Small Wars Journal

Afghanistan and Peace: It’s About the Farmer Stupid

Sun, 02/14/2021 - 4:34pm

Afghanistan and Peace: It’s About the Farmer Stupid

By R.K. Lembke

Peace is possible in Afghanistan, but it has to be by the terms of the average, rural, Muslim, Afghan tribesman. They represent the majority of the Afghan population. Taliban, U.S., and Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GIRoA) empathy and accommodation of the average Afghan is the only door to peace. Thanks to the U.S. and international involvement in Afghanistan, for right or wrong, Afghanistan has become the poster child of what happens when western-inspired Progressive, Post- Modernist, Critical Theory meets Islamic Tribalism – and it's not working out very well for the average Afghan. Thanks to the Taliban, Afghanistan has also become the poster child of when the execution of 7th Century Islamic jurisprudence meets the modern world – also not working out very well for the average Afghan. Unfortunately, it appears the desires of the average rural farmer population doesn't matter to anyone at the peace table.

To the Afghan rank and file on both sides of the Afghan conflict, evidence suggests it is a war to defend their respective cultures from internal competitors (Sadr, 2014). The U.S. stated reason for staying in Afghanistan is to ensure that no terrorist attacks on the U.S. ever be drawn up in Afghanistan. The reasoning is based on the unproven Bush Doctrine and its assumption that terrorists will never conspire to attack the United States from a modernized democratic state – like the 79 supposed terrorist attacks against Americans planned and executed in the United States since August, 2001 (Johnston, 2020). The U.S. continues to justify its actions in Afghanistan based on the assertion that if the Taliban isn’t defeated, they will conspire with ISIL and Al Qaeda to attack the U.S. - even though in the last 20 year not one of the 79 terrorist attacks in the U.S. was conducted by an Afghan or ex-Taliban fighter (Johnston, 2020). There hasn't been any evidence presented that any Afghan or Taliban have any intent to export “terrorist” attacks to the U.S. (Santos & Teixeira, 2013. To the international political progressive community, it is about facilitating the modernization of Afghan’s values based on a postmodern world view, despite 99% of Afghans wanting to be governed by some type of Islamic Law (Nelson, 2013,  Asia Foundation, 2019). On the other side, the Taliban leadership wants to push Deobandi Hanafi jurisprudence, known as a fiqh, on the 57% of the rest of the Muslims in Afghanistan who practice different Islamic fiqhs (Lahore Hanafis, Shiite, Safia, etc.). It is pretty obvious they don’t want to change their fiqhs to the Taliban’s. Meanwhile, the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, as it turns out, is neither a republic nor very Islamic, despite 99% of Afghans wanting to live under some sort of Sharia Law (Afghanistan Constitution, 2004;  Asia Foundation, 2019; Pew Foundation 2013; Travis, 2005).

The result is as GIRoA, the U.S., and the Taliban all meet at the peace conference, they each have their own “perception” of the country based on their agendas, but not what the people are telling them. The polls and surveys send mixed signals, each party taking from them what they want and disregarding the rest. For instance, the  Asian Foundation’s 2019 poll executive summary implies the society has faith in the government, using the fact that 57% of the people would not leave their country if they had a chance (p. 328). The conclusion that this represented “progress” is perplexing because the 2016 Asian Foundation Poll found only 46% of the people polled would leave the country (Asian Foundation 2018, p. 202). In the 2019 poll, while over half the population said they were somewhat satisfied with the government, 80% thought the government was “too” corrupt  Asian Foundation 2019. The data and conclusions are all over the place.

The only way to reconcile the polls' diverse and unchanging nature is to conclude the majority of the population are in the middle want to live by Islamic sharia of some kind; don’t especially want or like the current corrupt government; and don’t want a Taliban centric government ( Asia Foundation, 2019; Pew Foundation 2013). The polls and recruiting bases of the Taliban and GIRoA security forces give clues to what is wanted. For instance, while 99% of the population want Sharia law, only 43% will tolerate the Taliban’s fiqh of Sharia Law. The 43% represent the Taliban's recruiting base in the South, Southeast, Southwest, East, and three pockets of Pashtun in the north (Dorronsorro, 2009; World Population Review, 2021). The other 56% of the population apparently want to live by their own tribal traditions and fiqhs as represented by the ANDSF recruiting bases in Kabul, the North, Central, Northeast, Northwest, and a few small pockets of Kabulis and Tajiks in the East and Southeast (Nelson, 2013; Asian Foundation, 2019)

  The polls also reflect the average Afghan's desire for an honest, modernized, educated, and self-sufficient government capable of providing essential services to everyone, something they know the Taliban cannot provide (Asian Foundation 2018; Asian Foundation, 2019). However, based on the conflict and insurgency, it does appear there is a limit to how much of their culture they are willing to surrender for government services and money. Since the roots of the current government of GIRoA and the constitution are not based on Sharia Law or Islam, corruption is still a significant problem in GIRoA, and the Taliban insist on their brand of Pashtun Hanafi Deobandi fiqh, the average Afghan is caught between a rock and a hard place (Asian Foundation, 2019; Nelson, 2013; SIGAR 2020-01-30).  Unfortunately, it is apparent by the U.S., GIRoA, and the Taliban leaders their opinion isn’t relative.

