A Sadly Normal Phenomenon

by Joshua Foust on 4/11/2011 · 3 comments

Gul, the elder brother, was the first to choose. With no gun or money, he walked out of his home one summer day and into the ranks of the Taliban. Razziq soon followed, but down a different road: to the barracks of the U.S.-backed Afghan national police. The brothers’ decisions have transformed them into enemies and forced them to consider a day they had never imagined.

“I don’t know when I will face my brother on the battlefield, but it’s only a matter of time,” Gul said. And when it happens, Razziq said, “I will have no choice but to fight him back.” …

The safest territory in Afghanistan is the neutral middle, a space that the expanding war has eroded. Forced to take sides, Afghans have divided into factions, complicating any attempt to end the war — and chipping away at any hope of bringing warring brothers home to the same family again.

From a depressing and heart breaking story about families picking sides in the war in Afghanistan. The usual tropes are there: the government kinda sucks but is on the side of “good,” the insurgency is functional and responsive but they’re vicious. No one really has a good choice when it comes to this.

I won’t bore all of you with the research on families splitting up in civil war. It happens all the time, everywhere, whether the U.S. Civil War 150 years ago or the mujahidin war of the 1980s. But commonality doesn’t make family hedging any less painful, or disruptive. And Partlow is absolutely right that the longer this war drags on, the harder its constituent issues will be to resolve.


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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on Registan.net.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. 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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{ 3 comments }

Adam April 11, 2011 at 8:52 pm

I do not think we need much research to say we supported the Northern Alliance against the Taliban, effectively support one side in a civil war, than we gave power to those warlords who assisted with funding and weapons us and threw them into Afghanistan’s political system- than we ask their Gov’t to end the corruption when we hand the warlords the contracts. Had we support a pluralistic Afghanistan and sincerely built its instititutions to strenghten rule of law and economy across the country- the Taliban would not have the influence it has now. I do not think we learned lessons from Vietnam, supporting one side against the other in a country’s civil war leads to failures.

Boris Sizemore April 11, 2011 at 9:59 pm

Joshua, I also enjoyed the article. However, I was not surprised that some families had insurgent relatives in Taliban based areas. I was more heartened to see that several of the sons had decided against all normal odds to support the Government against the wishes of the local trend. This was the surprise of the article to me.

The article beautifully portrayed the logic process that fighters use in choosing one side or the other. The description of Raffiq, the modernist, versus his Brother Gul, the little Mullah was compelling beyond words. Each brother had his own reasoning for fighting on opposing sides, yet the love they shared was undiminished.

This is hardly a normal situation. I rarely find non unified family groups on one side or the other. Of course, it will happen particularly in contested areas where normal structures have been down graded over time. There is actually a “black sheep” term being used for family members that defy clan histories and allegiances.

This however remains a minority situation, though perhaps a growing one as these large families and their sons take into the tide of Afghan politics and current history.

It is rare that Afghans and their personal stories are discussed. I was so glad that Paltrow decided to present these young men and their situations within a conflict to a wide audience.

Grant April 12, 2011 at 1:12 pm

The war has already been going on for over thirty years, this is just a different part of one very long struggle.

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