How Afghanistan’s Radicals Became Moderates

I deleted my tumblr a couple days ago, I’ve been dealing with some offline stuff so I’m taking some time to do some self-care. I’m still following a handful of people’s tumblrs on rss, thanks for everyone’s kind and funny words.

With over a decade being spent in Afghanistan, the Obama administration’s policy has been to reach out to so-called moderates within the Taliban. However, who is a moderate and who is a radical is decided by their level of opposition to US occupation rather than their views on women, religion, and law. Often, it is the most socially reactionary leaders who are willing to compromise on foreign occupation in order to achieve their social goals.

What is the “Taliban”?

In the US media, anyone who fights back against the NATO occupation is a member of the Taliban. This has the effect of making the entire anti-occupation effort in Afghanistan seem less organic and disguises the true nature of the anti-imperialist resistance. Most of the resistance isn’t being coordinated by the Taliban organization, it is locally-organized militias which oppose foreign occupation. These anti-occupation fighters are the radicals to the Obama administration, they’re not taking orders from the Taliban leadership but are instead dedicated to opposing the Karzai puppet government and neocolonialism. James Petras, in a fantastic article, said:

On the military front, the Pentagon launches one “offensive” after another, announcing one success after another, followed by a retreat and return of the Resistance fighters. The US campaigns disrupt trade, agricultural harvests and markets, while the air assaults targeting “Taliban” and militants, more frequently than not end up killing more civilians celebrating weddings, religious holidays and shoppers at markets than combatants. The reason for the high percentage of civilian killings is clear to everyone except the US Generals: there are no distinctions between “militants” and millions of Afghan civilians since the former are an integral part of their communities.

The key and ultimately decisive problem facing the US occupation is that it is a colonial enclave in the midst of a colonized people. The US, its local puppets and its NATO allies are a foreign colonial army and its Afghan military and police recruits are seen as mere instruments perpetuating illegitimate rule. Every action, whether violent or benign, is perceived and interpreted as transgressing the norms and historical legacies of a proud and independent people. In everyday life, every move by the occupation is disruptive; nothing moves except by command of the foreign directed military and police. Under threat of force, people fake co-operation and then provide assistance to their fathers, brothers and sons in the Resistance. The recruits take the money and turn their arms over to the Resistance. The paid village informants are double agents or identified by their neighbors and targeted by insurgents.

The outcome of making a power-sharing deal with the most socially reactionary has very clear effects, it shifts the war from being between occupiers and nationalists to being against women.

Most hot wars of recent memory, little and big, have been resolved or nudged into remission through what is called a power-sharing agreement. The big men from most or all of the warring parties—and war is basically a guy thing, in case you hadn’t noticed—shoulder in to the negotiating table and carve up a country’s or region’s military, political, and financial pie. Then they proclaim the resulting deal “peace.”

But as I learned firsthand as an aid worker in one so-called post-conflict country after another, when the men in power stop shooting at each other, they often escalate the war against civilians—especially women and girls. It seems to be hard for men to switch off violence, once they’ve gotten the hang of it. From Liberia to Myanmar, rape, torture, mutilation and murder continue unabated or even increase in frequency. In other words, from the standpoint of civilians, war is often not over when it’s “over,” and the “peace” is no real peace at all. Think of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the notorious “rape capital of the world,” where thousands upon thousands of women are gang-raped again and again, although the country has officially been at “peace” since 2003.


And what has President Karzai done for the rest of the women of Afghanistan? Not a thing.

That’s the conclusion of a recent report issued by the Human Rights Research and Advocacy Consortium (HRRAC), an association of prominent aid and independent research groups in Afghanistan, including such highly respected non-governmental organizations as Oxfam, CARE and Save the Children. The Afghan researchers who did the study conducted extensive interviews with prominent male religious scholars, male political leaders, and female leaders locally, provincially, and nationally.