The Obstacle to Peace.

The Taliban claim the Afghan government is not legitimate and the Afghan Constitution needs to be changed. Frankly, if one is honest, they have a point. It is likely even if the Taliban were to surrender tomorrow, fighting would ensue once the rest of the population know of the conflict between the constitution and their tribal/Islamic rules. The seeds of GIRoA and the constitution began from Bush Doctrine with progressive, postmodern, and Critical Theory elements. The seeds grew into the root of the current government, the 2001 Bonn conference (Office of the Deputy Minister of Policy, 2001). While the Afghan representatives to the Bonn conference represented the Bush administration’s progressive values, the old monarch values, and those of the victorious minority backed by the U.S., they did not represent the single largest intersectional group in Afghanistan – the Pashtun who practice the Deobandi Fiqh of Islam (BBC News, 2020). The corrupted root grew into the tree, the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. From the tree grew a constitution that was at best a compromise between the secular United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the Holy Koran (Freedom or Theocracy?: Constitutionalism in Afghanistan and Iraq, 2005; Jura Gentium, 2010; New York Times, 2003). Progressives claim the constitution gave too much power to the Mullahs, the Taliban claim the constitution is the UDHR in Islamic window dressing (Afghan Constitution, 2020; Rand, 2003).

U.S. (and Coalition).

Deconstructing Bush's doctrine, there are elements of progressive, postmodern, Critical Theory defining the U.S. approach to constructing the "new" post-Taliban Afghanistan. Walter Nugent in 2010 defined progressivism as the belief that societies will evolve from uncivil to civil societies through the application of empirical knowledge (Nugent, 2010).

As embodied by Wilson, progressives exchange their faith in the invisible hand of a God to that of the bureaucrats in administrative states (Link, 1967; Pestritto, 2007). Whether one agress with it or not, progressivism has become the philosophy of choice in foreign policy in the modern west (Reeb, 2020; Schambra & West, 2007; Van Jackson, 2018). I am guessing the Muslims who watched hundreds of millions of people executed by modern secular governments in the 20th century - such as China and the USSR - are a little skeptical of the wisdom of "expert" progressive bureaucrats. It is clear the philosophy of Islam is popular with 99% of Afghans – they have not yet given up on their faith in the invisible hand of God (Nelson, 2013; Asia Foundation, 2019).

Between 2002 and 2005, Bush gave 37 speeches reference the Afghan people's rights and aspirations (Whitehouse Archives, 2004). He never mentioned God, faith, or divine rights once. Bush's following quotes reference the importance of government, coalitions, and even armies –but nothing about faith or God.

"Under the Taliban, women were oppressed, their potential was ignored. Under President Karzai's leadership, that has changed dramatically. A number of innovative programs designed in collaboration with the Afghan government are increasing the role of women in the private sector." President Bush's remarks in a press conference with President Karzai of Afghanistan

The Rose Garden, Washington, D.C. June 15, 2004. (Whitehouse Archives,2004)

[Comment: I do not think the 100,000+ mothers who gave permission for their sons to fight for the Taliban felt oppressed by their definition of oppression. Understanding by current progressive postmodernist Critical Theory ideology they are ignorant and have been fooled by males to thinking that way. Yet, they are still allowing their sons to fight for what they believe – no matter how wrong we think their beliefs are.]

 

 

"Afghanistan and America are working together to print millions of new textbooks and to build modern schools in every Afghan province. Girls, as well as boys, are going to school, and they are studying under a new curriculum that promotes religious and ethnic tolerance." President Bush's remarks in a press conference with President Karzai of Afghanistan The Rose Garden, Washington, D.C. June 15, 2004. (Whitehouse Archives,2004)

[Comment: The Afghan government and U.S. developed the new curriculum -  not  GIRoA, Ulema, and parents worked together in developing he curriculum.]

 

"In Afghanistan, we helped to liberate an oppressed people. And we will continue helping them secure their country, rebuild their society, and educate all their children, boys and girls." President Bush Delivers the State of the Union, January 28, 2003. (Whitehouse Archives,2004)

[Comment: First, the 43 % + of the country supporting the Taliban didn’t think they were oppressed.  Secondly, note the “U.S.”. will rebuild their community and educate their children. Bush did not say we would work with the government, parents, and Ulema to build society. In his statement, Bush was saying the secular U.S. is replacing the elders and Ulema. ]

                 

Postmodernism is described in the “Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy; Postmodernismas a set of critical, strategic, and rhetorical practices employing concepts such as difference, repetition, the trace, the simulacrum, and hyper reality to destabilize other concepts such as presence, identity, historical progress, epistemic certainty, and the univocity of meaning." Based on Nietzche’s concepts in “On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense," history is a concept developed by words and images creating a "truth."  Therefore, an individual's basic values are based on the sculpted words and narratives, not on an actual truth – truth being an abstract construct. To change the truths one’s values are based on, one simply needs to change definitions, change stories, and change images to mean something else (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy; Postmodernism). To the postmodernist, to realign the definition of justice to their interpretation of justice they simply need to change the story by redefining words, destroying and reshaping images, and “desconstructing" old narratives and old definitions (Lyotard, 1983; Lyotard & Thebaud, 1985). That’s exactly what Bush did in his speeches to redefine the history of the Taliban and GIRoA.

