Is There Hope for Afghanistan?

Ayla Azim
Category:
Foreign Policy

Disheartening circumstances arise every week in our fast-paced globalized world. However, some events seem to repeat themselves. An ongoing battle of bloodshed with victors and victims and irrevocable tragedy reveals itself. Afghanistan is one example. As with many international countries, press coverage appears to disfavor the magnitude of the situation while valuing the disquieting conspicuous sadness that encompasses it all. What makes Afghanistan so saddening is that civilians are dying, and they have been dying for many, many years now. The crisis happening now is just one of those moments. It makes you wonder if there are victors if any group or country can overcome a situation and honestly believe they won? What does it even mean to win something like this?

Further, there is the opaque confusion that encapsulates the lack of action amongst many. What do we do? Do we advocate for the U.S. military to intervene and "fix" Afghanistan? Is that even possible when civilians die, regardless? Do we advocate for the United Nations (U.N.) to devise a pacifist solution? However, remaining silent is not the answer; tears and sympathy can influence motivation or self-defeating walls that block further action. We must try our best to understand the history of the Taliban within Afghanistan, U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, and solutions to the problem. There may never be a perfect "solution" to "fix" a country. However, there may be ways to help alleviate instead of obliterating the circumstances. There needs to be more that unites us than our tears. 

The historical events and relationship between the Taliban and the Pashtun is a relationship that is worth investigating since it concerns how the Taliban rose to prominence, to begin with. The Taliban in the Pashto language means "students." After the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan, the predominantly Pashtun movement started within religious seminaries mainly paid for by Saudi Arabia ("Who Are the Taliban?"). As is widely held, the U.S. has had relations with Saudi Arabia for decades. Both nations have cultivated a strong relationship with one another.

Further, many of the members within the Taliban are Pashtuns; a rough overview of the Pashtun societal structure is as follows, "Pashtun society is based on a kinship structure called segmentary lineage...such societies lack institutionalized leadership but come together at times of conflict or when a charismatic leader emerges; this is usually temporary, and the leader's authority wanes as the conflict ends...this was the case with the Taliban, which rose to power under Mullah Omar after decades of brutal conflict" (Shah). The Taliban have attained power, but they have been an omniscient force within Afghanistan for decades which reverberates the importance of comprehension of the dynamic relationship between the Pashtun and the Taliban. Pashtun society is organized and is the largest tribally organized society, reflecting the Taliban's hierarchical structure (Shah). One way the Taliban has risen to power is through the complex relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The U.S. has had an extensive history with the Soviet Union and, throughout the 20th century, created proxy wars with nations to have a more significant advantage over Soviet influence. This was carried to Afghanistan and Pakistan, with the U.S. and other nations supporting Pakistan. The militarization of the Pashtuns had lasting consequences. With the Deobandi school of thought, which advocated a form of conservative orthodoxy and was adopted by the Pashtuns, along with nations supporting Pakistan, Shah states, "U.S. fears over expanding Soviet influence gave the Pakistani military a free hand to shape the Afghan resistance...the Deobandi school preached a form of conservative orthodoxy, and madrassas under its influence provided the bulk of the Afghan ulema, a powerful community of Islamic scholars...this Islamization and militarization of Pashtuns had lasting ramifications that continue today" (Shah). The Islamization and militarization of Pashtuns are interrelated with the rise of the Taliban and continued throughout the 20th century. After 9/11, U.S. involvement became more disastrous with dangerous consequences for the future; Shah states, "When the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, seeking to topple the Taliban regime, Pashtuns saw the invasion as unjust. No Afghans were physically involved in the September 11 attacks; all they were "guilty" of was protecting Osama Bin Laden and providing sanctuary to al-Qaeda...the new generation of Afghans, who have grown up under U.S. "occupation" are likely to view international forces as predators and destroyers of their homeland" (Shah). The violence continues, and it reverberates throughout Afghanistan today and for the future. 

Civilian lives are threatened, and the futures of thousands of civilians now rest in the hands of the Taliban. The terror and despondency that follow a harrowing circumstance such as this results in an upheaval of emotions. The type of ignorance that accompanies callousness is the most deadly form there is. We must act in a way that eases the lives of those within Afghanistan and those emigrating from Afghanistan. Many organizations provide humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, such as Save the Children and the International Rescue Committee.

