Afghanistan: Jirgas and Distortion

A while ago, we learned that Hamid Karzai was willing to negotiate with the Taliban. Little has come of that, and Afghanistanica offers an explaination:

I would love to see some questions on the loya jirga included in a large-scale survey of Afghan public opinion. I wonder if the average Afghan hears about the newest loya jirga and has the same reaction as an American who is told the government is forming a commission to “study the issue.”

It's interesting he said that, since in the latest Asia Foundation contained some data on popular support for both the jirga (assembly of tribal leaders) and the national government in general:

Afghans continue to espouse confidence in national security forces (both army and police) as well as in traditional institutions such as Shuras and Jirgas. However, “less than half of the respondents had confidence in the government's justice system, political parties and local militias.”

So if the justice system is not well regarded, but jirgas are, what could that mean? It could be, as Atash Parcha argues, that not enough educated Afghans are returning to their country to help get it working again:

Where are our educated Afghans? Your country is calling you, awaiting you, in need of you. In every Afghan childs weep, in every Afghan mothers tear, in every Afghan fathers quest… You are the answer!

Our Afghans abroad who were once respected engineers, doctors, professors, lawyers in their homes are now taxi drivers. Even a king away from home is a beggar.

But it is not just the educated. Parcha continues:

I think of that first bomber, who, en route to killing, accidentally caught a glimpse of worship, which is nothing but the wish to affirm life, which is another name for God. I think of the bomb masters, who recruited those boys, manipulated them, tricked them into imagining that death could be an affirmation. And I think of those who created the situation within which all of this unfolds…

The revelation here is that, in the new age, every bomber is a suicide bomber.

Indeed, it is a strange struggle, one that seems destined to last forever. Abu Muqawama has some more thoughts on what counterinsurgency is like in Afghanistan.

“No! No!,” says Sardar Mohammed. “We don’t trust the governor. If he gets food, he gives it to 10 families. He puts money in his pocket. We trust you more than him. Bring aid directly to us.”

Bramble’s view is that the governor is as good as officials get around here. The U.S. officer, like his country and NATO, is caught in the hall of mirrors of contested nation-building. The exchange at the village has traversed cultures, civilizations and centuries. For Western soldiers trained to kill, and now in the business of hoisting an Islamic country from nothing as fighting continues, that’s challenging.

I don't know how you could unravel such a tangled mess on anything less than decades, though many (including, according to the Asia Foundation survey quoted above) do feel a deep appreciation of what the U.S. is trying to accomplish. It's just difficult to know how the U.S. is doing.

What of those of us in the West, who want to contribute (or at the least advocate proper policies), but cannot get a proper idea of what is going on? Õnne Pärl, an Estonian photographer, offers a glimpse of just how much of a distorted picture the West receives:

After one-month routine in Estonia, Kabul seems dangerous and unattractive. Especially thanks to media – there is a lot of coverage as there are more than one hundred Estonian troops in Helmand. After a while I stop reading the articles about Afghanistan written by Estonian journalists, spending one-week war-tourism-trips in south. Last one I tried to read began with sentence: ´”There is no doubt that military helicopter is the most preferred transportation in Afghanistan.” Really?!

Pärl, I think, provides us an appropriate end to this survey.

Conversations in Estonia about our living here are almost always the same: how can you live in that horrible country?

My reply is: it is beautiful country.

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