Thomas Barfield’s 2012 book “Afghanistan: A Cultural and Political History" is one of the few history books consistent with the testimonies of the Afghans involved in the conflicts whom I have met. Their combined stories describe the Taliban movement as a reaction against the turmoil caused by the civil war between the different Mujahahdeen parties after the collapse of the communist regime. Each of the seven major Mujahadeen parties who fought against the Afghan communist government represented an intersection of Afghan ethnicities, religious fiqhs (Islamic jurisprudence), and patronage networks. After the collapse of Najibullah’s communist government in 1992, they ended up fighting against each other for power, throwing the country into one massive, bloody mess (Rubin, 2002). The Taliban movement arose from the conflict.

At first, groups of people from all sides accepted the Taliban as a unifying government based on Islamic law. The average farmer wanted a just replacement of the corrupt communist government and the fighting caused by the Mujahadeen, and so put their hope in the Taliban experiment. While the Taliban were at first successful in areas they took over, the longer they governed an area the quicker everyone learned the Taliban's brand of Islamic law, based on the Deobandi Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence), was more brutal than desired. They also learned the Pashtun Deobandui Hannafis, the largest membership of the Taliban, made horrible governors and bureaucrats (Barfield, 2012; Rubin, 2002; The U.S. War in Afghanistan, 2020).

By the time the U.S. entered the conflict in 2001, the Taliban had already taken 95% of the country after leading a popular revolution against the Mujahadeen government. In 2001, the U.S. allied itself with four of the seven Mujahadeen parties of the Mujahadeen government the Taliban ejected from power. The four parties, called the Northern Alliance, were primarily made up of Tajik, Hazara, Uzbek, and Panshiri Pashtun (from Panshir ) tribesmen. The Kabuli (Political Elites from Kabul) Pashtun also joined the coalition, especially when the U.S. entered the fray.

The Pashtun groups who primarily reject the Taliban are those associated with the ex-monarch – Popalzai, Barakzai, Achekzai, and half the Alikzai (District Assessment, 2009; NPS, 2020; Smith, 2008). The four tribes make up roughly 10% of the Afghan Pashtun nation, or 4.5% of the country's population (Dorronsorro, 2009; World Population Review, 2021). They were the primary benefactors of the monarch's power, wealth, and opportunities from 1740 until 1972. Between 1973 and 2001, the communist Afghans and Taliban redistributed their lands to the historical land workers from the other disenfranchised Pashtun tribes. Unbeknownst to the average farmer, the U.S. accidentally, or intentionally, gave back to the old monarch land-owning families their right to their old lands, power, and wealth through the Bonn conference and the constitution because all but a few Pashtuns in the forum were from the elite tribes. The "new" landowners, who had been the land workers for centuries, weren't happy about surrendering their newfound freedoms and property, becoming the original core of the Taliban movement fighting the government forces helping the old landowners take back their properties in the South. (District Assessment, 2009; Pain, 2013)

Typical of postmodernism, Bush described the history of the war differently. His words made it into an illusion of morality. The following are his descriptions of the conflict:

 Quote 1. "[T]hat cause was to liberate the Afghan people from terrorist occupation, and we did so. Next week, the schools reopen in Afghanistan. They will be open to all -- and many young girls will go to school for the first time in their young lives. Afghanistan has many difficult challenges ahead -- and, yet, we've averted mass starvation, begun clearing minefields, rebuilding roads, and improving health care. In Kabul, a friendly government is now an essential member of the coalition against terror."

President Bush Remarks on the World Coalition for Anti-Terrorism Effort

March 11, 2002. (Whitehouse Archives,2004)

 

In the above quote, Bush redefined the Taliban movement as a "terrorist occupying force," as if it was an external force of terror from another country. The Taliban practice the Deobanid fiqh of Hanafi Sunnism. It is based on a literal interpretation of the Holy Koran. While it seems brutal to people who practice analogous fiqhs, it is still a legitimate school of Islam to the rural Pashtun – about 45% of the Afghan population. Bush called 45% of the Afghan population "oppressors", "terrorists", "occupiers (of their own lands)", "women beaters", and "bullies". He directly questioned the legitimacy of the belief in the Koran and tribal traditions of 45% of the population. Just like Iraq, in the name of postmodernist rhetoric he managed to corner half of the population overnight.

