This has got to be the most despicable argument I’ve read in a while

in the CSM

Though a political settlement with the Taliban will undoubtedly require compromise on legal and social matters, these concessions need not set back Afghan women in the long term. While the Taliban might push for an end to coeducation in Afghanistan’s south, there is no Islamic basis for them to oppose girls-only schools. Gulf Arab states that have done their fair share to promote radicalism in Afghanistan should recompense by funding primary and secondary girls schools, putting Afghanistan on a path toward universal education.

Within a generation’s time, the world can witness an Afghanistan fully healed from the 30 years of strife. But healing Afghanistan requires a political, not a military, solution. And Washington’s consent to bring about that solution must come now, before it sinks deeper into an unwinnable war.

Aww, isn’t that sweet. A settlement with the Taliban will heal Afghanistan. Gulf Arab states that have been funding the Taliban insurgency will now switch gears and start finding primary and secondary female education – putting Afghanistan on a path toward universal education. And all this will happen with absolutely nothing motivating any of the miraculously soon to be reformed actors (the Taliban & the Gulf States) to change. It will just happen like the way I will soon be getting a job paying me a million bucks a year to sit on the couch and surf google news.

Seriously, I want some of what this guy is smoking.

Look, you can make a pretty clear isolationist argument from the US perspective of getting the hell out of Afghanistan. You can also make a great argument from the Pakistani military’s perspective of what a relief it’ll be to have the backyard free to let the Jihadists let off some of their excess steam in again without any pesky NATO troops around. You can even combine the two perspectives and make a sort of meaningless international pundit ‘liberal’ argument about just the general goodness leaving Afghanistan by cherrypicking morality from the two perspectives as the writer of this op-ed is clearly adept at doing. But it’s a little too much when you start with the Kumbayahs about how a US withdrawal after a negotiated peace with the Taliban will facilitate universal female education and “healing”.

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16 responses to “This has got to be the most despicable argument I’ve read in a while

  1. Mackers

    “This has got to be the most despicable argument I’ve read in a while.” Prone to exaggeration much? It appears that you are attacking a straw-man with your out-of-context use of the word “healing” – pretending that she argued that negotiating with the taliban will “facilitate” female education.

    She did argue that the some Gulf states have been responsible for the radicalization in Afghanistan and that they should help fund female education after a negotiated U.S withdrawal, as incredibly naive as that may be. It is disingenuous, however, to claim that she argued this would necessarily be so. I really do like your blog, but this makes me wonder whether it was a slow-news day.

    Also, do you really disagree with her statement that Afghanistan doesn’t have a military solution.

  2. Rabia

    “It is disingenuous, however, to claim that she argued this would necessarily be so.”

    when people make a claim following a claim before it without using the word “maybe” or “possibly” then readers are free to doubt that claim 2 will indeed follow claim 1 particularly when claim 2 is so preposterous.

    Yeah, I do disagree. Of course there is a military solution to Afghanistan but it requires far more resources and time than the US is willing to commit and probably a complete change of approach to Pakistan which, again, the US is not willing to commit to. It’s basically a colonial project, and it’s not something that I advocate at all. The issue with op-eds like this is that they portray US withdrawal as a positive development for Afghanistan which is clearly a lie. People should accept that US withdrawal is going to result in a protracted period in which Pakistan and the Afghan Taliban consolidate the Afgh Taliban’s gains in Afghanistan and it won’t be pretty and there certainly won’t be any healing or increase in female education.

    btw, I think the writer is a guy. And the reason it’s despicable is that most likely he doesn’t believe a word of what he’s peddling about healing and all that.

  3. Zainab Ali

    If the people really want this change then they should get out in the streets and let the authorities know that they want education for girls and women, if not in a co-ed environment then in separate institutes, and the Taliban will have to settle down on this condition.

  4. Mackers

    My bad on the gender, but in my defense, he writes like a girl (joke). And you don’t. Didn’t know you were female.

    But still, come on now ! The use of the phrase “need not set back Afghan women in the long term” in the sentence, “Though a political settlement with the Taliban will undoubtedly require compromise on legal and social matters, these concessions need not set back Afghan women in the long term,” should be indicative of the author’s intended meaning- that while female education might suffer, maybe we are too presumptuous and it really won’t, in the long term. You somehow flipped that on its head, as if he was going much much further.

