Writers pressure Obama over Afghanistan

A ‘new beginning will not be possible as long as we continue to spill the blood of the men, women, and children of Afghanistan,’ warns this message from notable American writers which appears in The Nation and the New York Review of Books.notthistime5.

Author: Idrees Ahmad

I am a Lecturer in Digital Journalism at the University of Stirling and a former research fellow at the University of Denver’s Center for Middle East Studies. I am the author of The Road to Iraq: The Making of a Neoconservative War (Edinburgh University Press, 2014). I write for The Observer, The Nation, The Daily Beast, Los Angeles Review of Books, The Atlantic, The New Republic, Al Jazeera, Dissent, The National, VICE News, Huffington Post, In These Times, Le Monde Diplomatique, Die Tageszeitung (TAZ), Adbusters, Guernica, London Review of Books (Blog), The New Arab, Bella Caledonia, Asia Times, IPS News, Medium, Political Insight, The Drouth, Canadian Dimension, Tanqeed, Variant, etc. I have appeared as an on-air analyst on Al Jazeera, the BBC, TRT World, RAI TV, Radio Open Source with Christopher Lydon, Alternative Radio with David Barsamian and several Pacifica Radio channels.

13 thoughts on “Writers pressure Obama over Afghanistan”

  1. I would urge the signatories to watch this video before urging negotiations with the Taliban. It is extremely informative and I think mandatory viewing for any who would opine on this situation. The one caveat I have is that Saira Shah is the daughter of The Sufi and was NEVER in any danger from the Taliban. They wouldn’t have harmed a hair on her head. Other than that one bit of not strictly honest presentation, this is a must see.

    Also, I don’t know if we, the United States, can be trusted to do as Sarah Chayes implores, but I would think all lovers of peace and humanity would consider it before negotiating with the Taliban.

    I am a bloodcurdlingly vivid peacenik, but defense of life is paramount, no matter how violent.

    I wish so hard that we could have a convention of actual adult humans — as distinguished from fully-grown and only posing as adults — to address this.

  2. The simple fact of the matter is that we are not in a position to defeat the Taliban. That leaves us with only two options-continuing the futile and unwinnable war in Afghanistan (and killing more Afghanis civilians, and driving ebven more Afghanis back to the Taliban,) or trying to find some way to settle things out. This means, of course, that the Taliban must be negotiated with. It really doesn’t matter whether or not we have distaste for the Taliban anymore, because we spent years listening to Chimpy and the MSM telling us all about how we “won” in Afghanistan while the Taliban re-established itself. We cannot dislodge them, so the best we can hope for is to quiet them.

  3. I think my links make it plain they won’t be quieted. And I think Chayes’ idea about merely guarding the Afghanis from the Taliban and government corruption while sending in legions of seasoned administrators to help them form government institutions that can function and keep functioning is the best way to make reparations for the hash * made of it. It involves keeping our mitts off their assets and not torturing prisoners and using our heads. It does not require such a build-up of forces and limits NATO troops to playing the white hats to the Taliban’s black hats.

    That is without question a better way to go forward than negotiating with the Taliban. Their history is too appalling. The ENTIRE reason the Afghanis have put up with us so long has been because we were supposedly liberating them from the Taliban.

    We should be urging Obama and NATO and the UN to get the good will of the people back. Unseat the puppet Karzai, and get international experts in to help establish them in building a government that can withstand the murderating maniacs who have oppressed them since their brilliant victory over the Soviets. We actually OWE them that, since we were the ones who empowered them from the start.

    It isn’t peaceful to be so glib about the complete travesty we have made of life in Afghanistan. It’s just heedless of the responsibility we have incurred and the lives of our victims. Chayes’ plan is actually Nobel material if anyone will grow up enough to implement it.

  4. merely guarding the Afghanis from the Taliban and government corruption

    Isn’t that what all colonial armies do? They are always guarding the benighted brutes against their own worst excesses. Wasn’t Kurtz also in the Congo to civilize the natives and protect against other brutes?