Quote 2. "Our coalition (NOT GOD) has liberated Afghanistan and restored fundamental human rights and freedoms…. to Afghan President Bush Proclamation 7584, Women's Equality Day, 2002. August 23, 2002.  (Whitehouse Archives,2004 )

 

Bush used rhetoric to change reality with carefully crafted words. He says fundamental human rights were "restored." What fundamental human rights were “restored? The constitutional monarch suppressing the rights of minority ethnicities? Or perhaps the communist constitution’s rights suppressing both Islam and tribalism? And “restored” from when?  The repressive and corrupt communist government that was popularly rejected (1978-1992)? The Mujahedeen government that was popularly rejected (1992 -1996)? Or perhaps the monarch government who gave special privileges to the Pashtun population (1747-1972)? The average Afghan's definition of human rights was defined by their Islamic fiqh and tribal traditions (Rubin, 2002). If you are forcing them to change those by law, then you are not “restoring” their rights to live as they want. 

Theory.

Quote 3. [T]hat cause was to liberate the Afghan people from terrorist occupation, and we did so…In Kabul, a friendly government is now an essential member of the coalition against terror."

President Bush Remarks on the World Coalition for Anti-Terrorism Effort

March 11, 2002. (Whitehouse Archives,2004 )

 

According to the farmers’ and southern Pashtun I have talked to, they perceived the Taliban movement’s beginning as a movement against the injustice caused by expatriated monarch families returning to Afghanistan to take back their lands and power – not to establish a terrorist occupation. The communist government redistributed land from wealthy landowners (representing the “rich” half of the tribes in the south) to poor land workers (representing the “poor” half of the tribes in the south) in the late 1970s and early 1980s (Rubin, 2002). The wealthy landowners took their money and ran to the U.S., Europe, Russia, Pakistan, and Turkey. After the communist government fell, the old landowners came back and made a deal with the Mujahadeen government: their tribes’ support in exchange for their old lands and power. In fact Karzai, the first "appointed" President of Afghanistan, was a son of one of the wealthy returning Popalzai families (Hamid Karzai Biography, n.d.). The workers, who had been allowed to own and work their own land for the first time in centuries, rebelled against the government giving the monarchists their old lands back. Most joined the Taliban to unite against the monarchists and their supporting Army Brigades. The Taliban movement quickly spread into a national movement for peace and justice. As it turned out, the Taliban couldn't govern fairly and compassionately, proving to be an inadequate alternative (Ghufran, n.d.). Once the U.S. jumped in the war, the old autocrats and their sons used their U.S. and European colleagues' influence to reclaim their wealth through the Bonn Conference and constitution (Bonn Conference, 2001; Conciliation Resources, 2018; Freedom or Theocracy?: Constitutionalism in Afghanistan and Iraq, 2005; International Crisis Group, 2003 ).

Horkheimer's definition of a critical theory is a theory that attempts to seek human emancipation or liberation. It is a theory that challenges the historical, social, and ideological forces and structures behind any form of repressions, enslavement, or restrictions to liberty (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Critical Theory, 2005). Critical theory challenges any social construct's fundamental assumptions shaping one's roles in society (Crossman, 2019; Koltonski, 2014 ).  Between January 29, 2002, and June 15, 2004, Bush made 37 speeches. He specifically mentioned women's liberation in 19 of them, making the issue a vital element of the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. According to Critical Theory, his continued attacks on the Islamic and tribal roles of women was meant to change the definition of women’s human rights in the Koran and tribal societies. While hailed as a success in most reports, there is very little indication of success in the rural agricultural, urban migration, and internally displaced communities – about 95% of the population. 

The Government of the “Islamic” of Afghanistan.

The Taliban claim the Afghan government is not legitimate and the Afghan Constitution needs to be changed. Frankly, if one is honest, they are right (Conciliation Resources, 2018; Freedom or Theocracy?: Constitutionalism in Afghanistan and Iraq, 2005; International Crisis Group, 2003 ). The real history behind the government's creation and the history of the writing of the constitution only support their claim.

People’s Government?

Afghanistan is not a republic; the people do not elect district and provincial governors; the president appoints them (Afghanistan Constitution, 2004). The country's citizens elect the bicameral legislature's lower house, but the other half are selected by the president and the lower house representatives (Mukhopadhyay, 2016). In 2019, President Ghani was chosen by 2.3% of the population. He won 50.3% of the 1.8 Million Afghans who voted from a population of 39,000,000 in 2019. He was literally elected by 2.3% of the population (Afghan 2021 Elections). In effect, the provincial governors, district governors, and 33% of the legislature's higher house represent the values of about 2.3% of the population. The lower house and 65% of the legislature's upper house represent the values of about 4.6% of the population. This would normally indicate the people really don’t care about the government. To the U.S. and GIRoA it was considered a successful election.       