    And even if you didn’t have that sentence for context, it should be of some consequence that the word he used in the contentious sentence was “should” and not “will.” As in, “Afghanistan should be given money for education, Afghanistan should be given free oil, Afghanistan should be awesome.”

    Regarding the Afghanistan war having a military solution. Are we talking about the war that has been raging on for almost a decade, having already become America’s longest ever in their 224 year history. The one where they have almost a 100,000 troops busy- that is American numbers alone. The one which is costing them 73 billion dollars annually, all from borrowed money. Are they then not “willing” or not able to commit anymore? Even assuming that they had the troops and money to finance a ‘colonial’ escapade, how do you envision Americans building the schools, infrastructure, and industry that would be needed – which i think is what you are imagining, when the taliban happily and easily blow-up everything. This, when currently the taliban have free reign in most of Afghanistan, outside of Kabul (Just this month they have sent forces back in to Kandahar, their second largest city, to try wrest some control of it). And even if, somehow, that too is achieved, do you really see the Afghans coming around to accepting a foreign infidel force in a land where religious identity is everything. Hint, the ubiquitousness of conspiracies regarding jews, hindus, CIA and blackwater, even in Pakistan, should be a clue as to what the Afghans must think of their not-so-welcome guests.

    Also, I absolutely view an American withdrawal from Afghanistan as a positive development for it, which is – as far as i can tell – very clearly not a “lie”. The American intervention has produced a resurgent taliban. Breathed new life in to them. Recruited them more in numbers and increased their popular support, being, as they are, the main form of insurgency against the Americans. It’s done for the taliban, what military coups do for corrupt Pakistani politicians – made the people forget about their past, and ambivalent as to whether they were bad in the first place, nostalgic even. Just as military coups deter organic internal changes that a democracy goes through, for the better, the Americans have prevented any internal change that would have come about within Afghanistan or the taliban themselves. Knowing that it is impossible for a foreign force to achieve anything in Afghanistan, it is clear that the only way Afghanistan can progress is on its own. I certainly don’t think that he doesn’t believe in what he is selling. I pretty much agree with him. The healing he is referring to is the development that will come about if Afghanistan is able to enjoy a protracted period of peace and stability. Something it hasn’t witnessed in the last three or four decades, with intervention after intervention. Such a future Afghanistan would certainly be very conservative and may not afford its women many rights. It would, however, be a way for them to progress. One thing we should realize from their history is that foreigner’s military interventions can’t be a catalysts for their progress, but rather serve to regress them back, further and further, as their infrastructure is destroyed in the ensuing battles and the most violent, backwards cave-men, of their society, unite to fight and then pick up the pieces and rule, when the foreigners leave.

    I think you are confusing the ideal with the real. In an ideal world, hostile force would be able to displace the taliban and re-build Afghanistan, in the real world Afghanistan would remain in turmoil of the worst kind if the foreign force maintain the status-quo, an Afghanistan stuck in limbo – where the people still follow all the former taliban laws, such as burqa wearing, out of fear, but one where no economic or social progress can come about because of the constant warfare. In conclusion, hell yes, Americans leaving would be good for Afghanistan

  5. Rabia

    hahaha. Well, the reason he sounds like he’s writing like a girl is because he’s making a pansy argument that he doesn’t believe in to cover up for his basic argument (which is “manly” enough) which is that the US should leave so that the Pakistani establishment has free reign over Afghanistan.

    I don’t really agree with your point about the American intervention having “breathed a new life” into the Taliban. I guess you’re forgetting that prior to 2001, the Taliban ruled most of Afghanistan and had just killed Ahmed Shah Massoud, the only really viable alternative to them. So it was unlikely that they would’ve been out of power any time soon had 9/11 not occurred.

