Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

Promote peace talks, Afghan war is not a success

January 27, 2010

By guest writer Hanan Habibzai, an Afghan journalist and commentator based in London

afghanistanThe attack on Kabul on January 17, which took place only metres away from the Presidential Palace, was evidence that not only have the international community and the Afghan government failed to win the people’s hearts and minds, but also they have lost their trust. The military conflict has now reached even the heart of Kabul. It is hard to imagine anywhere safe in the whole country.

But at this time of intensification of conflict, a debate is taking place among Afghan parliamentarians questioning the presence of the US and NATO in Afghanistan. This is the anti-Western sentiment that the Taliban have for long been whispering into the ears of ordinary Afghans in the villages and valleys of the restive regions. Those Afghans who saw their children die, those who watched their women and elders in pools of blood, are increasingly becoming susceptible to this type of rhetoric.  Many are in the process of changing their minds about the international troops.

The military commanders say that they have now made “protecting civilians” their priority, but just last month, 10 children were killed during a night-time raid carried out by US-special forces in eastern Kunar Province. As long as these incidents keep happening public anger against the US presence in Afghanistan will continue to grow.

Military attacks carried out by foreigners and that result in the killing of civilians are an insult to Afghans’ traditions and beliefs. In many instances, when the local population accuse international forces of killing civilians, the troops deny it and often dismiss evidence provided by Afghans. Also commonly heard is that troops were targeting terrorists in a raid, even when the victims are school children, or mothers with young children.

Sadly these tradgedies overshadow the killing of civilians in suicide attacks  by the Taliban – preventing the public mourning of the innocents who lose their lives in such attacks. It has given cover to Taliban attacks that result in civilian killings across the country. Ordinary Afghans are now only talking against US military behaviour and forget attacks by Taliban which have killed hundreds of civilians. 

In 2003 and 2004, I was reporting for international media agencies on clashes between two notorious warlords in the north, Rashid Dostom and Atta Mohammad. At the time I regarded the American presence in Afghanistan as crucial for protecting the country from war criminals and for helping to bring stability to the country. But now, I have begun to lose hope. The international security forces are creating such a terrifying atmosphere that it is hard for people to sleep at night.

These days, when I watch state-run Afghan TV, which is funded by American money, I am surprised by how openly Afghan experts criticize US military tactics in Afghanistan. This is new. A recent discussion program featured an influential historian and supporter of President Karzai, Habibullah Rafi. Rafi was talking about civilian casualties and warning American troops to end their animosity towards Afghan people.  The other guest, parliamentarian Iqbal Safi, warned that if American troops continue to kill civilians, they will face the same fate as the Red Army, which left Afghanistan, defeated, and shamed.The MP’s anger was clearly visible. The tension between Afghans and Americans is just beginning to surface but both countries are yet to see the terrible consequences of the discrepancy.

 Americans should stop their stubborn approach in Afghanistan and take a more diplomatic and talk oriented track.

Afghan Taliban should be brought to the political process and should be recognised as a political entity in Afghanistan.

Traditionally, mosques are run and controlled by Mullahs and historically they have enormous impact on peoples’ opinion in Afghanistan. One of the most effective ways to achieve stability in Afghanistan is to win the support of Mullahs and of influential religious leaders.  I recommend that the international community negotiates with Taliban.  War alone will never produce a brighter future for Afghans; it can only result in the loss of more and more lives.

Only when the violence ebbs will the torch of democracy be lit. As long as the fear and instability spreads, as long as each family is mourning a loss, so the enmities will deepen between families and tribes, and between the US and Afghanistan. Negotiation is always going to be more productive than violence.  

Some will say that the Taliban are too cruel, and that if they become a part of the government, they may not allow women to go to work or school. Others will say that before negotiations there needs to be political reform to remove the warlords who massacred thousands, and some of whom were backed by the United States. There will be questions, and concerns. But in spite of these, there can be no doubt that what Afghans want more than anything is for the violence and killing to stop.  The London conference is the perfect opportunity for a decisive move towards negotiations and peace talks.


This article only mouthpiece of Afghan government’s lies about peace. You only said negatives of the Taliban and US.
Recall that killings of civilians all the time in this government right from December 2001. Why the killings by international troops became a problem only when Obama took charge in the US?? All this only a game by those in Kabul and they want people not to focus on the stolen billions and crimes against humanity by your favored government in Kabul.

Posted by Ahsan Mohsin | Report as abusive

This article focusing a right issue and raised a real need.


Mr Habibzai says: ” Americans should stop their stubborn approach in Afghanistan and take a more diplomatic and talk oriented track.

Afghan Taliban should be brought to the political process and should be recognised as a political entity in Afghanistan.

Traditionally, mosques are run and controlled by Mullahs and historically they have enormous impact on peoples’ opinion in Afghanistan. One of the most effective ways to achieve stability in Afghanistan is to win the support of Mullahs and of influential religious leaders. I recommend that the international community negotiates with Taliban. War alone will never produce a brighter future for Afghans; it can only result in the loss of more and more lives.

I agree with his point. I believe this is the time that the Afghan government and the international community take an holistic approach and try ,as much as possible, to bring the armed opposition into political process.

Posted by Fazel | Report as abusive

What if The People of Afghanistan Could Choose Whether to Have U.S. Troops on its Soil?

