As I put pen to paper Hamid Karzai is on the verge of being inaugurated for another term; Obama is soon to announce his administration’s new strategy for Afghanistan and if there will be another surge of troops; major towns and cities across Afghanistan and Pakistan are gripped with fear of suicide bombings and coordinated Taliban attacks; travellers across Afghanistan fear IEDs and Taliban roadblocks, villagers in the highlands are not sure whether they will survive the winter; thousands of victims of self-immolation lie in bloodied beds in overcrowded hospitals; Afghanistan sits at the bottom of global corruption index; unemployment is well above 40%; Afghan asylum seekers continue their gruelling and at times deadly journeys through the deadly seas in the Indian Ocean, the English Channel, the snow covered peaks between Iran and Turkey and camps and slums in Greece and France seeking to get asylum in the West in pursuit of a better, safer and happier future. And so goes another day as far as matters regarding Afghanistan and its people are concerned.
In early 2002 I could not have imagined the sky high hopes and aspirations of the people concerned about Afghanistan and the future of its people turning into the raw ash of misery as early as 2006. I cared little for what was being announced in the Bonn Conference or what group was getting what share. What I did cherish was the optimism on the faces of the average Afghan on the streets in Kabul, in the villages in the highlands and inside the muddy walls of refugee slums in Quetta. Years later, following the quagmire that became known as the illegal invasion of Iraq, yet again we found ourselves amidst another quagmire, one that is getting worse by the day and with each new incident, we face more questions than answers.
Today, it would be fair to say that corruption, political instability and Islamic extremism are the biggest challenges faced by Afghanistan. However, there is more to the story than meets the eye. Cynicism aside, lack of responsibility on all levels, and a culture of mistrust and jingoism are issues that will undermine any effort to restore Afghanistan to a civilised country. Lack of indigenous effort towards changing the tide of events will keep Afghans begging for assistance from international donors and governments, indefinitely.
Afghans appear to have embraced a culture of shedding any responsibility off their shoulders and blaming others as a solution to all their day to day problems. For example, starting with the brutal periods of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century all the way to the overthrow of the monarchy, to the cruel episode that was Afghan communism, to the bloody civil war involving Jihadi factions, to the arrival of the Taliban, to the 2001 US invasion of Afghanistan and the consequent insurgency, there emerges a pattern of the blame game where all the peoples and countries of the world but Afghans themselves are responsible for Afghanistan’s troubles.
The ethnic genocides of the late nineteenth century are blamed upon the British Empire, similar accusations are made for the failures of the successive monarchs, President Daud’s failures were not his but that of the West and the Soviet Union, PDPA’s mass murders, corruption and other failures were all the work of Moscow, Najeebullah was a spy of the (then non-existent) Soviet Union, Jihadi brutalities were all American/Pakistani/Saudi/Iran sponsored, the dark period under the Taliban was all the work of the ISI, Karzai is a is a CIA/Unocal/Halliburton employee and a crony of the White House. Large scale corruption is the work of Mossad, Tolo Television is designed to destroy Islam and Pervez Kambakhsh was paid to download literature off the internet and eventually destroy Islam. Afghans have had nothing to do with anything that could be wrong with this country. If it’s bad, there has to be an outside hand involved. Such is the scale of arrogant ignorance rife on the streets and even inside University classrooms and the academia.
When examined on a micro level, matters worsen. Ethnic, linguistic and sectarian rivalries get involved as each religious sect and ethnic group blames the other for all their respective miseries as well as their social, economic and political troubles. Beneficiaries to this idiosyncrasy have been former Jihadis - current “democratically” elected MPs and the so called reformed Communists and/or Taliban. While they did represent tiny minorities in the nineties, today their celebrity status runs inside schools, universities, local communities as well as large sections of the Afghan Diaspora who have done a great job glorifying their (lack of) achievements to the extent that yesterday’s toll collectors are 21st century resistance legends whose expertise stretched from guerrilla warfare to theology as well as to modern sciences and international peace movements. While Afghans take pride in voting criminals and their cronies into powerful positions, they waste no time in passing the blame for their failure on to the shoulders of above mentioned “enemies of Afghanistan”.
