By Sigrid Weidenweber
Between the years of 1980 and 1990 my husband and I led American Aid for Afghans, an NGO (Non- Governmental Organization), invested in ending the Russian occupation of Afghanistan. According to Stalinist doctrine, I paraphrase: “a country once led by a Communist government, even temporarily, must remain Communist always, no matter the cost,” Russia had invaded Afghanistan to keep the puppet leadership it had installed from being driven out by the Afghan people. During the ten years of our involvement we learned a lot about Afghanistan, its people and culture, of which its tribal decentralization was the most important factor.
Afghanistan has 21 distinct ethnic groups, and thirty-five dialects into which the main languages Pashto, Dari, Hindustani, Urdu and Turkic were absorbed. The 21 ethnic groups are divided into smaller clans, which live often in isolated areas and have distinctly different dialects.
The tribes, and I could name here thirty-five, live with different cultural and religious tenets. Every tribe has their own tribal administration and their own tribal leaders who often disagree with the central government. Add to that mix the many semi-nomadic peoples, living in yurts, chaparis and uii, as the Kirgiz do, and you can imagine the problems facing a central government.
When we, through American Aid for Afghans, met with different groups about the distribution of medical and clothing supplies, we often found ourselves in the middle of violent, heated discussions, as every group tried to grab as many supplies for their own tribe as possible. There was no concept of our country, our people or our nation. The glue holding the ethnic entities together was the common enemy—the Russians. We observed that one could forge a nation only by granting large amounts of autonomy to tribal groups, holding their leaders responsible for the defense of the tribes against the Taliban and other forces, working with the central government on issues like health, building of infrastructure and schools.
Well, our government under president Bush and Obama never conferred with any of the many well-versed NGO-leaders, choosing instead to listen to administrators and academicians. Every one wanted a democratic, centralized wonderful Afghanistan—built upon the concept of European or American governance.
Seen in historical context, Afghanistan was united as a governed entity only through force by war-lords, conquerors or Kings. They ruled by force, like the last King, who put out protests by bombing his own people. (It has been admitted that despite the ruthless governance, the King’s era was one of the most fruitful and peaceful times for the turbulent country.)
To that, I must add the fact that in a mostly Islamic country a governing secular body will be constantly attacked and under-mined by Islamists like the Taliban.
On May 2nd, I read in the Wall Street Journal in an article by Hy Rothstein and John Arquilla, that the U. S. no longer believes in a victory against the Taliban, and is trying to extricate itself with “a façade of honor,” by directly negotiating with the Taliban.
This flies directly into the face of everything we have learned about Afghanistan and the Taliban. Previous negotiations with the Taliban always ended by the Taliban’s breaking any treaty it had negotiated. Negotiating with the Taliban is absurd. For eighteen years we have fought to remove this ultra-Islamic entity. Now we are negotiating: talks are ongoing even as the Taliban has started its Spring offensive. The above quoted journalists call the situation surreal, “for Americas’s own creation, the Afghan government, has been excluded from the negotiations, because the Taliban, our common enemy, demanded it.”
Rothstein and Arquilla see the horrible situation the way we did so long ago. The Afghan government of today is blamed for incompetence but to govern Afghanistan is impossible with the dictates America has imposed. The Taliban has gained more territory since 2016, the government is hamstrung and America is negotiating with a partner that is not serious about peace talks. More even, the Taliban makes a powerful statement by attacking while supposedly negotiating a peace treaty.
The reporters tell us that the U. S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, praises the Taliban’s representative as a patriot, while our U. S. diplomats declared Hamdullah Mohib, a Western educated, U. S.-friendly Afghan security adviser a persona non grata, for expressing the legitimate frustrations of his government, which is facing this sorry state of affairs.
Rothstein and Arquilla recommend that the coddling of the Taliban must be stopped instantly. Furthermore, the Afghan government and many advisers at State and the Pentagon must embrace a decentralized approach to Afghan security and governance.
I hope that someone at these institutions listens to these well-educated, realistic voices of which there are so few.
Today, Monday, May 6, 2019 the Wall street Journal published a small blurb from the Associated Press. Here it is: Afghanistan, Taliban Attack Leaves 13 Police Dead
The Taliban stormed a police headquarters in Afghanistan killing 13 officers and setting off a six-hour gun battle, officials said. We then are informed that a suicide bomber struck the entrance to the compound with eight gunmen rushing in after the explosion. The Interior Ministry said, besides the 13 officers killed another 55 people including 20 civilians were wounded before the attackers were killed.
I ask you: are these the people with whom we should be negotiating?
Sigrid Weidenweber grew up in communist East Berlin, escaping it using a French passport. Ms. Weidenweber holds a degree in medical technology as well as psychology and has course work in Anthropology. She is co-founder of Aid for Afghans. Weidenweber has traveled the world and lived with Pakistani Muslims, learning about the culture and religion. She is a published author and lecturer. You can find her books on Amazon.com