Any publicity or promoting of the below proposal is appreciated. It seeks for Afghan citizens to decide for themselves via a referendum whether they wish U.S. or other foreign troops to be in their country. Besides any publicizing/promoting in the U.S., if you or colleagues know of individuals/organizations/political parties/media/government officials in Afghanistan who might help in this effort, please pass this information along. Earlier related work concerning U.S. troops in Iraq led to a relevant bill introduced to the U.S. Congress—and eventually the Iraqis decided to have such a referendum. Thanks, Neil

“The Power of Scout”
Neil Wollman; Ph. D.; Senior Fellow, Bentley Alliance for Ethics and Social Responsibility; Bentley University; Waltham, MA, 02452;; 260-568-0116
———————————————————————————————————————— ———————————————————————————————————————— ———————————————————————

Published on Thursday, January 7, 2010 by
What If The People Of Afghanistan Could Choose?
by Cliff Kindy & Neil Wollman
After an intense review, President Obama recently ordered about thirty thousand more U.S. troops to Afghanistan. The question is, should this decision have been made by the U.S. government? The goals for the United States are to prevent an Al Qaida threat in the homeland and to stabilize the Afghan situation, allowing for some level of central government control and a face-saving withdrawal. But who else could or should have weighed in on this decision, and what are their motivations?
The Afghan government realizes that any downsizing of the U.S. presence could threaten its hold on political power. President Karzai recently stated that he expects the U.S. military presence to continue until 2024. The U.S. public is split, mainly along party lines, between those who want an early withdrawal of troops to prevent a quagmire, and those who support the U.S. military presence and fear that withdrawal would squander the investment already made.
The missing voice among these acknowledged players is that of the Afghan public. No country can impose on another a decision that country cannot abide. History is filled with attempts by strong powers to force actions upon weaker ones. This has worked sometimes in the short run, but usually crashes in the long term. The power of democracy is its dependence upon the will of the people who are impacted by a decision.
Indeed, the Afghan citizenry seems to have no say, yet is the group that stands to gain or lose the most from the U.S. occupation. Modern warfare kills and wounds more local civilians than armed actors (about 80 percent, compared to 20 percent). Yet those civilians have little or no ability to choose their own participation.
What if Afghani citizens were to determine whether the U.S. military continues a surge or withdraws troops? Certainly this is a fitting step in encouraging democracy. It would also provide the incentive for Afghanis to really own and support a chosen policy on the ground. And perhaps the Afghanis themselves know best how to create a stable nation that does not house terrorists.
In January 2010, Iraq was to hold a referendum on withdrawing the remaining U.S. troops. This plan was scrapped when it became clear it would only reduce U.S. presence by a few months and so was not worth the logistic and financial costs. If a referendum on U.S. troop presence is of merit for Iraqi citizens, is it not also for Afghans, before U.S. troops become more firmly entrenched there?
Who knows what the Afghans would decide if the choice was theirs. Poll results in Afghanistan have varied by region and ethnicity, with a fairly large margin of error. But Afghanistan could hold a national binding referendum on U.S. military presence at the same time as planned parliamentary elections in September. (Given the experience of their last public vote, for president, improved preparations and precautions are needed.) First, the U.S. President or Congress must assert their intent to open a space to hear the voice of the Afghan people. They could encourage Afghan lawmakers to consider such a referendum as a way of respecting the will of the people and of seeking the support of their own citizens.
Would a referendum change the dynamics of the war? If the Afghanis voted to keep troops there, then the U.S. could expect better cooperation from the public (in both Afghanistan and the U.S.) and would be confident it is respecting the will of the citizens. (This is especially so if there is strong voter participation and the results show a wide margin.) It might also convince mainly skeptical world opinion and governments to provide more military and other aid. If the Afghanis voted against the troops remaining in Afghanistan, and the U.S. honors that, again we are respecting what Afghanis want for their own country. Then U.S. options might include undertaking training of police and military personnel; providing support for building the country’s economic, political, and educational systems; and making payments to militia in the same way that the U.S., perhaps in large part, bought its way out of an insurgency in Iraq. Significant resources could be made available in all these ways if there was no combat presence to financially support.
Our nation asserts that it sends its military overseas to protect freedoms at home and promote freedom and democracy elsewhere. The United States can take another step toward democracy in the world by encouraging it in Afghanistan—and it might even bring other benefits, as well. The United States can let the people of Afghanistan choose.
Cliff Kindy is an organic market gardener and has for the last twenty years worked frequently with Christian Peacemaker Teams in the war zones of the world. [1]
Neil Wollman is Senior Fellow, Bentley Alliance for Ethics and Social Responsibility, Bentley University, and the author of a 2005 op ed suggesting that Iraqis hold a referendum concerning U.S. troop presence. [2]

Note to readers: Please direct all communication to the Neil Wollman.
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Posted by neil jay wollman | Report as abusive

Why do’nt we have a refrendum in the United States if the citizens would accept the Chinese army in their midst for law and order, avoid street killings? Perhaps they should be given the alternative of becoming a real parlimentary democracy within the commonwealth and accepting Queen Elizabeth as the head of state, instead of the current Kenyan and future hispanic President.
What business is of the US to hold referendum in Iraq and Afghanistan? Have you no respect for the history of the Pashtoon land, there are more foreigners buried in the valleys than the natives.Why does’nt America look after its poors instead of stealing children from Haiti as if the slaves brought from Africa and immigrants from the world are not enough. The christian churches are well advised to heed to the third commandment of God almighty, ” Though shall not use God’s name in vain. Lest you regret the day when the wrath of God will come to your blessed land!!

Have a nice day.

Posted by rex minor | Report as abusive

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