Critiquing Kabul

by Joshua Foust on 4/3/2007 · 2 comments

Khan!  Khaaaaaan!The incredibly useful AfghanWire (registration required) carries a story from Payam-e Mujahed, a Kabul newsweekly by and for mujahideen. In it, Ismael Khan, the warlord of Herat—and Afghanistan’s minister of water and energy (and Iran’s best friend, at least according to RAWA)—complains that Kabul isn’t Islamic enough. His evidence is Tajik and Turkish TV programs that feature women dancing: their mere presence is enough to make him unhappy about the entire country’s unIslamicness.

More interestingly, Khan attacks Human Rights Watch for accusing the warlords, a group that includes him, of being war criminals for their many massacres. He has a point—in the 80’s, the mujdahideen were glorified, holy, freedom fighters to the West. Now, they’re war criminals?

But in another sense he’s being quite silly. Even Massoud committed some horrific atrocities, especially in the Battle of Kabul in the early 90s. Though it was laudable to have resisted the Taliban’s advance of death, was Dostum or Hekmatyar quantifiably better? From what I’ve read, they were only slightly less brutal in enforcement, they simply enforced a different set of rules.

What Human Rights Watch is complaining about is the brutality, not the ethos behind it. Hell, the U.S. has committed unbelievable crimes in its wars—from the sacking of Atlanta to firebombings, nuclear weapons, napalm, Mai Lai, and the sadly forgotten No Gun Ri massacre—and men like Robert McNamara, by his own admission, are not in prison or executed for war crimes simply because they happened to win their wars. So I’m honestly willing to forgive some brutality in the course of a civil war. War is a very nasty, nasty business, and Khan is right to point out that expecting two decades of war without suffering is a bit daft.

At the same time, Khan shouldn’t pretend it was okay. A part of what makes McNamara’s status as a free man alright (for me, at least) is his deep sadness and regret over his actions—and his life since leaving the World Bank has been spent trying to create an intellectual foundation for reducing war. Khan, rather than ignoring or expecting praise for his own brutality, should simply acknowledge it (something along the lines of, “I’m saddened by violence, but it was a war for our very existence”), and act toward a non-violent future. That must be Afghanistan’s eventual state, however long or difficult a path it is.

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– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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Brian April 4, 2007 at 12:34 pm

You know I think there’s another point to be made here. Example: Opium is produced in Afghanistan where it makes its way to Europe and/or America and is consumed by many a gratefull drug addict. Us westerners hate drugs because we say it destroys society, and we place much of the burden for getting rid of the drug problem at the doorstep of the producers, not us consumers.

Now, let’s take something like pornography. It’s completely offensive to some cultures (such as in Afghanistan), one reason being that they feel that it can harm society, like drugs. Yet the nations that produce and market pornography (almost totally western nations) aren’t under any outside pressure to stop producing and exporting their offensive, and often illegal, material. It makes sense to me that if we’re going to pressure Afghanistan to stop their drug production they have a right to complain about the exportation of some types of really offensive media.

Joshua Foust April 4, 2007 at 12:50 pm

Yes and no. For starters, this isn’t pornography Khan is complaining about, it’s uncovered women from Tajikistan.

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