Afghanistan

Afghanistan (16)

My latest book, which explores conflict and the possibility for peace in the Islamic World as well as globally is on course, and as I write the final section on what it will take to achieve world peace, I find evidence of its manifestation, in the conflict zone of Afghanistan.  I believe that we are still a very long way off from peace being fully established but minds are changing and action is slowly being taken in this area, meaning that things have started to change.  In my latest article for the Afghan Online Press, I make a short analysis of how, this Ramadan, the International climate is changing, and previously conflicting powers are slowly unifying, setting the stage for peace in this war-torn nation  - Yamin Zakaria


 

According to a recent article in the Foreign Affairs Journal, peace may be imminent in Afghanistan. All the major parties involved, the Afghan government, Pakistan, China, the US and the Taliban are converging towards a settlement, bringing an end to the Taliban insurgency that has gone on for over a decade. This new climate for peace exists for the following reasons.

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Free speech: the recent Charlie Hebdo incident showed it as an excuse for murder, and while in that case there was clear insightment to violence, others round the world are punished for the very same reason and we, the public, are much less frenzied over the issue. My latest article for the Afghan Online Press commemorates Farkhunda, whose tragic and horrific story many of you may have heard. In this case, she was murdered, martyred perhaps, not for insighting violence, but for challenging an individual over his ignorant practices that contradicted his own religion. So let us take a moment to commemorate this devout, scholarly and brave young woman whose murder truly is a gross injustice.  - Yamin Zakaria


 

Countless women visit the well-known Shah-Du-Shamshaira Mosque and shrine in Kabul seeking the so-called ‘Guardians of the Shrine’, men selling charms and amulets promising help with various issues of life such as childlessness, ill health and finding a suitable husband. This practice goes against the teachings of Islam, because it is based on superstition; but it is so deeply embedded in the Afghan culture that no one thinks of questioning it. Perhaps nobody dares, because within human societies around the world there is an intrinsic, historical fear of challenging the status quo.

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As well as running the Radical Views website (which, as you see, is a work in progress) and writing books of my own (the latest of which is soon to be published), I regularly write articles for other outlets such as the Afghan Online Press. Here is my latest article regarding the opium problem in a country that is best known for its strict Islamic values   - Yamin Zakaria


 

That a devout, Islamic nation like Afghanistan, with almost no presence of non-Muslims is a world leader in the production and export of opium and heroin is a huge paradox. It is comparable to, say, a situation where Saudi Arabia produced and exported Alcohol. Although alcohol is not classed as illegal within international law, it is like class-A drugs, forbidden in Islam, so you can imagine the shock.

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Reflecting on the chaos in Syria and Iraq, and the subsequent rise of ISIS, many observers would have predicted its birth in Afghanistan, when the Al-Qaeda-Taliban alliance ruled the country. They were ousted by the US-led campaign post 9/11, and Mr Hamid Karzai came to power, through a pseudo ‘election’, whilst the country was occupied by US-led forces. His political legitimacy as the choice of the Afghan people had no credibility. Although, a lack of political legitimacy can be tolerated to some extent, because only the political rivals and elites will grumble, but people will not remain silent in the face of rampant economic corruption and nepotism, which affects everyone, especially those in poverty.
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The Great Game refers to the strategic rivalry and conflict that was going on between the British Empire and the Russian Empire for supremacy in Central Asia, including Afghanistan, during the 19th century. From the British perspective, if Russia managed to capture Afghanistan then it would pose a serious threat to invading India, the Jewel in the Crown of the British Empire. Thus, Afghanistan was viewed as a buffer state for much of this period between these two rival powers.

Eventually, both the British and Russian Empires collapsed. Following the invasion by Communist Russia in 1979, the US-led occupation of Afghanistan took place as a response to the attacks on the Twin Towers on 9/11. Now, after 12 years, the US-led forces have almost completed their withdrawal of troops and China seems to be moving in as a new player.

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The attack on the Peshawar school will no doubt lead the Pakistani government to take further measures against the Taliban movement (TTP, Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan) that are largely based in the North-Western Federally Administered Tribal Areas, along the Afghan border in Pakistan. In the past six months, while attempting to handle the military offensive in North Waziristan, the Pakistani army hasn’t yielded much success in terms of eliminating or capturing any prominent members of the movement. To date, most of their successes have come from the military operations inside Afghanistan led by the US forces. For example, Hakimullah Mehsud the leader of the TTP was killed in a US drone strike last year and Latif Mehsud, who was second in command, was captured by US forces

With the recent bombing, the Pakistani regime has far greater support to take further measures, and so, the question is, will Pakistan go further this time and deny the Pakistani Taliban support based in Afghanistan? The current leader of the TTP is alleged to have taken refuge there. This is because weapons, fighters and money are easily moved across the seemingly porous border. The Afghan regime also has the same interest in denying the Afghan Taliban a support base inside Pakistan despite the fact that many of the Afghan Taliban leaders have sought refuge there for years. Is there a convergence of interest between the two governments to deal the final blow to the Taliban movement as a whole?

