It is a commonly held belief among ordinary Afghans the U.S. forces do not want peace and security in Afghanistan – and that in fact, American forces are supplying and supporting Taliban insurgents.
Kabul Times editorial, May 21, 2008
When I read the statement above, I didn’t know if I should be shocked and angry or simply bemused. I’m not sure of the reputation of the Kabul Times, a periodical that appears regularly on my base. One of my Afghan colleagues, for reasons I don’t understand, dismissed it as a publication of the mujahedeen; but I was very curious if in fact the common Afghan really believes that the US supports the Taliban. So I asked several Afghan friends with whom I work, and their polite yet earnest responses were that many of their countrypeople are suspicious that the US doesn’t want a lasting peace in Afghanistan, and they gave the following arguments as typical for supposed US support of the Taliban:
Why does the US let the Taliban hang around?
In 2001, US forces routed the Taliban from Kabul and most other regions of Afghanistan in less than two months. With that context, the Afghan mind posits: Why does the US now have trouble destroying small cells of insurgents positioned throughout the country? The answer: Because the US isn’t trying. The US is a victim of its own previous success, with the general Afghan public blithely unaware of the complexities and difficulties inherent in expunging organic groups of rebels who merely need to cross the border into Pakistan for sanctuary and training. Afghan disbelief of the true US intent – to rid Afghanistan completely of insurgents – is analogous to a patient’s dismissal of modern medicine with the argument that physicians are not interested in preventing the common cold even though they relish curing some cancers and transplanting organs.
Corrupt government: Perfected by Afghans, funded by Americans
A colleague of mine who is a respected physician in the Afghan Army was quite emphatic when he told me that the #1 enemy of the Afghan people is not the Taliban, but corruption; and especially corruption at the highest levels of government. Many Afghans resent their current leaders and ministers, many of whom fled Afghanistan when the Taliban took control of the country. These elites returned to Afghanistan and power due to American support – and money. The typical Afghan, who has seen little benefit from the billions of dollars of international aid sent to Afghanistan in the last seven years, apparently is easily convinced that the power elite of the country, seemingly beloved of the Westerners, has no incentive to alter the current state of affairs in Afghanistan as their graft of foreign aid is quite a lucrative undertaking; and the Western aid dollars might stop passing into Afghanistan and their own pockets should Afghanistan ever stabilize into a peaceful, secure state.
Western governments, exemplified by America as the US both politically and militarily has the most visible foreign profile in Afghanistan – indeed, many Afghans assume any Caucasian to be American – must know the corruption exists, reasons the typical Afghan, and yet they still support thieving Afghan officials who have no interest in truly reforming Afghanistan for the good of the common citizen; therefore, the Westerners (i.e. the Americans) must support an unstable Afghanistan, which means they support the newly resurgent Taliban.
The Afghan argument here proves itself a syllogistic fallacy at several junctures, but a philosophic analysis and repudiation of what many Afghans believe likely will not change their minds. History shows that emotion and belief are usually cruel victors over reason. What might change the Afghan mind, say my colleagues, is evidence that foreign aid is earmarked for the country’s development instead of the ministers’ bank accounts. “No one here wants to fight,” an Afghan physician told me. “Build a road for people, and they will be thankful and peaceful.” This from a man raised in Helmand, a province infamous for producing Taliban fighters.
The guys you want are just across the border in Pakistan. Why don’t you go get them?
The Afghan people know, as do the Pakistani people and the American government, that most Taliban and other willing insurgents ready to fight in Afghanistan are trained across the border in Pakistan. Pakistan historically has been the prime supporter of the Taliban. If the US truly wanted to rid Afghanistan of the Taliban and other insurgents, thinks the typical Afghan, it would destroy the bases it knows exist in the northwest territories of Pakistan. The US doesn’t do that, but instead maintains a (notably uneasy) alliance with Pakistan. And so the (illogical) deduction holds that the US supports the Taliban as does its ally Pakistan.
I’ve learned over my four months in Afghanistan that most people here harbor little-to-no fondness for Pakistan, as the Afghans believe (with some justification) that their neighbor’s goal is to keep Afghanistan poor and destabilized. So I got nowhere arguing to my colleagues that the US-Pakistan alliance had everything to do, initially, with removing the Taliban from Afghanistan. Nor did they cotton to my proposition that the US is overly taxed now fighting wars in two countries, and a third front just might send the military into an irreversible downward spiral.
I was relieved to hear from my colleagues that although many Afghans might believe the US condones the activities of the Taliban, they don’t think the US directly funds and supplies those insurgents. Instead, many Afghans site evidence that the British are the foreign force bolstering the Taliban with weapons, food and material. I’ll write more on that topic at a later date.