Further, the nonexistence of inviolability within Afghanistan cultivates an extreme threat to the human rights and livelihood of marginalized sectors of Afghanistan's society. In addition, to the loss of civilian lives, the diminution of human rights becomes a vanquished issue; however, the scarcity of human rights remains a threat. This threat is conspicuous with Afghan women. Afghan women must be protected amidst this crisis; there are at least four types of action the U.S. government can take to assist Afghan women effectively; according to Henderson and Verveer with The Washington Post, "​​First, charter direct evacuation flights for Afghan women activists most imminently under threat. Already, too many have died in Taliban assassination campaigns. Second, direct a significant portion of the $1.125 billion appropriated for Afghan refugees in the emergency supplemental passed on July 30 to ensure the priority program is strongly implemented. Third, establish a special parole program for at-risk Afghan human rights defenders; women's rights activists; and politicians, journalists, and other obvious women being targeted for their refusal to conform to Taliban-dictated gender norms. Fourth, establish a high-level interagency refugee coordinator to manage refugee processing and relocation across the U.S. government and greatly increase processing capacity. The coordinator would manage the implementation of refugee policy, including different visas and humanitarian parole. Current efforts lack not only processing capacity but also clear communication on what the new U.S. policies mean in practice" (Henderson and Verveer). Protecting Afghan women is one way to ease the dire circumstances within Afghanistan. Individuals can spread awareness about the crisis in Afghanistan through social media boards and organizational protests. Organizations such as the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace, and Security and Women for Women International offer services to Afghan women amidst this crisis. 

Dissidence is imperative and is necessary that we continue to educate ourselves regarding the intensive circumstance at hand while taking effective action to help those aboard and individuals affected domestically. Instead of focusing on the political polarization, U.S. economic policy, and U.S. troops, we should focus on Afghan refugees, Afghan citizens who cannot leave Afghanistan, and the lives lost already because of this terrible crisis. To observe the death and terror that follows this crisis and treating it as though it were a cold strategic game of power gains and losses indicates the self-interest that corrupts the most powerful nations in the world, including the United States. Instead of using Middle Eastern countries as proxy wars and pawns within a game of power, advocate for greater government accountability and an increase in humanitarian focus within the international affairs budget. We should expect political leaders to take responsibility for their actions, to help all of Afghanistan, not just refugees, but every citizen involved. We must never forget the luck of our circumstances. The privilege that accompanies being born in a stable country was never earned; it was mere luck. Any of us could be an Afghan citizen who cannot leave Afghanistan and are entrapped by external states of affairs that they could not control. Instead of focusing on which politician supports X policy or X solution, we should focus on the people who need help: Afghan citizens and Afghan refugees. In our world, we view tragedy as if it were an expected outcome of the world, but it is not. The observance is easy; courage is hard. We must have the courage to advocate for others instead of just ourselves, be able to have the altruism of generosity, and never forget the luck of our circumstances. 

Disheartening circumstances arise every week with our fast-paced globalized world. However, some events seem to repeat themselves, an ongoing battle of bloodshed with victors and victims and irrevocable tragedy reveals itself. Afghanistan is one example. Yet as with many international countries press-coverage appears to disfavor the magnitude of the situation while valuing the disquieting conspicuous sadness that encompasses it all. What makes Afghanistan so saddening is that civilians are dying and they have been dying for many many years now and the crisis happening now, is just one of those moments. It makes you wonder if there are victors, if any group or country can overcome a situation like this, and truly believe that they won? What does it even mean to win something like this? Further, there is the opaque confusion that encapsulates the lack of action amongst many. What do we do? Do we advocate for the U.S. military to intervene and “fix” Afghanistan? Is that even possible, when civilians die regardless? Do we advocate for the United Nations (U.N.) to devise a pacifist solution? However, remaining silent is not the answer, tears and sympathy can be powerful outlets for motivation or self-defeating walls that block further action. We must try our best to understand the history of the Taliban within Afghanistan, U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, and most importantly possible solutions to the problem. There may never be a perfect “solution” to “fix” a country but there may be ways to help alleviate instead of obliterate the circumstances. There needs to be more that unites us than our tears. 

