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Web Letter

I recently forwarded this article to a friend who is stationed in Afghanistan and I thought the reply was worthwhile. I asked if I could submit it to you, and so here it is:

"OK... Here's my attempt to think. Admittedly, I'm really tired, so I hope this makes some sense. Even if you disagree.

"The first part I differ from the author with is that he states the Afghans follow "pashtunwali"--which is not entirely true. Most of the Afghans I've met, don't follow it to the letter. Most of the day laborers follow the main parts of cultural practices (jirgas/shuras, prayers, meals, respect of elders, etc.) that are parts of the pashtuwali, but most people i've met here are very similar to 'modern' religious followers in the US. They take what they want and can do from it and pretty much disregard the parts that are 'outdated' or not really applicable to their day-to-day lives.

"And the important bit regarding the article is that most of the Afghans I've met here would tell NATO/US troops where Osama bin Laden was in a second if they could. There's something like a $500 million reward on his head? Something ridiculous that most of the day laborers here would give him up for in a heartbeat.

"Although the author is correct that we can't seem to reconcile our demands with their culture. But it's not an inability. It's that we haven't had any desire to. The problem isn't that our demands are unreasonable--it's that the higher-up folks making them don't give a shit about their culture and how to effect a balance with both. It's not that they are incompatible (our demands and their culture)--it's just that we have to be able to give a little back in return... which we obviously have a hard time doing.

"And a Tufts study of 400 people hardly reflects the real deal. Again, every single Afghan person i've met/talked with (probably close to 400, to be honest) has been very happy with the level of support we (NATO/US/coalition forces) have been giving them. I have to admit, the Brits are pretty good about balancing the 'counterinsurgency' stuff with the 'influence/aid' side of the fight and doing it from a very honest place--i.e., wanting to sincerely help the local government gain a stand on their own, etc. I can't really say the same for the US.

"Also, another point to add to the 'survey' results is that it's even more difficult to get an honest assessment of what the Afghans truly think because many of the locals are extremely uneducated, impatient and demand a lot more than we can actually give them--most is based on their perceptions that the Americans/NATO have everything at their disposal ('every American is a millionaire," etc.) and can magically make all the legacy mines disappear, wipe out the Taliban/corruption and somehow make the ground fertile, etc. And we're just not fixing things around here because 'we don't respect them.' (I just finished driver surveys of about 200 drivers in the last three days to see how they are being treated at the ECPs by the guards).

"I agree we can't fight the 'hardliners' while trying to win over the 'moderates.' The Brits do a good job balancing, but they're getting out of here in November. The balancing act just means you end up fighting and giving aid forever. It doesn't seem like it's a real solution. To me; the author is right--it's just a Band-Aid.

"And yes, of course I'm against fighting and I like the author's conclusion to withdraw troops and all, but unless the US actually leaves (and concedes a 'defeat' of sorts) it's not gonna happen. A. The US won't do it. B. The US has too much invested into Afghanistan. C. The US considers Afghanistan a location of interest to maintain a presence. D. If the US withdraws, the rest of the NATO countries won't pick up the slack and do the humanitarian thing either. The US doesn't do a great job of it, but nobody else can foot the bill. And we don't want to foot a bill for pure 'aid' if we can't guarantee the Taliban won't have influence. The US won't just 'trust' the Afghans with their money... which, honestly, is understandable.

"As for the rest... I think the author oversimplifies a lot of things. But yeah, it's a nice thought if we could leave Afghanistan and the locals would self-organize themselves. But honestly, that's just not gonna happen. We've been here too long and been offering our 'Band-Aid' services too long. And we've made promises we can't keep, but have to continue to make every effort to keep--which just means more fighting and more counterinsurgency stuff and not enough focus on the humanitarian aid stuff.

"I'd love it if we could completely transition from the fighting point of view to a humanitarian aid perspective--but that would require a complete shift in everyone's thinking (NATO, US, etc.) and do you really think the US would be willing to eat their hats like that? We'll just backtrack as far as we can and then bounce out when it gets too ugly--like we did in the '80s. Without actually providing any real significant aid or help to the people who actually need it (the uneducated, "starving," wounded, sick, etc.) Afghans.

"Anyway. It all just sucks. But if someone actually had some power/authority--if they could make a difference and turn the NATO/US efforts from fighting to complete aid/recovery efforts--it would certainly do a lot for both sides. The locals would be won over--if we honestly were just here to actually 'help' them, and the Taliban would have no power to justify their violence and terrorism. In my opinion, a win-win.

"However, it'd be insanely risky and many people would still die. And I don't think the NATO/US would allow it. Even if it ultimately provided a better solution."

Thanks for the great article and the thoughts it has provoked in my circle.

Amy Pancake

Austin, TX

Apr 18 2010 - 5:11pm