The Roots of GIRoA– Bonn Conference

The 2001 Bonn conference in 2001 was significant because its attendees appointed the interim government, designed the blueprints for the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GIRoA), and defined the process to use to write the constitution (U.N., 2001). Based on the demographics, one would expect the Bonn conference to have a fair proportional representation of all intersectional groups' values in Afghanistan, but it didn't (Conciliation Resources, 2018; PBS, 2009; Office of the Deputy Minister for Policy, 2001; Vendrell, 2012).

Historically, tribal traditions and the Islamic fiqhs form Afghan's values (Afghanistan Culture, 2009; Yassari & Saboori, 2010). Based on the intersection of ethnicities, fiqhs, and social classes, the representation in Bonn should have been proportioned to reflect the values of the following intersectional groups: The rural Pashtun Deobandi Hanafi should have been represented by at least 43% of the representatives; the rural Tajik Hanafi Lahori by 29%; the Hazara Shiite by 11%; the rural Uzbeki Hanafi by 11%; Urban Kabulis - Ex-royalists, academic, communists, and modern progressives- by 6%  (CIA World Factbook, 2020; World Population Review, 2021). The actual Bonn conference consisted of 24 voting members and one nonvoting member. All but one represented competitors to the rural Pashtun Deobandi Hannafis. Of the 24 voting members, 30% were rural Tajik Hanafi Lahori; 12% were urban academic progressives; 30% represented wealthy elite Pashtun Kabulis, Pashtun Monarchist, and progressive Pashtun academia; 20% were Hazara Shia; 4% was Uzbeki Lahore Hanafi (Bonn Conference, 2001; International Conference on Afghanistan, Bonn, 2001). Not one person represented the rural Pashtun Deobandi Hanafi community, not even Pacha Khan Zadran, who was both too controversial to be effective and associated with the monarch.

Considering 90% of Afghans are Sunni Muslims, and the Bonn conference was to establish the “Islamic” Republic of Afghanistan, it was surprising to see only one Sunni Islamic scholar involved in the conference (CFR, N.D.; PEW, 2013). He was Pir Sayed Ahmad Gailani, a Hanafi Sufi order leader, member of the monarchy through marriage, the mujahedeen group leader, the Mahaz-I Mili, calling for the return of the monarch. As a Sufi order leader, his acceptance by the Deobandi community would be mixed at best (Ramsey, n.d.). (Afghan Biographies, 2021).  

Based on the Bush Doctrine, I assume it was no accident the ex-monarchists, progressives, feminists, and elite were way over-represented at the Bonn conference. It was their chance to write a progressive constitution bypassing any possible debate from the country's Islamic/Tribal representatives. The minority groups took advantage of the naïve westerners to codify their ethnic and cultural competitors' marginalization in the new government. In the process, the single largest intersectional group – the rural Pashtun Deobandi Hanafi Muslims, at least 43% of the population and 95% of the Taliban - were massively underrepresented.

The Roots – Constitution

 

"Next month, 500 delegates will convene a national assembly in Kabul to approve a new Afghan constitution. The proposed draft would establish a bicameral Parliament, set national elections next year, and recognize Afghanistan's Muslim identity while protecting the rights of all citizens."

President Bush's remarks on the 20th Anniversary of the National Endowment for Democracy

November 6, 2003. (Whitehouse Archives,2004)

The GIRoA constitution does not represent the values of at least 95% of Afghanistan's Muslim and tribal population, and where it does, it contradicts itself. In his 2005 article “Freedom or Theocracy?; Constitutionalism in Afghanistan and Iraq", Hannibal Travis did a superb job describing the conflict between the progressive and Islamic theory of governance, though I disagree with his conclusion. His conclusion is the progressive minority compromised too much with the Islamic scholars, whom he refers to as “warlords” (another bias inducing title), in writing the constitution. While secular progressives would agree with that statement, there are no Afghan secular progressives except for a few government elite entities. The fact is ninety-nine percent of Afghans identify themselves as Muslim (Cultural Atlas, 2020; CIA, 2021).  Unlike Travis's conclusion, my assessment of the constitution versus the Holy Koran was while the document writers did dress the constitution in a heavy layer of Islamic window dressing, behind the curtain, it was a  progressive document designed to form a social welfare state. The following three articles from the constitution are only three examples of laws carefully crafted to “appear” to be congruent with Koranic principles, but aren't Islamic Law.

 

Example 1. Article 6 of the Constitution (Constitution) 

“The state shall be obligated to create a prosperous and progressive society based on social justice, preservation of human dignity, protection of human rights, the realization of democracy, attainment of national unity as well as equality between all peoples and tribes and balanced development of all areas of the country."

 

There can be no such thing as a “progressive” Islamic Republic or progressive tribal republic in the modern sense of the word – the two philosophies are contradicting. I am sure most Ulema and Afghans agree that God is the distributor of social justice and society's architect as outlined in the Holy Koran, not the state "state."Allah bears witness that there is no God but He — and also do the angels and those possessed of knowledge — Maintainer of justice; there is no God but He, the Mighty, the Wise.” Surah Ali Imran, 3:18. (Holy Koran)

Example 2. Article 54 of the Constitution. (Constitution) 

 The state “….shall adopt necessary measures to attain the physical and spiritual health of the family, especially the child and mother, upbringing of children, as well as the elimination of related traditions contrary to the principles of the sacred religion of Islam”.

