo kagerato, pnistleos and fruitless are the operative words. kagerato again: The most direct approach is to directly attack the existing authoritarian power structure (in our case the control of our political process by big money) and undermine it in every way possible. We can’t even figure out how to accomplish this feat in our own country, and we’re going to accomplish it in Afghanistan? As far as liberating’ women in some other country, American women continue to earn 75 cents for every dollar men earn doing the same job. Remember the ERA amendment, voted down in the early ’70 s nobody even brings it up anymore. Hell, it took women how many years since the Constitution went into effect to even get to vote in this country? And we’re going to liberate Afghani women tomorrow?

  2. I will bookmark your blog and have my kids check up here frequently. I’m very certain they will understand lots of new stuff here than anybody else.

  3. Oh, the Bush Administration was focused, ok on Iraq!Changes in cuutlres don’t happen overnight.How people treat their women and children and seniors, vary from culture to culture. You don’t win points by telling people what to do. You can encourage and reward good behaviour. You can get the government of that country to pass laws protecting different groups. But you can’t baby-sit an entire culture. I’m not saying abandon them when/if we pull out. But, in the end, Afghanistani’s have to support that change. And you’re talking about an ancient tribal country.’ They won’t make the change overnight.In the end, I’m not sure what to do, other than encourage those that want to leave to go ahead and leave. But where to? And with what support system when they get there? It’s not like that part of the world has a plethora of countries with stellar womens rights backgrounds. Look at the Saudi’s.Over here? I don’t think in our current political environment, you can convince conservatives to allow Muslim women to come to the US. Look at the battles back in the day over allowing Vietnamese families to come here. Maybe I’m wrong about the conservatives. I just don’t think so.And besides, we have our own issues with women right here in this country.We passed the Ledbetter Law just last year. And that was only 90 years after giving women here the right to vote.Options for choice get narrower every year. Hell, you have groups out there who want to limit peoples options for birth control working the state legislatures all over the country right now.And you recently had people working in the medical and pharmaceutical fields wanting the option of not selling birth control pills and prophylactics, or telling women of other options.We have our own American Taliban that we have to deal with.BTW Please don’t tell me that any members of the American Taliban are arguing to stay in Afghanistan to protect the women there. I couldn’t stand a dose of that level of hypocrisy.In the end, though, it’s the law of unintended consequences. Before you do something, you need to think it through thoroughy. Obviously, we didn’t. And no matter what we do, stay or leave fully, or only partially withdraw, it will be, as it always was before, the women and children who suffer.You need to think about these things before you unleash the dogs of war, like some people are clammoring for in Iran. Look before you leap. Then look again, and again, and again I would like to hear what other think we can, or should do.

  4. This is so painful, but it all boils down to the fact that the US’s stetad military goal never has been and never will be the protection of women in any oppressive society. Therefore, the oppression and abuse of women in Afghanistan fails as an excuse for continued military presence.Jennifer’s asylum idea is intriguing, and I imagine a fair number of women would accept asylum but still the majority wouldn’t. Girls under a certain age, 16 say, probably wouldn’t be able to emigrate without the approval of their parents, which sets up an entire new generation to be treated worse than draft animals.When we leave Afghanistan, we need to use diplomatic and economic resources to build an international coalition for the defense of women and children everywhere. There are a number of NGOs already doing this, but in societies where they’re not welcome, there’s little hope.It’s kind of like combating the crime of rape; rapists by their nature don’t care what women think, so women marching against rape has no positive effect on potential perpetrators. When other men march and speak out against rape, peer pressure is applied and there’s usually some positive effect. If moderate Muslim nations were encouraged to apply diplomatic and economic pressure on Muslim nations that oppress women (let’s not forget Saudi Arabia, ahem), positive change might begin. Most national leaders don’t want to be an outcast among peers.OK, that’s pretty weak, but it’s all I can think of at the moment.

  5. The film specifically aedsesrds this issue . When the U.S and its allies chose to put the Karzai regime in place, they conveniently overlooked the fact that it is overrun with the same patriarchal attitudes toward women as the Taliban. During my recent trip to Afghanistan, I saw the crushing poverty that Afghans must endure. A few brave women from RAWA and the Afghan Women’s Mission pointed out in a recent article that the military establishment claims that it must win the military victory first and then the U.S. will take care of humanitarian needs. But they have it backward. Improve living conditions and security will improve. Focus on security at the expense of humanitarian goals, and coalition forces will accomplish neither. The first step toward improving people’s lives is a negotiated settlement to end the war.

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