The report notes that President Karzai has supported increasingly repressive laws against women, most notoriously the “Taliban-style” Shia Personal Status Law, enacted in 2009, which not only legitimizes marital rape but “prevents women from stepping out of their homes” without their husband’s consent, in effect depriving them of the right to make any decisions about their own lives. The report points out that this law denies women even the basic freedoms guaranteed to all citizens in the Afghan Constitution, which was passed in 2004 as part of a flurry of democratic reforms marking the start of Karzai’s first term as elected president. The democratizing spasm passed and President Karzai, sworn to defend that constitution, failed to do the job.

In fact, Karzai’s record on human rights, as the HRRAC report documents, is chiefly remarkable for what he has not done. He holds extraordinary power to make political appointments—another indicator of the peculiar nature of this Afghan “democracy” our troops are fighting for—and he has now had almost ten years in office, ample time to lead even the most reluctant traditional society toward more equitable social arrangements. Yet today, but one cabinet ministry is held by a woman, the Ministry for Women’s Affairs, which incidentally is the sole government ministry that possesses only advisory powers. Karzai has appointed just one female provincial governor, and thirty-three men. (Is it by chance that Bamyan—the province run by that woman—is generally viewed as the most peaceful in the country?) To head city governments nationwide, he has named only one female mayor. And to the Supreme Court High Council he has appointed no woman at all.Karzai’s claim that he can’t find qualified women is a flimsy—and traditional—excuse. Many of his highest-ranking appointees to government offices are notorious war criminals, men considered by the great majority of Afghan citizens to have disqualified themselves from public office. The failure of many of his male appointees to govern honestly and justly, or even to show up for work at all, is a rising complaint of NATO commanders who find upon delivery of “government in a box” that the box is pretty much empty.

The current plan from the Obama administration is to start substantially reducing the number of foreign occupation soldiers in 2014, and with the Afghan National Army and police in total shambles, bigger and bigger concessions to the most socially reactionary segments of Afghanistan will be given. Imperialism is inherently antithetical to women’s rights and dignity, its goal is subjugation, not empowerment. The economic and political subjugation of imperialism meshes perfectly with the desires to subjugate women.


One thought on “How Afghanistan’s Radicals Became Moderates

  1. [Just noticed this blog recently because it came up on my traffic information. Thanks for posting links and appreciating my posts. Would you mind if I put your blog on my links page? Anyway, I’ll get to the comment this specific post inspired…]

    Great post: it’s very important to note how the US “disengagement plan” with Afghanistan is premised on a discourse of moderate versus radical Islam which is, as you’ve correctly pointed out, simply a cover for saying “moderates” are people who support the US (because the Karzai puppet government shares the same politics as the Taliban, they just happen to be down with the imperialist occupation), whereas “radical islamists” are those who are anti-US. The only point I would make is that there is force that refers to itself as the Taliban, and that Karzai’s group of reactionaries were just a competing group of islamists (sectarian religious differences) but not necessarily identical. Now, however, as your post indicates, the actual Taliban leaders are being brought into the Karzai government in exchange for accepting the puppet government [and the US has figured that it is cheaper to control things from military bases and let Afghani soldiers control the occupation], and it’s a pretty easy transition since they can agree on the same principles.

    What’s important to note about this process, however, is that if and when this is completed (the deadline is supposed to be 2014), the only significant organization that will be actively fighting the occupation will be the Communist (Maoist) Party of Afghanistan which, until now, has been able to carry out operations that were ascribed to the Taliban. On one hand this is going to be potentially scary since they’ll be alone in the field, but on the other hand (and this is the line they are taking in their literature, unfortunately most of which is in farsi), it will make the terms of occupation clearer since the anti-occupation forces in this possible context (if the Taliban is successfully bought off) will be a secular revolutionary force.

    Which brings me to the main point I wanted to make. When I initially read the title of this post I thought it meant something else: I thought you were going to be talking about how former Afghani *communist* radicals became moderates––a similar and related problem. That is, groups like RAWA/AFO which used to be communist radicals, have become moderate parliamentarians, running members in Karzai’s government… the *how* behind transition from radical to moderate is also interesting to consider.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s