“The middle east region of the world has been warring over religion for thousands of years. Do we really think we can win a war with them over it?” So reads the description for the Facebook group titled “Let’s Negotiate With the Taliban.” As farcical as this kind of thinking should seem to any student of the greater Middle East, it encapsulates a growing sentiment. Six in ten Americans now oppose the war in Afghanistan. They are joined by scholars such as Stephen Walt, who frequently criticizes what he calls “the costly and counterproductive business of nation-building” in Afghanistan. The famed conservative George Will arrived at a similar conclusion when he proclaimed that Afghanistan isn’t a country that “actually matters.” Some leftist circles are just as eager to denounce our military venture, though they are concerned less with American national interests than with the humanitarian catastrophe in Afghanistan—which they erroneously attribute to U.S. and coalition forces. Indeed, we are living in a novel age. For the first time in its long history, the political Left is now almost unanimously opposed to the idea of military struggle in defense of basic democratic rights. Even Afghanistan’s unelected president has begun to give up the fight. Hamid Karzai, who has already purged his bureaucracy of anti-Taliban dissidents and packed it with a slew of chauvinistic warlords, has allegedly been conducting secret talks with the Taliban and there are whispers of a power-sharing agreement.
What do hardcore policy realists, “anti-imperialist” talk factories, and the corrupt government in Kabul have in common? None of them see a reason to continue the fight against the Taliban—arguably the most depraved, reactionary, misogynistic, and religiously totalitarian army on Earth. So, it’s not surprising that none of them seem to care much about what the Afghan people have to say on this issue.
To be clear, the war in Afghanistan is not about “nation-building.” Afghanis have spent the past three hundred years building their beautiful country; coalition forces are helping them defend it from a foreign (read: Pakistani)-backed guerilla army. The popular Western fantasy of Afghanistan as a benighted wasteland inhabited by a race of teeth-gnashing peasant warriors eager to rip apart the fair-skinned apostate foreigner could not be further from the truth. Afghanistan was one of the Muslim world’s first modern, independent nation-states; it is not for nothing that Kabul was once called the “Paris of the East.” While the Taliban have made every effort to turn Afghanistan into a carnival of religious fanaticism, the political landscape was at one time splendid in all the modern trends: nationalism, liberalism, Marxism. For much of the twentieth century, the country was united under a strong monarchy, checked by a national assembly—the Loya Jirga—before entering into a republican and then a socialist phase. Afghanistan, in other words, is not the loose affiliation of illiterate authoritarian feudalists it is portrayed as nowadays.
There is no dearth of horror stories about Taliban injustice. The example that is now best known in the U.S. is probably the case of Bibi Aisha, the nineteen-year- old girl featured on the cover of Time magazine, whose nose and ears were cut off as punishment for the crime of running away from an abusive arranged marriage to a Talib. Residents of Musa Qala, a town in Helmand Province that was liberated in 2007, detailed to one British journalist that the Taliban, while in power, had beaten them for such offenses as trimming one’s beard and listening to music, and had also made a point of hanging suspected spies.
In Musa Qala and other areas, the complaint is not that there is too much occupation, too much military presence, too much security—instead, the complaint runs the other way. Taliban extortion, intimidation, assassination and general thuggery continue even in liberated zones. “The government is unable to bring security to the regions and the Taliban are killing people and planting mines,” complained one taxi driver in Mehlajat, Kandahar Province to a New York Times journalist. “Don’t leave us to the Taliban,” pled another resident. “If the Taliban come again, we will face serious retaliation for being helpful to the government.” Between NATO on one side and the Taliban on the other, it is clear to those caught in the middle who constitutes the bigger threat.
In recent months, the Taliban have actually intensified their campaigns in light of the massive amounts of development aid and nation-building projects that coalition forces have overseen. Not only have they continued to assassinate important figures, like police chiefs and government officials, but they have also resorted to poisoning the food that people eat to break the fast of Ramadan. It is a desperate fit put on by a group that has now decisively lost the moral high ground in the astute eyes of the Afghan public, according to all reliable polling data. According to a Gallup poll taken last year, a full 80% of the public considers the Taliban a negative influence on their country. According to another BBC poll, more than two-thirds of the public supports the presence of U.S. troops. This is the kind of hard data that is conveniently left out of Code Pink and ANSWER Coalition agitations against the war.
Many Afghans, despite the enormous difficulties they are facing, continue to fight for democratic civilization, even as many commentators and activists in the Anglophone world turn their back on it. While antiwar buffs continue to congregate on university quads and major city thoroughfares, denouncing with one voice the Yankee occupation of a Muslim nation, those living inside occupation itself are singing a very different tune. Dr. Massouda Jalal, Afghanistan’s former minister for women’s affairs, remarked earlier this month, “Afghanistan is very sick, it’s very sick. It cannot stand on its feet … we need to care for Afghanistan, otherwise this wounded body will be used by negative energy.” She was delivering an impassioned plea to a Canadian parliamentary committee not to withdraw troops or support ‘peace’ talks, as though a Talibanized junta would bring peace to the fifteen million women in the country. Jalal was echoed by Jamila Afghani, the executive director of the Noor Education Center and a defender of women’s rights, who maintains, “there is a Taliban revival and terrorist revival going on. The future will be even worse than the past, so I don’t suggest they should leave. Or if they leave, we should be satisfied before they go.” Dozens of human rights workers—unsurprisingly, a great number of them women—have issued similar admonitions against reconciliation and withdrawal.
Though the Afghan jihad of the 1980s was spurred by the Soviet invasion, the Soviet withdrawal did not bring peace. Rather, it ushered in a civil war that was not resolved until NATO occupied the country. There is no reason to expect a different outcome this time around. “First, a massacre campaign will start,” explained the ex-chief of Afghan intelligence, Amarullah Saleh. “The human cost in this country will easily be up to two million people killed at least.” Back in Musa Qala, one Afghan police officer put it more candidly: “This time there will be so much blood that you will smell it from as far away as London.”
Chase Mechanick is a third-year in the College majoring in Political Science.