    You accuse me of dealing with the ‘ideal’ world rather than the real world – well, that’s not really true. Maybe you didn’t understand my original comment – I said that there is obviously a military solution to the Afghan problem there just isn’t the political will to achieve it and I’m not even sure that it’s a good idea, even if there were the political will. In any case, I’m afraid that I’m going to have to accuse you of the same thing – you’re talking about an idealized situation in which the Afghans will be free to pursue their own independent path to peace after the US leaves. You’re kinda ignoring the elephant in the room there, I’ll give you a hint, it starts with P and ends with “stan”. The idea that the Afghans will be free to “heal” themselves after the US leaves is just a pipedream. I mean, I hope I’m wrong and he’s right and that Pakistan (like the Gulf States, heh) will immediately start focusing on female education and healing once the US is gone. But where’s the motivation in all this? Who’s going to make them change and stop supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan? Any idea?

  6. Mackers

    About the taliban resurgence, I never claim that they weren’t strong when the U.S invaded, just that they have gained numerically and in popular support – something i believe was progressively waning, as it does in all societies where the administration is ineffective at solving the socio-economic problems. The problems that are the priority for the populace in a relatively stable and peaceful country. The same problems which play second fiddle to safety and security issues in times of warfare.

    Also, as you remember Ahmed Shah Masood was killed not because his forces were defeated but because he was blown up by a taliban suicide-bomber masquerading as a journalist. These same forces, under different leadership, helped defeat the taliban, when America first invaded. And, the change I mentioned didn’t even have to be internal to Afghanistan, just internal to the taliban. The taliban, are not a monolith, and believe it or not, their is such a thing as moderate taliban in the motley crew that they are. Organic change happens in all societies, with inefficient administrators getting toppled over.

    About political will, as i tried to express before, it’s not a case of political will but more a financial inability and the realization that the kind of program you envision would still not bear fruit unless the taliban stop blowing shit up. Even though you admit you are not for it – which makes me wonder why even mention it, I am also left wondering how many hundreds of thousands of troops, decades of commitment, trillions in military and investment funds, and etc it would require. All right, my imagination is not that active. I’ll chalk that one down as fanciful thinking disguised as a military solution. Maybe it needs to be mentioned that a “military solution” comes with the implicit assumption that such a solution is one accomplish-able. I fear analysts don’t care to label outlandish scenarios as solutions, much less table them for discussion. I too love to play the ” if i had a bajillion majillion dollars, I would solve the worlds problems.” Sadly, I don’t and nobody has even taken my solution seriously.

    About the elephant in the room, I think you are making a mountain out of a mole-hill. Or maybe, more appropriately, a very big elephant out of a more miniature baby-elephant ? The fact remains that while Pakistan always gave tacit support to Afghanistan, when did we ever control what the taliban did (And by control, I mean real control: making them do stuff even when detrimental to themselves). This tacit support was borne out of a feeling that the taliban are within our sphere of influence. You know, the ‘they may be bastards but they are our bastards’ kind of thinking. However, peace and stability is the crux of the argument here. Namely that peace and stability leads to good things (keeping it simplistic as I feel I have already gone in to detail previously)

    “I mean, I hope I’m wrong and he’s right and that Pakistan (like the Gulf States, heh) will immediately start focusing on female education and healing once the US is gone.”
    Will you please stop beating up that poor straw-man. He has had enough already. Neither he nor I claim that Pakistan will “immediately” support any social programs for Afghanistan.

    Let me sum it up. With peace and stability, Afghanistan will make socio-economic progress despite the taliban. The taliban are a reality and in the absence of a constructive solution to their presence, we have to swallow the bitter pill. Socio-economic progress can lead to political change, however minute this may be. And to make it absolutely clear, political change doesn’t only refer to a substitute for the Taliban but for substitutes within the taliban

  7. Rabia

    are you saying that the NA would have been able to ultimately unseat the Taliban had the US not invaded Afghanistan? In general, it’s rather difficult to unseat a regime especially one as brutal and effective as the Taliban was.

    Are you suggesting that after 10 years of sheltering the Haqqanis and Mullah Omar that Pakistan is not firmly committed to bringing them back to power and is flexible about the actors its willing to support in Afghanistan? I’ve seen this flexibility argument thrown around by the defenders of General Kayani’s earlier speech on the issue but so far there’s been little evidence to support it. Consider for example the little drama that the GHQ is presently enacting regarding going into North Waziristan. My prediction – they’ll never take on Haqqani or Mullah Omar.

