We have consistently argued that America’s framework for understanding Af-Pak has been a carry forward of the British colonial framework for Afghanistan. We have also pointed out that the entire American Establishment is overwhelmingly European in its education and orientation. This includes American Diplomats, American Military, American Pandits and American Media. Cultural Supremacism is a natural consequence of such intense one-sided education and experience.
With their European blinders, the analysts and strategists of the American establishment invariably drew upon the lessons of the two European ventures in Afghanistan, the Soviet experience in 1979 and the British experience in the late 19th century. As a result, so many myths were created and reported in American media that we had to address them in our October 2009 article American Myths about Afghanistan – From Alexander to the Soviets. Every American decision, we argued, has been derived from the British colonial mindset. Naturally, these decisions have been unsuccessful.
In our opinion, America’s struggle in Af-Pak has been a repeat of America’s experience in Vietnam. America entered the Vietnam conflict as a successor to the French and carried on that struggle. A large portion of French supremacist attitudes towards the Vietnamese were inherited by the American Establishment. This is why we wondered on July 17, 2010 whether Is America On The Wrong Side of History in Afghanistan The Way It Was In Vietnam?
This week, we finally found an article in the mainstream American media that mirrors our view. It is a New York Times article titled Ten Years In, Afghan Myths Live On. This is an article by Benjamin Hopkins, a historian at George Washington University, and Magnus Marsden, an anthropologist at the University of London. We include excerpts from this article below (the emphasis are ours):
- Nearly all elements of the current counterinsurgency strategy in
Afghanistan, from “clear and hold” tactics to arming “tribal militias,”
have their origins in the activities of British colonial administrators.
The most important of these was Robert* Groves Sandeman, who in 1891
insisted that to control the people of the Afghan frontier, the British
had to appeal to their “hearts and minds” (and pockets).
- By “knowing the tribes,” Robert* believed he could rule them through
their “traditions” — something both more legitimate in the eyes of the
tribesmen and cheaper for the colonial state. However, many of the
“traditions” he employed were at least partly colonial creations.
- The United States and its allies have largely mimicked the policies of
British India’s frontier administrators. They have made extensive use of
what they understand to be “native traditions” to bolster their
authority. American soldiers sit in tribal jirgas, or assemblies, to win
the support of local elders; tribal militias called arbakai are
recruited to police the populace. But rather than showing the
sophistication of the military’s cultural knowledge, these efforts
merely demonstrate to Afghans the coalition’s poor understanding of
- Afghanistan is not a country of primitive tribes cut off from the modern
world. The singular focus on tribes, the Taliban, and ethnicity as the
keys to understanding and resolving the conflict misses the nuances of
the region’s past and present. Rather than fanatical tribesmen or poor
victims in need of aid, many of these people are active and capable
participants in a globalized economy.
- In fact, Afghan merchants play important economic roles at home and
abroad. They export used Japanese cars from Dubai to Central Asia and
precious stones to Hong Kong and Sri Lanka. They sell medicinal plants
to India and Germany and regularly cross the region seeking new economic
opportunities, connecting Afghans with the world beyond. In spite of
Afghanistan’s poverty, these traders are central to the economy and
critically important to the stability of the Afghan state.
….they (American & its allies) must set aside the stale caricatures about “tradition” that have
long dominated thinking about the region.
Unless they do, 10 years of fighting, an investment of over $400 billion
by American taxpayers, and the deaths of more than 2,700 allied
military personnel, not to mention an unknown number of Afghans, will
have been for naught.
An Incomplete Article
We concur with the basic argument of this article in the NYT. Unfortunately, the article is incomplete. It addresses the symptoms rather than address the cause. And the cause is the original sin committed by the Colonial British.
The British partitioned traditional Afghanistan in 1893 by annexing South Afghanistan into British-ruled India and leaving North Afghanistan that is today’s Afghanistan. This is why today’s unnatural line of control between today’s Afghanistan and today’s Pakistan is still called the Durand Line. The British then renamed South Afghanistan as the Northwest Frontier Province.
This British imposed partition left the Afghan Pakhtun (Pashtun) on both sides of the Durand Line. Neither the Government of Afghanistan nor the Pakhtun Taleban respect the Durand Line or the partition of Afghanistan. The Pakistani Government tacitly admitted this reality by recently renaming the Northwest Frontier Province as Khyber-Pakhtunkhawa.
When you understand this history, you understand why the Pakhtun Taleban was born as a movement inside “Pakistan” or inside Khyber-Pakhtunkhawa and why the Pakhtun Taleban operate easily and freely in Khyber-Pakhtunkhawa.
By inheriting and building upon the British colonial framework, the American establishment fell in the trap of accepting Pakistan’s illusory control of what is really South Afghanistan and tried to force Pakistan to attack the Pakhtun Taleban in their own homeland.
This was a policy doomed to failure. This policy could only put America and Pakistan at strategic odds. That is exactly what we are seeing today.
We have argued from the very beginning that the only realistic solution is to reunite Afghanistan in a legal, peaceful UN-approved way. Only by uniting the two partitioned halves of the Pakhtun homeland, could peace result. Remember that peace came to Vietnam when North & South Vietnam were finally united.
But this would require the Obama Administration and the entire American establishment to discard and shred the mental framework they inherited from the Colonial British. Until they do, the American policy in Af-Pak will keep on traversing the path of American policy in Vietnam.
Editor’s PS: The NYT article uses the archaic British title “Sir” to refer to Robert Sandeman. We think it is beneath American dignity to refer to non-American titles such as Sir. It is also discriminatory because the NYT never uses such titled bestowed by any other country in any region in the world. So for moral and patriotic reasons, we dropped the “Sir” from our excerpts.
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