Having the Trump strategy’s one-year anniversary in mind, I decided to go among the Afghan people to get an idea of what they think, how they see their future, and what should be done to improve their lot.
Walking along Kabul’s dusty streets, talking to shopkeepers and pedestrians of all ages and backgrounds, driving over the countryside, sitting down for a cup of green tea with farmers, discussing their economic prospects, I found my worst expectations confirmed. My impression that this had to be a terribly unhappy place was almost universally validated. While few expressed resignation, the vast majority were deeply frustrated and angry.
No one I spoke with claimed to be satisfied with what transpires in their country. I began to wonder: What is it that this nation of some 30 million souls need to be done to come to peace with one another after 40 years of mayhem, invasion by both superpowers, and rule by predatory warlords and drug kingpins.
Experiencing the Afghan people’s widespread anger and sheer hopelessness convinced me that in this war-shuttered land another major implosion was in the making. It might not be there yet, but the country was definitely moving towards it.
Then, Eid al Adha approached. President Ghani made a strong appeal for a ceasefire during the three-day festivities. The Taliban answered with a major strike on the city of Ghazni, only about 90 miles to the west of Kabul. They occupied the town for three days. The fighting for the city, its three-day occupation and freeing it from the Taliban’s grip reportedly devoured more than a thousand lives. The reoccupying government forces found the city prison empty and discovered extensive devastation to the city’s businesses. Further, while exiting the city, the Taliban had helped themselves to a respectable number of military vehicles and many truckloads of arms and ammunition.
The fall of Ghazni was politically, strategically, and humanly a devastating blow to the Ghani government. As things developed, for the Taliban it wasn’t the main thing at all, it was simply the icing on the cake. The cake itself was kept to be served on the first and most important day of Eid al Adha, when millions of Moslems assemble in Mecca to perform the Hajj rituals, and another one to two billion of them gather in their neighborhood mosques for Eid prayers.
Contrary to the habit of Afghanistan’s former communist President Najibullah who, as related by one of his close advisors, would order his cabinet and other high government officials to visit their home regions and join the people in performing the Eid prayers, President Ghani had invited members of his cabinet, a large number of other government officials, and some ambassadors of Moslem-majority nations to perform Eid prayers with him at the mosque inside the presidential palace’s compound.
When Afghan and foreign dignitaries had congregated in the palace’s manicured garden, bombs came crushing down, exploding outside the high palace walls. The ground began to tremble from the power of the explosions and President Ghani’s party collapsed under the confusion that seized the guests.
A general who knew the weapon that had propelled the explosive devices said it was a matter of a millimeter in the adjustment of the system and the bombs would have gone over the palace walls and landed in the middle of the approximately 2000 guests assembled in the Arg palace’s garden.
President Ghani and his guests had barely avoided a calamity. But how often will the gods of fortune be on the side of a government that has virtually completely lost touch with the reality of the country it rules?
I have no doubt that this country is sliding toward a civil war. This time, it will be much more violent than anything this war-weary nation has experienced before. The rich flow of money flooding the country over the past 14 years or so, has enabled the warlords and big drug dealers to fill their coffers with crisp 100-dollar bills, using some of the money to expand and amply arm their private armies. When the civil war arrives, its intensity and ferocity will make the Afghans forget the present Taliban insurgency.
I realize, I am repeating myself when I suggest that the U.S. must do something of an entirely different nature if it wishes to avoid mobocracy which could lead to the disintegration of Afghanistan and a new and unpredictable condition in South and Central Asia.
Politically, Afghanistan is in turmoil. Mr. Ghani is disliked by most everyone and seems to have lost the little support he’s had when former Secretary of State John Kerry installed him as president of Afghanistan.
Financially, the country is at its knees. Its legal economy produces less in monetary resources than a small American county. Yet, when President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah travelled to Europe to plead their case before NATO’s yearly meeting of chiefs of state and government, the two, instead of traveling in one plane, flew to the meeting in separate aircrafts. The reason? I was told the two men hated each other’s smell. I am willing to take that as a joke. But when the two leaders of a bankrupt nation travel to the same destination for a joint appearance in separate planes, for whatever reason it might have been, that is no joke at all.
Frankly, I never got the feeling that the Afghans have an idea of what they think they needed to happen for them to feel secure and free of the corruption and torment they endure at the hand of a government that is in the firm grip of warlords.
However, what I clearly sensed during my many conversations with Afghans of various backgrounds is a total alienation with the outside world and a tortured misapprehension of what is happening to them.
The majority of Afghans believes that the U.S. has a secret design for being in Afghanistan. Even highly educated Afghans believe that. They are certain of their government’s participation in this mysterious American intention that they vaguely believe has something to do with Afghanistan’s rich natural resources and some future geopolitical scheme in the region that prevents the U.S. from removing its military from Afghanistan. They believe the U.S. itself is fueling the war by arming and funding the Taliban and the Afghan branch of ISIS so that the war would continue and there would be no pressure on the U.S. to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan.
Be that as it may. What is historically of great importance is that in Afghanistan Washington finds itself confronted with a fundamental reorientation of the Islamic civilization, the last Middle Eastern religious culture. The widespread Islamic world is facing the painful challenge and frighteningly unfamiliar path towards a new social, political, and economic orientation — toward the norms of survival in the modern age.
This struggle for renewal is greatly complicated by large illiteracy rates in most Moslem nations. Perhaps more ominously, the oppressive and predatory regimes ruling across most of the Moslem world, feeling threatened over losing their grip on power, are using violence and fundamentalist religious models to snuff out the people’s demand for democracy and the rule of law.
As it happens, Afghanistan seems to have taken center stage in this human saga. How the U.S. handles what is in progress in that far-off corner of our planet will greatly affect what is simmering in the huge caldron we call the Islamic world.
The development in that part of the world is similar to what the western Christian civilization fought for and realized in the past. Putting this progression in simple terms is the just distribution of political, social, and economic rights among the people. This may appear quite unassuming to someone who lives in a free society where the law governs. To those who are not governed but the rule of law but suffer from being ruled by men, to achieve that evenhanded distribution of social and human rights is a matter of life-and-death.
History has witnessed time and again that the rule by man is always corrupted by selfishness and greed and leads to tyranny, economic impoverishment, and social separation of the many from the few.
Washington would do well if it would ally itself with the people in the Moslem world rather than the despots ruling over them. In Afghanistan, the warlords and their helpers are that corrupt and despotic element that urgently needs to be eliminated. They are who plundered many billions of donor monies and left the country in its medieval state.
Nasir Shansab has maintained homes, business interests and dual citizenship in both the United States and Afghanistan for the past three decades.
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