    I’m afraid the only thing your links make plain is that your assumptions are based on poor sources. Sarah Chayes may have lived in Afghanistan for 7 years, but she appears no more knowledgeable about the region or its politics than Paul Bremer would be if he were to spend 6 more years in the Green Zone. Westerners, in particular Americans, live in a bubble in Afghanistan. They are invariably surrounded by people who are pining for a career, a future in California, and if possible a green card. The natives are usually shrewed enough to validate the white savior’s messianic self-image by telling them all that they think they want to hear. You must hear a real Afghani for a change. You are not likely to hear them on PBS, or BBC, so you might want to consider watching Al Jazeera. Also, the nonsense about the Taliban being ‘created’ by the ISI should be enough to discredit someone as a commentator on Afghanistan. The Taliban wasn’t created by anyone; it was armed and aided by the Pakistan, Saudis and the US, yes. And it wasn’t the ISI that did it (ISI was betting on a different horse — Gulbudin Hekmatyar of Hizb-e-Islami), it was the pakistani Interior Ministry, under Naseerullah Babar that did it (during Benazir Bhutto’s second term as Prime Minister).

    SARAH CHAYES: There is a direct link between Afghanistan and 9/11. I don’t think Afghanistan is an isolated place. Afghanistan is very connected to its neighbors, in particular to Pakistan. I don’t think that we can afford to leave this region alone to fester…

    Give me a break!

    As regards Saira Shah, I don’t have the patience for her brand of sensational tabloid journalism. Earlier she did a documentary on Palestine where she presented the Palestinians as implacable extremists, whose children hate ‘the Jews’ and whose pathological quest for martyrs led to the unnecessary death of her camera man (James Miller).

    I chose to skip the film after seeing the same old footage of the football stadium execution. The execution was horrific — no more or less than any other execution. In the US she’d have got the lethal injection (her crime, which incidentally is never mentioned in these reports, was to have stabbed her husband to death in his sleep). Yeah, the Taliban’s law and order system was brutal. But there was a law and order system. At present there is none. Also, it wasn’t inevitable that the Taliban should have turned out this way. It was more a function of their isolation. They could have been engaged, and moderated by making aid conditional on improvements in behaviour. Instead they were ostracized, and the only funding they received was from extremist Wahhabis. But the Taliban of 2000, is not the Taliban of 2009. Today it is an expansive term, which encompasses all the ethnic pashtun resistance. The solution will have to be a regional one, and it can’t but include this significant power block. Anything else would be illusory and ephemeral. Force will not make them submit. Inducements might.

  5. I welcome your point about Chayes in a bubble. It is well taken. When I watch PBS nowadays, I just completely discount anything they say about 9/11. I am already positive that we created the Taliban, but I do also know that we work with and through the ISI too often and so can’t immediately agree with the veracity of your point on that. Certainly they were not the sole creators, if they were involved, and there are indications they were.

    I thought Chayes did a great job of distinguishing her ideas about helping instead of hindering from the stupid colonialist POV. While I also bridle at the notion of anyone saying brown people are incapable of self-governance, it’s been made pretty clear over the last three decades that the Afghani people want a secular society, and for the tribal people to be able to have their own ways in their own places. They are so poor and so beaten down by the war against the Soviets, followed by brutal repression by the Taliban, followed by this fucking obscene mess from NATO, primarily * and Fudd’s filthy fuckups, that they LITERALLY don’t stand a chance of building the government they want… should say REbuilding it, because they DID have it for a short while.

    Americans and Russians are culpable as hell. I realize doing the right thing might be more than our asshole capitalist pig leaders can put together and sustain, but regardless of what an idiot Saira Shah might be [the video I linked was all I know of her work] and I was pissed that she omitted mention of her father being THE most revered man in Afghanistan, by virtually everyone for his whole life. That was a big omission.

    Even if you discount a woman stabbing her husband to death in his sleep, which battered women will do, being executed that way, it does not erase all the abductions and rapes of girls by the Taliban then being thrown into the street to starve to death or mercifully just being killed on the spot, or all the men being beaten for shaving, etc. That was not a government of consent and I hope to heck you are right about the New Taliban because that’s what it looks like we will end up with. If they aren’t the same maniacal fucks, then I can agree they are capable of governing well, maybe even with the consent of the governed.

    It still leaves the problem of crushing poverty, no infrastructure, no hope of non-corrupt authority, all kinds of awful problems that the culpable should definitely try to help address if at all humanly possible.