 

                  In the Holy Koran, God and the family responsible for the physical and spiritual health of everyone. “And when I am ill, it is He who restores me to health” Surah I-Shurara, 26:80.

While a westerner thinks the two mean the same, an average Afghan will not because of what is "not" written. It is carefully "not" written that children will be brought up according to Islamic Sharia law and tribal traditions. A state “eliminating traditions contrary to the principles of the sacred religion of Islam” is not the same as in accordance with Islamic law. For instance, a principle of Islam is a man does not mistreat any Muslim, women included. However, verse 4:34 of the Holy Koran says men are “in charge of women and should punish rebellious or disobedient women by admonishment and beatings (An-Nisa, 4:34)." Some analogous fiqhs, such as the Lahore Hanafi, have modernized the verse, suggesting beating women should be avoided. Some fiqhs might accept the new interpretations, but other fiqhs, such as the Deobandi, will be inclined to use the Ulema’s accepted text of the Holy Koran (Ingram, 2018; Quora, n.d; Ramsey, n.d.).

 On a practical level, by the constitution, the state could separate a man from his family if he does what the Holy Koran tells him to do. By both the Holy Koran and tribal traditions, the state does not have that right. A man has to fight back as a matter of honor because it could be interpreted as an attack on the religion and family. As taught by his mother, an Afghan male is duty-bound to fight if they feel an outside influence interferes with their men, women, or children. Yet, the constitution sanctioned the federal government to do just that.

 “And those who, when a wrong is done to them, defend themselves” Ayah ash-Shura, 42:39.

 

“And those who, when tyranny strikes them, they defend themselves” Surat I-Shura 42:39

 

“Except those [poets] who believe and do righteous deeds and remember Allah often and defend [the Muslims] after they were wronged. And those who have wronged are going to know to what [kind of] return they will be returned.” Surat I-Shura 26:227

 

                  The final example is an attempt to force Afghans to enshrine the United Nations' values as laws. The problem basis for their laws became the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). There were nine primary drafters of the UDHR; not one was a Muslim. In fact, all nine were communists, socialists, or progressives (U.N., 2020). Once again, while they all encouraged central governments to define moral values and shepherd their societies towards those values, the Holy Koran gives those duties to God and the Uma (Travis, 2005).

Example 3. Article 7of the constitution.

"The state shall abide by the UN Charter, international treaties, international conventions that Afghanistan has signed, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)." (Constitution) 

 

Article 2 of the UDHR says, everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms outlined in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status…..no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty." (UDHR)

 

While Article 7 of the Constitution binds Afghan citizens to Article 2 of the UDHR, the UDHR is significantly different from Islam's tenants. In less than fifteen minutes of research, I found the Islamic verses and Hadiths Al Baqarah: 106; Al Imran 157-159; Al Nisa: 89-92; Al-Ma'idah: 52-54; and 58-59; Al-Nahl: 107-112 in direct conflict with Article 2 of the UDHR.

Virtually all Afghans accept the Holy Koran, Sunnah, Al-Bukhari Hadiths, and Muslim Hadiths as laws. They also take tribal traditions as duties with the power of virtual laws. While no survey or poll has tested how many Afghans have read the constitution or knows what it says, I can say only two out of hundreds of "educated" Afghans I have met the last thirteen years read the constitution. What is the "real" law in Afghanistan to the average rural Afghan farmer?

Taliban.

While the Taliban represent tribal values and Islamic values, they have proven too ideologically intolerant and organizationally incapable of fairly and justly governing the 60% population with different fiqhs and ethnicities. GIRoA has had an overwhelming advantage financially, with media control, in information warfare, in technology, and political influence (with U.N., NATO, and the West), and militarily over the insurgency for the last TWENTY-ONE YEARS! The only state power the government does not have an advantage is culture. Taliban members live in the communities where they fight, govern, operate, and "attempt" to provide services, so they live by the same tribal and Islamic values as the average rural Afghan. In 2018, the Asia Foundation concluded that, on average, 25% of each district's population in Afghanistan had sympathy for the Taliban (2018 Asia Foundation Poll). (They either didn’t ask the question or didn’t report it in 2019 or 2020). As opposed to the government representatives who remain in forts, secured compounds, and protected outposts, the Taliban collectively have a presence in virtually every community.