    I’m not sure on what basis you think I’m overestimating Pakistan’s potential for creating instability in Afghanistan. No one ever argued that Pakistan ever had absolute control over the Afghan Taliban or even individuals like Hekmatyar whom it championed for a couple of decades before that, but that never stopped them from supporting them. Look, you have to think back to the Soviet withdrawal, Hamid Gul’s Jalalabad offensive, the Hekmatyar-Tanai coup attempt, etc to realize just how unhinged and uncompromising Pakistan has been regarding its meddling in Afghanistan. Just because the GHQ has never had a shortage of reasonable sounding defenders in the local and international press that does not mean that its underlying policy has ever been reasonable, flexible or amenable to compromise reflecting the status quo. I really hope you’re right and I’m wrong, but there’s a lot of reason to believe (going by the aftereffects of the Soviet withdrawal) that the US withdrawal is going to be one of the worst disasters to ever strike the region. I don’t know about you, but I’m really scared. We have a huge network of terrorists within Pakistan with cells in all our cities who all regard Mullah Omar as their spiritual leader. We’ve dedicated 10 years to defending Mullah Omar’s interests in Afghanistan. You really think anything good can come of this?

    anyway, thanks for a great discussion, I really enjoyed it! 🙂

  8. Mackers

    No, I mentioned the fact that Ahmed Shah was killed by a suicide-blast because your statement was presented in a way which made it seem like the taliban had conquered their opposition, which you – not I – called “the only really viable alternative.” My point was that they had eliminated a figure-head, and not the movement, since the killing was by crook and not in battle.

    The local terrorist networks don’t scare me as much as they do you because I see key several differences between Pakistan and Afghanistan, for them to be a success, here. Notably, the powerful native military, their much lower numbers here, as percentage, compared to Afghanistan, the opinion polls that indicate the overwhelming majority is against talibanization, especially after the flogging videos were aired, a ruling-class that hasn’t fled- as they had by the end of the Soviet-Afghan War, a working and viable economy and etc.

    I think the fall-out of the soviet invasion was that the people that defeated them, the mujaheddin, came to power. This time too, the same will happen, and I am not sure as to what threat we will face this time, that is different to what happened last time-especially when the people in question are the same. This is especially so since the American public wouldn’t let their president withdraw forces from Afghanistan without some kind of conditional negotiated agreement with the taliban, whereby the more moderate within them are given prominence and the Americans get some kind of guarantees to protect them for terrorism, the raison d’etre for the war in the first place . Also, a new taliban government would always be under-threat from drone attacks, similar to the missile strikes on their compounds during the Clinton administration, to provide them incentive to stay away from any misadventures- especially since a in government taliban is much easier to hurt than a guerrilla taliban.

    Anyways, I enjoyed this back and forth with you. We can agree to disagree 🙂

  9. Mackers

    By the way, I was really caught off guard to find a Pakistani blog on political and policy issues, authored by a female. Since you have nothing in your ‘About’ section, out of curiosity, is this something you are studying and/or teaching, or just a side interest.

  10. Rabia

    just a side interest!

  11. stuka

    What I find more irritating is the assumption that the US will be able to coax Non Pashtun groups along in some sort of a peace deal with the Taliban. Have Iran and India rolled over and died? Also, Russia is staying away from Afghanistan only because the US is fighting everyone else’s battles (everyone = Russia, Iran, India) and a US withdrawal would also mean increased Russian support to Tajiks and Uzbeks of Northern Afghanistan.

    Regarding Pashtun women, it’s not like their status has changed much in Kandahar under Karzai either. As long as Kabul is not sacrificed, it’s no big deal to let the Talibs run the South and the civil war to carry on.

  12. IZ

    According to Tariq Ali – not the most reliable source – Pakistan is offering a ‘Afghanistan-for-Kashmir’ deal to the Indians in the current talks:

    http://www.lrb.co.uk/v32/n14/tariq-ali/not-crushed-merely-ignored

    By the way, interesting discussion btw Rabia and Mackers. My 2 cents:

    Just as the Pak army is adept at using the Americans without quiet being completely controlled by them, I would say something similar about the Taliban and the Pak army. I think the Pak Army overestimates its ability to control the various Taliban groups (just look at what is happening in FATA etc.)