– Look brother, my leader is the most honest person in Afghanistan and possibly the world. He is a symbol of democracy, Islam and peace. America, Britain and Pakistan will not let him work for the advancement of this country; otherwise, Afghanistan would be the number one country in the world.
-But he has amassed immense wealth and power while people in his own constituency are starving to death.
– [Nay. Uthu nesth]. He has had most of it all the time, the rest he has achieved through hard work and the grace of Allah. Mashallah!
To sum it up ordinary Afghans go the extra mile to make angels out of drug barons and totalitarians based on demographic/religious alliances, but fail to see how the consequences of these very actions keep them stuck on the edge of misery and despair. They condemn corruption but support corrupt politicians. Tens of thousands turn to the streets to condemn a caricature drawn far away in Denmark but conspiracy kicks in when it is time to condemn religious fundamentalism, to protest against corruption, violation of human rights and countless other issues that actually matter. It amazes me that the younger, far better educated generation of Afghans, particularly ones living abroad, have picked up this nasty behaviour and are walking the same path of hypocrisy and lies. Their actions abroad follow the same pattern but their projects have far bigger budgets and better means of delivery to young minds in search for answers.
When it comes to ourselves, we Afghans go through memory lapses. We forget that throughout Afghanistan’s recent history atrocities on Afghans have been committed by other Afghans. Much of the dirty work for the British and Russian empires was done by Afghan emirs and tribes; it was the Afghans who agreed to the establishment of the Durand line as an international border; it was the Afghans who tried to rid the country of other groups of Afghans; it was the Afghans who overthrew a King for being too secular and democratic; it was the Afghans who played out bloodbaths to outwit each other for the throne in Kabul; it was an Afghan king who built palaces in Italy while his subjects resorted to exchanging their daughters for a loaf of bread in order to survive; it was the Afghans who labelled each other as “real Afghans” and “immigrant Afghans”; it was the Afghans who went on indiscriminate killing sprees and summary executions in order to run a totalitarian state; it was the Afghans who on more than one occasion begged the Soviets to invade Afghanistan so that they could better fight other Afghans; it was the Afghans who time and again volunteered to fight the West’s proxy wars; it was the Afghans who embraced Arab and Pakistan jihadists as heavenly saviours; it was the Afghans who wiped out entire neighbourhoods off rival Afghans; it was the Afghans who initially celebrated and welcomed the application of the Taliban Shariah; it was the Afghans who stood and watched as all their heritage being bombed into pieces; it was the Afghans who jumped out of their pants to welcome the arrival of the US and company and the establishment of a puppet government; it was the Afghans who took pride in having voted a dozen times each in the presidential election; it was the Afghans growing tons of opium; it was the Afghans rigging votes, demanding bribes and pocketing aid; it was the Afghans and an “elected” parliament attempting to revive Shariah in a branded package ...
If there is anything that needs changing, it is the attitude of ordinary Afghans towards their everyday challenges. Military or civilian surges, bribing powerful warlords, sending in a thousand different “experts” (especially the annoying ones who never get off news networks), and appeasing all sorts of crazy fundamentalists, nationalists and mullahs won’t make Afghanistan any better. If the international community is truly committed towards building a civilised and friendly country out of the mess that is Afghanistan (and I doubt that they are!), they need to pull up their sleeves and jump in for the long haul.
Only systematic eradication of ignorance through education of the masses and reverse brain-washing, the empowerment of indigenous democratic movements, an understanding of the fact that Human Rights is not a Western ideal, it is a universal one, can solve Afghanistan’s major problems. It needs to be understood and propagated that only a secular Afghanistan can guarantee rights to its citizens and uphold democracy. Theocracy leaves no room for democracy. For all of that, an actual commitment that is extended over a period that is at least as long as the time it took to fund and construct tens of thousands of Madrassas during the cold war, is a minimum requirement.
Otherwise, there is no lack of conspiracy and blame game to go around.