Culture is proving to be enough to keep the Taliban in what should be a losing game.  Unfortunately, a victim of its informational warfare campaigns and institutional rigidness, the U.S. has not separated the two mutually exclusive characteristics of the Taliban. For instance, if one asks Google “why did the Taliban came to power “in 1992, the response in Wikipedia is because they were “motivated by the suffering among Afghan people." The statement is irrational. It was created by someone using modern social media to project their biased hatred of anyone associated the Deobandi fiqh, Pashtun, or Taliban, onto the world. Every American who uses Wikipedia will want to kill the “Taliban” because they think the people who support the Taliban live to “make people suffer." One may hate the Pashtun and Deoband Hanafi, but to validate one’s hatred through social media while denying the rural Pashtun innocent men, women, and children the right for representation is just as, if not more, unjust than what the Taliban did as a government. Unfortunately, in throwing out the bathwater called the Taliban, the U.S. has also thrown out the baby; the baby being those who don’t like the Taliban but don’t want to give up their family and Islamic values. Perhaps this would explain why a significant number of Afghans dislike the Taliban’s violence, but don't blame them for fighting the government.

While no one knows how many Afghans support the Taliban, there are some cultural clues. For twenty years, a critical, but overlooked cultural duty supports the analysis. To join any organization (including Taliban), an Afghan male or female "must" have the family elder's permission (father, mother, oldest uncle, oldest brother) and his/her mother’s permission. Thus, the Taliban members represent the values of the communities they come from – and the communities they come from identify with the Taliban members.

The tribal obligations play a significant role in the conflict. The Afghan government says there are 60,000 part-time Taliban fighters and a few thousand full-time fighters (DoD, 2020). That represents 480,000 direct family members (the average family is two parents and six children) with a tribal duty of both groups to support their children and siblings (Cultural Atlas, 2020). Sixty thousand fighters also represent 120,000 parents and elders, each parent having six siblings, each sibling with a family of six children, all equaling 4.3 million extended family members with a tribal duty to support “a” cousin, aunt, or uncle. Whether they agree with the fighter’s political views or not is irrelative regarding family and tribal duties (Blood, 2001). When you add the shop clerks and clan membership who support the families associated with the Taliban fighters, one sees that sympathy from 25% (about 8 million) of the population is likely (Asia Foundation 2018). Unfortunately for the Taliban, even though they share the same cultural values as most Afghans, outside of their communities they have proven to be too severe, incompetent, unjust, and inconsistent to be trusted as a government. The mixed polls indicate that while a large group of neutral people don't want to be governed by the Taliban, they don't necessarily disagree with the Taliban revolting against the government and its U.S. ally (Asia Foundation 2018).  

There is a misconception the Taliban live in sanctuaries in Pakistan, running back and forth to attack Afghanistan. The senior Taliban leadership are the ones who go in and out of Pakistan; if they didn't, they would die. The fact is their competitors from the north and Kabul have the use of overwhelming U.S. technical superiority to hunt them down and kill them. That is why the insurgency's real center of gravity is not its senior leadership, a small cadre of full-time fighters, or military power. Their center of gravity is their local part-time leaders, part-time local members, and local communities' willingness to support them with their sons, uncles, daughters, brothers, etc. While their counterparts in GIRoA only have to appease the U.S. and international donors to keep the money flowing to their pockets and the bombs falling on their enemy, the Taliban have to appease the elders and mothers for recruits, Zarkat/Usher (taxes), and political support.

The local nature of the Taliban organization’s creates a flat hierarchy. The flat organization gives it unbelievable resiliency because there is no single point, or few points, of failure. It also prevents them from being an effective government. They can’t mass resources to fight large campaigns, provide services to their constituency, standardize Sharia law, or standardize institutions efficiently or effectively. Also, the organizations are incredibly independent, limiting the central control capabilities of the Taliban leadership.

Ashley Jackson’s 2018 study “Life Under the Taliban Shadow Government” found the Taliban leadership to be relatively conscious that they did not do a good job of governing when they were the government (1996 and 2001). They understand the need to modernize and change. Just like there isn't enough educated and literate human capital in the Afghan society to run the government in Kabul, the Taliban organization doesn't have enough educated human capital to govern their communities by any consistent and acceptable standard. The middle leadership admitted they would need the resources of the current government to have a chance.  

The Peace Talks. 

There is an opportunity for peace in Afghanistan and a way forward – if the three stakeholders do what is right by the average, rural, Afghan Muslim tribesman. On the one hand, the average Afghan seems to be saying they want to live by their relative Islamic and tribal values they have historically believed in and still believe in; over half of them, though, rejecting the harshness of the Taliban’s fiqh. They also seem to be saying they want an honest, modern government capable of providing essential services to everyone regardless of ethnicity and Islamic fiqh; though, they don't want to give up their cultural values in exchange for the money from western donors. Finally, the neutral Afghans are saying they do want peace, but not at the expense of evolving into the future on their terms. For there to be peace, the following are critical events that would create what the average Afghan has been telling us they want.

1. Is Afghanistan going to be a “real” Islamic Republic or a progressive Democratic Welfare State? Is there any real indication that most Afghans want Afghanistan to be a social welfare state the Bush Doctrine implied? No. Do most Afghans want an Islamic state based on the ruthless execution of the Taliban’s jurisprudence? No. Do the people want to live by the same Islamic fiqh and tribal traditions their families have traditionally practiced while also having a fair, honest, and capable government? I think the evidence suggests a resounding "yes."