    My guess is an American pull-out would see continued conflict and, more importantly continued stalemate in Afghanistan. Haqqani and Hekmatyar may form an alliance with Karzai, but other elements of the Taliban will continue warfare – but one in which they will be unable to take the cities. (Mackers, you say that the soviet withdrawal brought the Mujahideen to power but you forget that it took the Mujahideen 3 years, after the total dissolution of the USSR and complete isolation of the Najibullah regime, which otherwise the Mujahideen could not defeat, despite full Pakistani support (see the Battle of Jalalabad for example)).

    If negotiations btw India and Pakistan work, the NA and Tajiks will stick with Karzai, but if they break down, they may break away so it becomes a 3 way fight. (lets also remember the Arab – Iranian rivalry around which another fault line may erupt into conflict). One thing I’m pretty certain of is that an American pullout will not lead to any easy solution one way or the other.

  13. Rabia

    excellent points, IZ. I don’t get why more people aren’t comparing the post geneva situation to what we are seeing now. At the time Zia also made these statements like “we don’t want to control Afghanistan, we just want a friendly government” etc.

    btw the Tariq Ali article is interesting – I didn’t realize he was such a critic of the status quo in Kashmir.

  14. stuka

    IZ: The Tariq Ali article says a lot without saying anything.

    “Give us Afghanistan and you can have Kashmir”???

    Hello, is this for real? India is supposed to trust the ISI / Pak Army to keep it’s word? Pakistan may have chalked up the Kandahar hijacking the the humiliation of India on the eve of a new millenium to just another victory but it shouldn’t assume lessons were not learned in India.

    Tariq Ali (journalist) is as relevant to the situation as Imran Khan (politician) in terms of providing some red meat to the Pakistani chattering classes. Keep in mind that the “civil disobedience” of Srinagar is as discomfiting to GHQ Rawalpindi as they are to Delhi – at least beyond a certain point. Pakistani interests in Kashmir are the same as India’s – real estate and water resources. An active Kashmiri civil society demanding an independent greater Kashmir does neither country any favors.

  15. IZ

    Stuka: I think there’s a growing realisation at GHQ, Pindi, (60 years late) that Kashmir is never realistically going to be Pakistani. But they do require some face-saving mechanism by which to wash their hands of it. Also, there is serious paranoia regarding Indian ambitions in Afghanistan. Which is why the above formula makes sense from their position. However, as we can see from the failure of the recent talks, India probably feels it holds the all the cards and that time is on its side and so probably will be unwilling to bite.

    But back to the topic at hand, this article shows that at least some Afghani women are asking the same question Rabia was asking:

    http://edition.cnn.com/2010/OPINION/07/15/lemmon.afghanistan.women/index.html?fbid=tgHUkcBhnfw

    Will Afghan women’s rights be bargained away? You betcha.

  16. stuka

    IZ: The end game for GHQ is not acquisition of Kashmir. The end game is the maintenance of corporate and institutional interests of the Pakistan Army which in turn are dependent on a state of hostility with India. Kashmir today, water tomorrow, Indian Muslims the day after. The only way peace with India is possible is if Pakistani politicians were to discredit themselves to the extent that the Pak Army became the defacto ruling party due to domestic compulsions alone.

    The failure of talks on the Indian side is essentially due to Manmohan Singh’s failure to sell peace with Pakistan to the Indian establishment. Though MMS has done some reshuffling of bureaucrats, the institutional thinking is now hostile to the idea of talks. Secondly, the military now has a seat at the table vis a vis Pakistan. This was not the case say ten years back.

    Coming to Afghanistan, Afghan women’s rights are not a core American interest. As long as the Pashtun Taliban do not dictate their way of life to the more enlightened Tajiks and Uzbeks of Kabul and Northern Afghanistan, I think the US can sell certain cessation of rights as something normal and part and parcel of Pashtun culture.

    I had this disagreement about Karzai with the author of this blog a while back. Whereas the Author believes that the Karzai position was made untenable by the US (when it offered talks with Taliban), my own belief is that the US has its own core national interests to protect which may include talking to the Taliban. However, when Karzai substitutes Afghan national interest with his own personal interest, he loses the only thing he has to offer – credibility. Similarly, if the Pashtun is willing to offfer up the rights of their women for political space and stability, at the end of the day it is their country and we can respect their wishes as long as we are not harmed.

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