  6. I’m trying to recall for sure, but I think Chayes even mentioned the support should be given for whatever government they want, not even necessarily democratic. That’s my stance too. It’s important only that the people are okay with it, and that’s not always a democracy by a long shot.

  7. Sheesh. I guess I really should have been more careful to keep your whole response in mind, address everything in one fell swoop, but, er, I never fail to visit al-Jazeera and try to watch as many of their videos as possible. I trust them more than I trust any American MSM news sources.

    I had a far better than average grasp on the recent history of Afghanistan before that source became available to me. I may not know from Saira Shah’s particular brand of “journalism” but I know a heck of a lot about her father, and everything he had to say about his native country. If it can be said that I revere a certain people over the others in this world, the Afghans would be the one.

    I do not want us to be at war with them, not because we will lose, but because of the filthy destruction we bring about on our way to losing.

    What I’m talking about is giving them back the vital energy and ability to maintain their own stability with the least amount of further suffering, the most help, with the least harm, and I don’t think that can possibly be achieved by negotiating even with a new, less repressive, Taliban. Even in the best case, it would take them many times longer to emerge from this misery without the kind of help that is owed them.

  8. And, dammit, why is it always so much easier to leave the wretched to whatever cruel fate than to FIX the forces that made them that way?

    In this instance, all signatories hereinabove, are actually stumping for leaving Afghanis starving and homeless and broken, instead of slapping down the “defense” industry fucks who made them that way.

    It’s unerring! Same with illegal immigration. People always choose to let the workers, illegal and legal, suffer, or even make them pay, besides suffering, because they can’t conceive of battling the forces that CREATE the situation; to wit: the plutocrats who use them.

    I want us to start thinking outside the same old stupid boxes, and maybe I’m just projecting, but I think Chayes was getting at that. For fucking once, someone was getting at that.

    I promise I’m going to shut up now. Sorry.

  9. but I do also know that we work with and through the ISI too often and so can’t immediately agree with the veracity of your point on that.

    I suggest you go with facts, rather than impressions. As i said, nobody ‘created’ the Taliban. They were a product of the Afghan war. Their leadership were former anti-Soviet veterans, their foot-soldiers orphaned Talibs (seminary students, hence the name), from Pakistani madrassas. They were aided and abetted by the Pakistani interior ministry. The ISI had a different horse in the race, but once Taliban started establishing themselves, then they received full ISI backing (which after all is an agency of the Pakistan state, whose avowed strategy has been the establishment of ‘strategic depth’).

    Even if you discount a woman stabbing her husband to death in his sleep, which battered women will do, being executed that way

    First of all there is a colonial feminist assumption here. I don’t know if she was battered by her husband, do you? From what was written at the time, she was in an adulterous relationship and preempted the husband finding out by doing him in. This may or may not be true, and I have no way of knowing. And I am assuming their legal system was no less flawed than say the one in the states. Capital punishment is always ugly, regardless of the means. But since we have a point of agreement in our concern for life, it is worth bearing in mind that the only period of relative peace in the past 3 decades of Afghanistan’s history was under the first few years of the Taliban. I agree, they were brutal, but not nearly as much as those presently ruling Afghanistan (and I’m not talking about Karzai, he doesn’t even rule his neighborhood in Kabul).

    it does not erase all the abductions and rapes of girls by the Taliban then being thrown into the street to starve to death or mercifully just being killed on the spot

    Not sure where you got that story from. The Taliban came to power precisely because they put an end to the abductions and rapes of girls. That is how the career of Mullah Omer was launched. His villagers turned to him to rescue a girl abducted by a warlord. He took some of his fellow anti-Soviet vets, found the warlord, had the girls released and hung the assailant by the barrel of a tanks gun. Thus began the Taliban.

    As for her journalism, I am not sure one can quite call it that: for instance, she attributes ‘massacres’ of villagers to the Taliban, yet her only evidence is a statement from the rival Northern Alliance warlords — the people the Taliban had just driven out!

    There can’t be a resolution which does not involve the Taliban. And a resolution is not for the West to impose. The Taliban are part of the Afghan fabric now, excluding them is merely a recipe for prolonged conflict. The Talibans excesses were in the first place a response to their ostracization. Integration and conditional aid is more likely to bear results.

