Saturday, December 05, 2009

How the war looks from Afghanistan & Canada - Some pointed remarks from Terry Glavin

In response to some of my recent postings on Afghanistan (e.g., here & here & here), I was pleased to get a friendly message from the Canadian democratic-left author, journalist, educator, blogger, and political activist Terry Glavin.

Among his many other activities, Glavin is one of the founding members of the Canada-Afghanistan Solidarity Committee, and this solidarity is something he takes seriously. He has spent a fair amount of time in Afghanistan (see this piece in Dissent/Democratiya from December 2008), and just returned home from Kandahar, where he spent a few days in briefings with the senior Canadian military brass on the eve of President Obama's speech at West Point--a speech that was warmly received by the Canadians of all ranks. What follows are some selected chunks from his message, posted with his permission.

--Jeff Weintraub

=> [In response to What do Afghans want? - Some reality checks:]

Another good one, Jeff. A couple of points.

The first goes to the old notion of "critical support." You're quite right to observe that what the Afghan people want from those of us in the "west" does not necessarily oblige us to give it them. Nonetheless, the first obligation of progressive internationalism in these matters is to determine what the people say. And on this first duty of solidarity, the western "left," in the main, has failed utterly. Nobody even asks the question, the answer is just assumed. It has been my experience that people of the "left" in the world's rich countries tend to express shock or disbelief when confronted with the fact that the UN/ISAF/NATO endeavour in Afghanistan has enjoyed broad and consistent support from the majority of Afghans since 2001, and continues to enjoy that support. The"left" tends to see this as largely an American enterprise, opposed by the Afghan people. This is a tragic and astonishing mistake.
[JW: Hard to disagree with that ... whatever views one might otherwise have about the war.]
It is a mistake that goes a long way to explain a related confusion of the "left," which tends to harbour the misapprehension that what's going on here is a simple matter of American or "western" imperialism. This is a wholly false analysis that also requires one to ignore the fact that the Afghanistan project is a United Nations project, and indeed it is the most ambitious undertaking in the history of the UN. Furthermore, while U.S. soldiers make up the majority of foreign troops in Afghanistan, there are 42 countries with soldiers in the country, serving under the UN-mandated, NATO-led International Security Assistance Force. Not all of those countries, however, are NATO countries, or even "western" countries. They include Azerbaijan, Jordan, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates, and Mongolia. [....]

=> [In response to How the war looks from Afghanistan and Pakistan - Some vignettes from Trudy Rubin:]

"They assume the Americans could defeat the Taliban if they wanted, because they defeated them so quickly in 2001. So they can't figure out what the Americans are doing there."

This is exactly what I'd come across from time to time in Kabul last year.

One point that I think Rubin elides a bit is the business about a national jirga and engaging the Taliban in some sort of peace talks.

When Afghans say "Taliban" and when English-speaking people say "Taliban," they're often talking about different things without quite realizing it, and the term can mean different things among Afghans, and different things among and between English speakers as well. When Afghans talk about bringing the Taliban in for some sort of national jirga, I think you'll find they usually mean the disaffected tribes, the on-the-outs warlords still up in the hills, the unemployable hillbilly footsoldiers who fight for pay, and so on. When diplomats talk about the Taliban, they usually mean the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (the Quetta shura); but English-language journalists tend to use the term so broadly as to mean the whole schmeer, including the Pakistani Taliban and even the bloodthirsty Hekmatyar's Hezb-e-Islami, which has a third, wholly separate line of command.

There is no talking to the "big T" Taliban, in my view. They're not interested, anyway, and I'm happy for that. You can't compromise with fascists.

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