2. Based on the answer to (1) above, the constitution and government need to be adjusted to reflect the people’s desires. If the people want a social welfare state, the constitution as it stands will be adequate one references to Islam are removed (Travis, 2005). If the answer is number two, then the constitution should reflect Sharia law per the Deonband fiqh. If the answer is number three, the constitution should be written to accomplish the following:  

a. It should institutionalize and codify the common elements of the five Islamic fiqhs in Afghanistan and the common tribal traditions as national laws in the constitution. There will be potentially three losers and one winner with such a new constitution. The first losers will be the social progressive minorities because the values they slid into the first constitution will be under more scrutiny. The second loser would be the Taliban because even though the new constitution would be Sharia, it would be a negotiation with other fiqhs. Both the U.S. and GIRoA would lose because it means a step back from the perceived progress already made within the Kabul elite. The winners would be the majority of the people of Afghanistan.  

b. It should define the processes arbitrating the differences in fiqhs and tribal traditions. At least five large fiqhs of Islam are practiced in Afghanistan that I have researched (Hanafi Lahori, Hanafi Deobandi, Hanbali Salafism, Shiite Elevener, and Shiite Sevener), and thirteen tribes/ethnicities.

c. In line with defining jurisdictions based on fiqhs and ethnicities, the constitution should define the separation of powers between the federal government, regional governments, tribes, and Ulema. Provincial legislatures and courts should establish the laws not specified in the constitution. That would allow local citizens to be governed by their traditional fiqhs and tribal traditions.   

3. Once the Islamic and tribal values are codified, the Taliban should be allowed to compete for provincial and federal seats in the government like every other party. The government must allow the representation of the rural Pashtun Deobandi Hanafi population.  However, the Taliban must be tolerant of the other fiqhs. The Afghans I have fought with against the Taliban over the last twelve years were not fighting for a progressive welfare state, but to protect their values from the fear of the Taliban’s perceived attacks on their culture.

4.  No matter what the new government is, the U.S., NATO, and the U.N. should continue supporting Afghanistan as a rentier state. However, there is a need to relax the “cultural related” strings associated with the money. International organizations who tie funds to changes in cultural values and behaviors are deceivers. The population needs to evolve on their terms, not the west's, Kabul’s, or the Taliban’s terms. By linking funding to the forced adaption of foreign values, such as the change of women's rights from the Koran's definition to the UDHR’s definition, the U.S., U.N., and NATO are subtly attacking the religion and the tribal traditions of the average Afghan.   

5. The U.S. should agree to assist in running interference against unwanted external influences on the Afghan interim government and political entities. The Afghans have enough educated people to create a government representing the people, but they need the space to do so.

6. The U.S., NATO, and the west can no longer accept the government's corruption. After two decades of tolerating horrendous bribery, it has become apparent that it is not the less of two evils – it is an evil onto itself. If one wants "justice," then it is just as evil, if not more so, than the Taliban. There is no equality or justice for anyone when the government is so corrupt.

7. The U.S. needs to make policies based on the desires of the neutral, invisible majority of the population. The U.S. has to stop listening to the Kabuli elites' dire warnings, who suggest that if the U.S. leaves, the Taliban will take over the country. Though there aren’t many books describing what happened the day after Najibullah abdicated in 1992, the officers I have talked to who were in the security forces told me the government collapsed because the government elites leading the government and security forces took their money and ran. Their departure caused the collapse of the government, not a violent takeover. In 1996, after the Taliban pushed the Mujahadeen government out of  Kabul, what was left of the government collapsed. Once again, not because the Taliban arrested and killed everyone, but because the remaining bureaucrats took their money and ran. If the current government collapses, with or without the U.S., it will be because the current elites will take their money and leave – not because the Taliban will defeat them in battle. GIRoA elites want the status quo – they are the biggest benefactors of the current conflict. I would not expect them to let peace come to Afghanistan with any compromise at all. In fact, it would be to their advantage to purposefully sabotage a peace plan of any kind. 

An interesting “data” point that has never been recorded or reported is how many GIRoA ministers, generals, directors, and presidential advisors already have homes, families, and hefty bank accounts in the U.S., Dubai, Europe, Iran, Russia, or Quetta. In twelve years, I have not met a single government minister or security force leader in GIRoA who already does not have one foot outside the country and a significant nest egg set aside for their departure. Even those who gave up citizenship in another country to be a leader in Afghanistan have a refugee visa on hold. This is the progress we are trying to keep.

About the Author(s)

Mr. R.K. Lembke is a retired military officer who has spent the better part of the last twelve years as both a contractor and government employee in Afghanistan. From 2008 until the present, he has served in several advisor and analytical capacities in Kandahar, Uruzgan, Zabul, Khowst, Ghazni, Paktiya, Paktika, Logar, Nangahar, and Kabul Provinces. He is a Doctoral Candidate in business studying the relationship between Central Asian tribal values and organizational commitment.