One would think that there would be some reference to the anthropological literature on Afghanistan in the debate over our involvement. Instead the "experts" that the public hears are journalists and retired military. Recent articles on the U.S. future in Afghanistan, by Max Hastings and Edward Luce in the Financial Times this week are typical of the attitude of the media but focus on different issues. The point Mr. Hastings seems to make is that neither the Afghanistan=U.S. supported government nor the Pakistan government "are able to deliver progress to the people" of Afghanistan. This is a problem in perception that has its foundations in a serious cultural blindness. What is progress to Mr. Hastings and the West does not seem to be progress to the majority of the Afghan people. Mr. Luce is concerned with the interests of the US in Afghanistan and the stability of the region as envisioned by Western military and political leaders. This is formed without a clear understanding of both recent history - the Soviet experience - and the views of the Afghan and Pakistani people. Mr. Luce refers to a recent poll on the feelings of Pakisanis about the threats they face and the USA is the greatest one they see.
Perhaps the single most astounding lack of discussion in recent years is the Soviet invasion and failure. Like the British failure a century ago, no one seems to be concerned with how culture has affected the outcomes. As Frederick Barth, the anthropologist who studied the area in the 1950s and 60s noted, the British established a degree of tolerance of their presence by bribery not military success. The Americans have used the same means in Iraq and call it "success" as well. The "surge" had no real affect in Iraq, but the truck loads of dollars has and without them there would be chaos. We should also note the parallel with the British experience and the Americans, since it was the East India Company that had been most involved militarily in both India and the Afghan zone at the time. Today private military companies are doing the same.
It is clear that no "progress" can be made in the region with the present situation and tactics. For Obama to listen to the military now is like LBJ listening to them about Vietnam. Only failure can be produced no matter what it would be called in a decade or more of war. We should all leave now and allow the Afghans to produce their own "progress". We should also recall that the Taliban and al-Qaeda are both the products of Western military meddling, more of which can only further destabilize the area. For every day we are there we create more volunteers for each organization. Since Alexander the Great, for almost 3,000 years invaders have justified their crimes in Afghanistan as bringing progress or helping them. I provided a more detailed examination in an earlier post here: http://www.dailykos.com/...
andConsensus It is time to pack up and help ourselves.
Niccolo Caldararo, Ph.D.
Dept. of Anthropology
San Francisco State University