Friday, February 5, 2016

Revisiting Islamic Peacekeepers in Afghanistan

By S. Mubashir Noo, New Age Islam
05 February 2016
The iconic American sitcom Seinfeld has this episode where George Costanza, the show’s lovable loser, mopes to friend Jerry Seinfeld: “My life is the opposite of everything I want it to be. Every instinct I's all been wrong.” Jerry deadpans back, “If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right.” Washington will eventually have its own George Costanza moment on Afghanistan, and the futility of an open-ended war. The only question is how many more dead soldiers and civilians will it take to have this epiphany.
The Special Inspector-General for Afghanistan Reconstruction’s (SIGAR) new quarterly report makes for grim reading. At close to 30%, not only do the Taliban hold more Afghan territory than any time after the 2001 invasion, but they are “spreading (Afghan forces) thin, threatening rural districts in one area while carrying out ambitious attacks in more populated centres." The Taliban trifecta of high-stakes attacks in late 2015 adds weight to SIGAR’s assessment. Moreover, even before the militants briefly overran Kunduz, Kandahar airport and besieged Sangin district, UN figures revealed a 19% increase in “security incidents” between August and October. 
US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, however, insists Washington will “stick with Afghanistan” indefinitely. Sectors of the US media also report military that commanders are pressing President Barack Obama to shelve the troop drawdown until he leaves office, if not send in reinforcements. New Afghan war commander, Gen. John Nicholson, meanwhile, takes charge under a cloud of pessimism, admitting that Afghanistan’s security situation "has been deteriorating, rather than improving."
Occam’s razor holds that all things being equal, the simplest explanation is usually correct. Washington’s balance sheet on Afghanistan is beginning to resemble a long list of write-offs. The 2009 troop surge clearly did not work, the Afghan army is still a “force in building” $65 billion dollars later, and SIGAR uncovered over $17 billion in questionable costs relating to civilian aid disbursements in just the last three years. Inspector-General John Sopko further warns that the Afghan economy is punch-drunk from endemic corruption and opium crops are booming again.
So, what is the US still doing in Afghanistan? The war is clearly unpopular back home, and much as I sympathize with progressive Afghans trying to rid themselves of Taliban reactionaries, when will Washington realize that it is part of the problem? “Our jihad will continue until the last occupier is expelled,” the Taliban keep repeating like a broken record. At some point, the US must realize its military presence in Afghanistan is a lightning rod for terrorists. The Taliban themselves view the Kabul government as a round-table of American stooges rather than representative of a new social epoch.
Obama, of course, continues to single out Pakistan as the primary culprit in a combustible Afghanistan, insisting it “can and must” do more to dismantle Taliban sanctuaries east of the Durand Line. The real mystery is how he expects a neighbour choking from the blowback of a decade-old war next door to willy-nilly sever ties with assets originally curated at the US’s behest. Especially when Nicholson himself inspires little confidence by wistfully shrugging “This is Afghanistan, there will always be some level of violence in Afghanistan” at his Senate confirmation hearing.
Afghanistan will not fix itself if US forces leave tomorrow, that much is true. This is where an Islamic peacekeeping force mandated by either the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), or the UN, becomes necessary. Ironically, former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw lobbied for exactly such a post-war paradigm in October 2001 when US forces began airstrikes against the Taliban.
Both Lakhdar Brahimi, former UN special representative for Afghanistan, and deposed Afghan King Zahir Shah backed his plan. Malik Sherzad Khan, a Taliban commander in Jalalabad, told Reuters then: "the US can win in Afghanistan only if UN peacekeepers, especially from Muslim countries, come and take control." "The Taliban will hand over power if peacekeepers are there. They will not fight against Zahir Shah," he stressed. Sadly, Turkey, the country Straw hoped would lead this peacekeeping force, thumbed down his proposal.
At the time, some Orientalist commentators also voiced concerns about the dangers of radicalization if Muslim peacekeepers moved into Afghanistan. To their minds, breathing the same air as the Taliban could brainwash otherwise moderate Muslims into becoming barbaric, bloodthirsty ideologues. As precedent, they pointed to foreign Mujahideen from Bosnia, Kosovo and Chechnya in the Soviet jihad who returned home to destabilize their respective societies. 
Two farcical assumptions anchored these concerns. One, that the average Muslim male is genetically susceptible to radicalization. Two, that the “holy warrior” imports of the Soviet jihad were unwitting recruits. Preposterous. What were they here for then? To sightsee the Buddhas of Bamiyan?  In trying to erase the historical anxiety of another Vietnam, Washington is fast losing perspective on what is good for Afghanistan. It behooves the OIC to step up and take charge, or at least pretend it cares.
S.Mubashir Noor is a freelance columnist and audio engineer based in Islamabad

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