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Afghanistan continues to be examined through the ubiquitous eye of the international media concerning the subject of women’s rights and historically, the American-led war on Al-Qaeda was conveniently switched, to a war to liberate the oppressed Muslim women of Afghanistan, when Al-Qaeda was dismantled. As part of the subject of women’s rights, which is more or less equated with - saving the oppressed Muslim women, various debates on issues like the wearing of the Burqa or Hijab (modest clothing), education for girls and arranged marriages continue to take place. With the recent awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Malala Yousafzai, the girl who was shot by the Pakistani branch of the Taliban, because she was demanding education for girls, the plight of Muslim women has once again become the centre of media attention.

However, the bulk of these concerns, expressed by the Western press, is underpinned by political motives; hence the inconsistent media coverage provided on this issue. While Malala is given prime media coverage and adulation, Muslim women around the world continue to suffer on an extreme scale. However, this is barely mentioned. Take for example Dr Aafia Siddiqui, who is still incarcerated in America, or the women facing the wrath of the Israeli forces in Gaza, or those suffering in Syria and Iraq. Many people rightly ask: why Malala did not speak out on such issues using her newfound authority, instead of confining her discussion to the single topic of education for girls in Afghanistan. Is this not evidence of her being manipulated as a political tool?

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The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, received a lot of flak in the press for declaring “mission accomplished” when he visited the troops in Afghanistan recently; it evoked memories of George Bush’s premature declaration of victory in May 2003, as Iraq was disintegrating into a quagmire.

What was the mission in Afghanistan? Initially, it was about removing Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, which was accomplished relatively quickly with Western firepower and money, as the loyalties of the Afghan tribes were easily purchased. In this sense, the mission was accomplished a while ago, but the Taliban and Al-Qaeda alliance could easily return if the US-led troops left, therefore, a long-term solution was required. Accordingly, the mission morphed into installing democracy, curtailing poppy production, and promoting women’s rights. The underlying reason is that a stable government would ensure that Afghanistan does not become a haven for Al-Qaeda again.

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The Islamophobic media of the far right, and the more subtle elements within the mainstream media, have continued to construct the view that child marriage is exclusively an Afghan problem, and the Islamophobic narrative given as explanation is - it stems from their Islamic heritage, and using crass language, they go on to cite the lone example of Prophet Mohammed’s marriage to Ayesha, and conveniently ignore all the other marriages to much older women.

Throughout large part of the history, this was not an issue; the Christian nemesis did not make much of an issue, as the mother of Jesus, Mary, at the age of 12-14 married Joseph, who was considerably older around the age of 90. Indeed, in the old days, marriage between an older man and a younger woman in her teens was the norm in most societies. In contrast, Western liberal societies view such marriages with scorn, instead the young ones gain the experience by having unlimited pre-marital sex with various partners, a bit like polygamy, but we dare not call it that! According to one government report [1], almost all Americans are engaged in per-marital sex and there are similar trends in Europe.

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The formal announcement of an exit date for the US troops has been largely met with criticisms, because it gives the opponents a schedule to prepare and plan, and creates the impression, the US has lost and is running. Instead of exercising further damage limitation exercises, the US senior officials announced that President Barack Obama was now considering the ‘zero option’ - total withdrawal of US forces after 2014. This seems detrimental, whilst a bilateral security agreement between Kabul and Washington is being negotiated to determine the size of the US forces to remain after the US exit; their role will be to aid the nascent Afghan National Security Forces ( ANSF) to maintain peace and stability.

Naturally, the announcement of the ‘Zero Option’ has been criticised widely by military experts and diplomats. The former commander of U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan, retired Gen. John Allen stated: “They don't want us in large numbers, but they want us there in enough numbers to help to continue to develop the ANSF." On the surface this announcement of the ‘Zero Option’ seems like the US is announcing total capitulation. However, given the recent political development with the efforts to get a negotiated settlement with the Taliban, it could mean two things:

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