Saturday, November 17, 2001

"What Now for Afghanistan" - sense & nonsense

(My response to a statement by --Jeff Weintraub)

I can agree with much of the statement proposed here. But some key points in it make no moral sense at all to me, and in fact strike me as both morally and politically absurd. I could not possibly sign it in good conscience, and I can't imagine why any sensible person would regard it as democratic and "progressive" overall.

I agree that it makes sense for an international U.N. peacekeeping force, with contingents from Muslim countries, to be sent to Afghanistan. Turkey, Bangladesh, perhaps even Egypt--these all make sense. But Pakistan? Pakistan was the chief supporter of the Taliban, and Pakistanis fighting with the Taliban are still killing Afghans at this very moment. For this reason, Pakistan is deeply hated by at least half the population of Afghanistan, and probably much more. The idea of sending Pakistani troops into Kabul as "peacekeepers" shows incredible contempt for the Afghan people, and strikes me as deranged.

A Ramadan bombing pause? I'm sorry, but this strikes me as nonsensical and immoral. One of the best results of the sudden collapse of the Taliban across northern Afghanistan is that it makes possible the rapid shipment of food and other aid into the country, which will probably save the lives of hundreds of thousands of Afghans this winter (not to mention allowing women access to medical care, etc.). The same can be true for the southern half of the country, if the war ends quickly. Why on earth should we want to prolong the war, and the suffering of Afghan civilians, at this point, by relieving pressure on the Taliban (and their foreign auxiliaries)?

If there is one thing that should be abundantly clear at this point, it's that there is widespread disaffection with the Taliban (in the north as well as the south) ... but that the key requirement for people who hate the Taliban, or who are just thinking about switching sides, is that it needs to be made clear that they are on the losing side, on the ropes, and unable to punish those who oppose them. So, in the name of simple decency as well as military and political policy, this is the moment to redouble pressure on these criminals. Why shoud we side with
them, rather than with the people they are oppressing--and, in the process, prolong the war into the winter, thus dooming many civilians to starvation? Am I missing something?

Yes, bombing unavoidably kills some innocent civilians. So does any war, which is one reason why war should be avoided except where the alternative is worse. But the Taliban have killed, and continue to kill, far more innocent civilians than the U.S. bombing (even if we accept the wildest claims made by the Taliban themselves). And prolonging the war and Taliban power will cause further misery and loss of life. The business about the sensibilities of public opinion in Muslim countries is morally and politically bogus. As a number of scholars
have made abundantly clear, there is no general precedent in Islam for stopping wars during Ramadan. (Historically, just think of such recent precedents as the Iran/Iraq war, the Arab attack on Israel during Ramadan in 1973, etc.) The best way to reduce Muslim unhappiness about the ongoing war is to end it quickly by winning it, ideally with a rapid disintegration of the Taliban regime and as little further conflict as possible, and then trying to promote peace and humanitarian assistance in the country.

I simply cannot understand why we are being asked to sign a statement that recommends policies that will make life easier for the Taliban (one of the most repellent regimes on earth) and their foreign auxiliaries, and that will increase the sufferings of the Afghan people. (This is especially absurd in a statement that also pretends to show some concern for the plight of Afghan women!) Please reconsider.

=> Let me make a larger point. As you know, the last U.S. presidential election was stolen by the Republicans, and we are now being shamelessly misgoverened by a coalition of big business and the Republican hard right. The damage that these people can do, and have already been doing, to both the U.S. and the world is immense. It's essential to struggle against them in the name of democracy, equality, environmental sanity, and simple human decency. This is the worst possible time for people who think of themselves as "progressive" to disgrace and marginalize themselves by taking positions that are transparently mindless, idiotic, and immoral. Again, please reconsider.

Jeff Weintraub