The historical events and relationship between the Taliban and the Pashtun is a relationship that is worth investigating since it concerns how the Taliban rose to prominence to begin with. The Taliban in the Pashto language means “students” and after the withdrawal of Soviet Troops from Afghanistan, the predominantly Pashtun movement started within religious seminaries mainly paid for by Saudi Arabia (“Who Are the Taliban?”). As is widely held, the U.S. has had relations with Saudi Arabia for decades and both nations have cultivated a strong relationship amongst one another. Further, many of the members within the Taliban are Pashtuns, a rough overview of the Pashtun societal structure is as follows, “Pashtun society is based on a kinship structure called segmentary lineage...such societies lack institutionalized leadership but come together at times of conflict or when a charismatic leader emerges; this is usually temporary, and the leader’s authority wanes as the conflict ends...this was the case with the Taliban, which rose to power under Mullah Omar after decades of brutal conflict” (Shah). Not only have the Taliban have attained power but have been an omniscient force within Afghanistan for decades which reverberates the importance of a comprehension of the dynamical relationship between the Pashtun and the Taliban. Pashtun society is organized and is the largest tribally organized society, which reflects the hierarchical structure of the Taliban (Shah). One way the Taliban has risen to power is through the complex relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The U.S. has had an extensive history with the Soviet Union and throughout the 20th century created proxy wars with nations to have a greater advantage over Soviet influence. This was carried to Afghanistan and Pakistan with the U.S. and other nations supporting Pakistan, the militarization of the Pashtuns had lasting consequences. With the Deobandi school of thought which advocated a form of conservative orthodoxy and was adopted by the Pashtuns, along with nations supporting Pakistan, Shah states, “US fears over expanding Soviet influence gave the Pakistani military a free hand to shape the Afghan resistance...the Deobandi school preached a form of conservative orthodoxy, and madrassas under its influence provided the bulk of the Afghan ulema, a powerful community of Islamic scholars...this Islamization and militarization of Pashtuns had lasting ramifications that continue today” (Shah). The Islamization and militarization of Pashtuns is interrelated with the rise of the Taliban and continued throughout the 20th century. After 9/11, U.S. involvement became more disastrous with dangerous consequences for the future, Shah states, “When the US invaded Afghanistan, seeking to topple the Taliban regime, Pashtuns saw the invasion as unjust. No Afghans were physically involved in the September 11 attacks; all they were “guilty” of was protecting Osama Bin Laden and providing sanctuary to al-Qaeda...the new generation of Afghans, who have grown up under US “occupation” are likely to view international forces as predators and destroyers of their homeland” (Shah). The violence continues and it reverberates throughout Afghanistan today and for the future. 

Civilian lives are threatened and the futures of thousands of civilians now rests in the hands of the Taliban. The terror and despondency that follows a harrowing circumstance such as this, results in an upheaval of emotions. The type of ignorance that accompanies callousness is the most deadly form there is. We must act in a way that alleviates the lives of those within Afghanistan and those emigrating from Afghanistan. There are a multitude of organizations that are providing humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, such as Save the Children and the International Rescue Committee.

Further, the nonexistence of inviolability within Afghanistan cultivates an extreme threat for the human rights and livelihood of marginalized sectors of Afghanistan’s society. In addition, to the loss of civilian lives, the diminution of human rights becomes a vanquished issue; however, the scarcity of human rights remains a threat. This threat is conspicuous with Afghan women. Afghan women must be protected amidst this crisis, there are at least four types of action the U.S. government can take to effectively assist Afghan women, according to Henderson and Verveer with The Washington Post, “​​First, charter direct evacuation flights for Afghan women activists most imminently under threat. Already, too many have died in Taliban assassination campaigns. Second, direct a significant portion of the $1.125 billion appropriated for Afghan refugees in the emergency supplemental passed on July 30 to ensure the priority program is strongly implemented. Third, establish a special parole program for at-risk Afghan human rights defenders; women’s rights activists; and politicians, journalists and other highly visible women being targeted for their refusal to conform to Taliban-dictated gender norms. Fourth, establish a high-level interagency refugee coordinator to manage refugee processing and relocation across the U.S. government and greatly increase processing capacity. The coordinator would manage implementation of refugee policy, including different types of visas and humanitarian parole. Current efforts lack not only processing capacity but also clear communication on what the new U.S. policies mean in practice” (Henderson and Verveer). Protecting Afghan women is one way to alleviate the dire circumstances within Afghanistan. Additionally, individuals can spread awareness about the crisis in Afghanistan through social media boards and organizational protests. Organizations such as the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security and Women for Women International are offering services to Afghan women amidst this crisis. 

Dissidence is imperative and is a necessity that we continue to educate ourselves regarding the intensive circumstance at hand whilst taking effective action to help those aboard and individuals affected domestically. Instead of focusing on the political polarization, U.S. economy policy, and U.S. troops we should focus on Afghan refugees, Afghan citizens who cannot leave Afghanistan, and the lives lost already due to this terrible crisis. To observe the death and terror that follows this crisis and treating it as though it were a cold strategic game of powerful gains and losses is indicative of the self-interest that corrupts the most powerful nations in the world, including the United States. Instead of using Middle Eastern countries as proxy wars and pawns within a game of power, advocate for greater government accountability and an increase in humanitarian focus within the international affairs budget. We should expect political leaders to take responsibility for their actions, to help all of Afghanistan, not just refugees but every citizen involved. We must never forget the luck of our circumstance, the privilege that accompanies being born in a stable country was never earned, it was mere luck. Any one of us could be an Afghan citizen who cannot leave Afghanistan, and is entrapped by external states of affairs that they could not control. Instead of focusing on which politician supports X policy or X solution which is an infelicitous focus, we should focus on the people who really need help: Afghan citizens and Afghan refugees. In our world, we view tragedy as if it were an expected outcome of the world we live in, but it's not. Observance is easy, courage is hard. We must have the courage to advocate for others instead of just ourselves, to be able to have the altruism of generosity, and to never forget the luck of our circumstance.


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Ayla Azim