In 1988, just a year before the end of the U.S.-Russian proxy war in Afghanistan, Sher Zaman Taizi, a well-renowned Pashto writer authored The Field, a short story that laconically summarizes the past four decades of war in Afghanistan:
Sultan Bacha was killed. Mir Bacha was sentenced to transportation for life. And that field for which the two brothers were fighting was taken by others.1
The media have portrayed the war in Afghanistan as a humanitarian war, one being fought on behalf of Afghans themselves (especially Afghan women) to secure a terrorism free future for us all. And no matter how many breaking stories describe the repulsive actions of the international forces, whether its pissing on dead corpses or showing mindless contempt for the cultural heritage of the very people they are fighting “on behalf of”, you can sense the clever re-invention of that old colonialist story of the savage East in need of an altruistic West. If Christ will no longer save their souls, surely ‘democracy’ and ‘human rights’ can be given a go.
Setting aside the staggering arrogance of the US/NATO’s rhetorical justifications for this war, the reality is that the voices of ordinary Afghans have in no way been considered. And when I say that I mean it comprehensively , from decisions as seemingly innocuous as the issue of where to build a new road through a provincial village, to far more consequential matters regarding, for example, how to alleviate the blinding poverty of the majority of Afghanistan’s population, or how to stop abuses related to indentured servanthood, warlord control over drug trafficking, and insider deals being cut by U.S. supported ministers in the Afghan parliament.
And what’s worse, and exponentially more complicated is the civil war that rages on, and is often exacerbated by America’s drone bombings and terrorizing night raids. The war over control of this colonial “buffer zone” (as the British referred to it throughout the 19th century) has been politicized in the wake of the War of Terror. A key component of the U.S.’s war strategy until very recently was to arm and finance militia groups opposed to the Taliban, even if those same groups are also responsible for burning down neighboring rival villages, raping young boys or forcing the sale of young girls into marriage to settle a debt. There is also more and more convincing evidence that the Afghan Local Police have been responsible for terrifying assaults against civilians they are supposedly protecting.
The future of Afghanistan, however, should not be decided by any constituency other than Afghan citizens. The international community, including countries like Ireland that have made politically expedient deals with imperial forces like NATO should be made be aware of their respective government’s complicity in this war. According to a report in the Irish Times last June Ireland has spent almost €6 million on the war in Afghanistan since 2002 – and is one of 49 countries contending for power in a state where as many as 85% of the Afghan security forces, army and police, are illiterate.
Ireland is a country with an historical memory of how myopic colonial powers can be to the suffering of people struggling beneath and against colonial cruelties. Irish history shows that the day the voices of ordinary people are heard in the theatre of government is the day most perilous to that government’s imperium. But don’t be fooled, just as Taizi’s story articulates, Afghans are critically aware of how the Americans have carved 9/11 into the history of loss in other places. The enmities of a decade rising from the horrors of a day. What to do with four decades of horror? Sometimes the best way to show solidarity is to do nothing – and that’s what ought to happen in Afghanistan – Ireland out of Afghanistan!
1Taizi, Sher Zaman. The Field. Taizi’s own translation.