  10. I don’t think that is what they are suggesting. As they say, they want to assist in the ‘moral and physical rebuilding’ of Afghanistan. Which is an eminently sensible suggestion. What is not sensible is to assume that the prolonging of the occupation would somehow improve the Afghanis lot. That would be like asking a rapist to adopt the victims children.

  11. I went back and listened to Chayes on that video with Moyers again and find, in light of your criticism that, yes, she really does sound too colonialcentric and demanding of our kind of democracy, and, no, she didn’t stress that the government she proposes we prop up with expert retired mayors and administrators from around the world could be whatever government, but fixing the corrupt one there now. So I am guilty of letting my relief for someone with some no-nonsense adult suggestions for a reasonable way forward muddle my recognition of the negative factors in her pitch. That doesn’t undermine the decency of the general thrust of her ideas for materially raising the lot of Afghani citizens though.

    I say we created the Taliban because we were there empowering the mujahideen who turned a little too heavily in the chest thumping department after succeeding against the Soviets. I think you and I are talking about the same genesis in different lingo. I worked with a guy for quite some time who has been at pains to point out the tight links between our CIA, our intelligence community in general, and the ISI. Pakistan did not sit idly south while the Soviets were pounding north, and given the relationship they, the ISI, do have with the CIA, which was heavily involved in helping the mujahideen, I feel okay about asserting they had a hand in its creation, but that does not matter. It’s immaterial.

    There’s all sorts of evidence the ISI had heavily to do with the workings of the ruse or the reality of Islamic hijackers on 9/11, and the Taliban, I think, did harbor OBL, and that, of course, is everyone’s excuse for blaming Afghanistan for 9/11, even if all that end was complete fiction or only partly fiction. This too is immaterial.

    I suppose I could be the victim of our Pravdaesque media on the matter of girls being abducted, raped, killed, left in the street, and men being beaten and executed for infractions like shaving, and all the women who have gone there, like Chayes, are/were living in bubbles and believing wild tales told to them by women and men who wanted a ticket out. That’s a real possibility, made more believable by things like blown up Buddhist sculptures into the rock faces from antiquity and decimated poppy crops for people with not one part of a chance to make a living otherwise. As for the executed husband stabber, my point was not about the one per se so much as about the tendency of battered wives to kill their husbands in their sleep… even if she were an adulteress, that could have been the result of or the cause of her infidelity, or not. It’s immaterial.

    And I’ve already allowed as how it might not be possible to get our leaders and military to function in the perfectly reasonable manner suggested.

    I just don’t think it’s right not to come at Obama from every angle about doing the right sort of stuff instead of escalating a war there, or just leaving them worse off than before, even if the new Taliban is not as vicious as the old one.

    I get your point about the rapist adopting his victim’s children, but I’m talking about the international community, not the U.S. alone. So happens the U.S. started it and would have to lead in the way of a new approach. It would be NATO, which I would like to see dissolved, at least, but better the U.N. mustering the kind of support needed to get the general population as healthy and secure as possible before bugging out… if any of them are yet willing to even brook another big idea from foreigners. It can’t be “The War in Afghanistan”. It needs to be “The International Effort to Restore Afghanistan”.

    I’m not talking imperialism, or colonialism, or racism, or even American-style democracy. I’m talking about means and sustenance as reparation and liberation. When everyone is eating and functioning they can sort out what from what for themselves. Before that they will be sorting out by dying of starvation or of the violence in the scramble for filling the power void.

    Mayhap we could negotiate with the Taliban to help us, us meaning the world, put it together there for the people, and THEN if the people want them, fine, but NOT just go in and try to make deals they will be under no constraint to keep. What? We will bug out if you promise to be nice, and, yes, yes, they promise, and we bug out, and, oops, not so nice…. Do we go back and bomb the snot out of them for breaking their word? No. Does this pretty much just blow how many thousands of lives too close to the edge right now? Yes.

    We or Britain or Russia have always been fucking with them, and can never win. They have always beaten everyone but never win either. What the hell is wrong with all of us guilty fuckers growing up, putting together to do the right thing and let everyone have their victory, their DECENT lives, for a damn change?

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