Sunday, August 01, 2010

The "Why We Shouldn't Leave Afghanistan" Propaganda

In the last few days, there has been an upswing in media reporting on the consequences of western powers leaving Afghanistan before the country is stable. Perhaps we should be appropriately skeptical and wonder aloud if "stable" is a code phrase for having a nominally friendly puppet government in control?

Up first is Time Magazine talking about the horrors of what the Taliban does to women ... it's not pretty by any means. Cutting someone's nose and ears off for leaving a bad marriage is certainly abusive in the extreme - and it is particularly shocking to someone with a westernized sensibility about the world.

Then, as if to reinforce the issue of female subjugation, we get a little article about a mosque in Iran offering "temporary marriages". In western cultures we called these brothels in the not so distant past.

I'm not going to spend a great deal of time indulging my sense of outrage over the mistreatment of women in Iran, or Afghanistan, come to that. I think that these countries are all a good couple of hundred years behind the times when it comes to how they treat half of their population.

The real question that is in my mind is whether the "West" has any moral or ethical justification for attempting to intervene in Afghanistan?

The current war of occupation in Afghanistan has its roots in America's reaction to the events of 9/11/01. Ostensibly, the purpose was to go after Osama bin Laden and his allies within the Taliban-led government. While the Taliban government was overthrown, there hasn't been a great deal of success with hunting down bin Laden. (Not that this comes as any great surprise)

At this point in time, what we have appears to be a barely functional government in Kabul whose influence doesn't extend beyond that city. The rest of the country is being overtaken - province by province it seems - by a growing Taliban insurgency that is becoming more emboldened as times goes by. (An insurgency that seems to be fuelled by resources and advice from a supposed ally in the "War on Terror", I might add...)

While there is certainly an emotional case to be made for continued presence in Afghanistan, is there a reasonable moral or ethical case to be made for continuing an occupation that started a decade ago?

Morally, there's a certain obligation to "put things back together" after the invasion which toppled the Taliban government. However, anyone who thinks that the current situation in Afghanistan is a "rebuilding" exercise is fooling themselves. At best, this is buying time for a shattered Afghanistan military to be rebuilt. Anything that is done while western troops continue to "enforce the peace" at gunpoint is going to be seen with suspicion by the Afghan people - and rightly so.

Ethically, I just can't justify long term military control being exercised over a foreign country. At best it comes out as a power grab; at worst it's an attempt to impose our values on people whose context and experience have led them to different places. It seems the height of hubris and arrogance to think that once NATO troops leave Afghanistan that the situation will be substantively different than happened after the Soviets left. (and, if one looks through history, military occupations of that region aren't exactly sources of long term change in the society)

It might sound harsh, but I think Afghanistan will have to sort itself out. I do not see any reason to believe that continued intervention there will have any positive effects ... at least not within the next two or three generations ... and I don't think we can afford to occupy that country for multiple generations.

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