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Reply To ZZ: Pakistan and Taliban

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    Reply To ZZ: Pakistan and Taliban

    >1) do u agree that afghan nation is a victim of proxy war where taliban is proxy army of pakistan?

    Afghanistan is definitely a victim of a proxy war. It has been a victim of proxy wars for close to 30 years now. Is the Taliban a proxy army of Pakistan? I think there are some very strong links between the Taliban and Pakistan, especially in the initial stages of its evolution. Does Pakistan pull the strings or have any significant say in the policies of the Taliban as they stand today - no, I don't think so. The Taliban today are an independent entity. They are forging a separate path from Pakistan, at times a path even in direct conflict with Pakistan.

    The creation of the Taliban can be attributed to various international players, including USA, Soviet Union, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. During the course of the Soviet/US war, fought on Afghan soil, young refugees joined the ranks of various mujahideen factions, with the full support of the US. After the end of the Cold War, one super-power dissolved (Soviet Union), while another became disengaged (US). They left Afghanistan a mess. Today Afghanistan can boast:

    1. One of the highest infant mortality rates in the world and the highest birth rates.
    2. 30% of young Afghans suffer from malnutrition, 10% are severely undernourished.
    3. 50 percent of the countries villages have been destroyed.
    4. Approximately 1.5 million people killed.
    5. Some 20 percent of women widowed.
    6. Over two million people disabled.
    7. Afghans still hold the record (for 19 years now) for being the largest refugee caseload in the world.
    8. As many as 2 million children have died over the years in the fighting, or from malnutrition or disease brought on by the conflict - a figure that rivals casualties sustained by more populous nations during World War II.
    9. Another million children have been orphaned or have lost their bread winning fathers.
    10. 3% of Afghan children are blind.

    After Zia's mysterious death (read assassination), Benazir switched her influence from Zia supported Hekmaytar (who received an estimated 6 million US dollars in funding) to the creation of the Taliban. This is where Pakistan came into the picture. The Taliban were supported by various other players, including the US and Saudi Arabia. Each had its own reason to level their support to the Taliban. Pakistan can not be looked at as the sole creator or supporter of the Taliban:

    Pakistan has supported the Taliban for various reasons. Pakistan hosts the largest refugee population in the world. With growing ethnic tensions and the fear of the Balkanization of Pakistan, it was in Pakistan's interest to levy support to an entity which had the potential of uniting Afghanistan and providing secure access to the markets of Central Asia.

    US - supported the Taliban, in order to continue the Great Game they left off in the 80's against the USSR. The US still wants a friendly buffer in Central Asia - Afghanistan is that buffer - it provides a buffer not only to the USSR but also to Iran. Thus Iran's animosity towards the Taliban, which it has always viewed as a US entity. Also the US wants access to billions of dollars of oil in Central Asia - to be exact the number is 2 trillion dollars of estimated oil (over 100 billion barrels). The companies involved in the race to build a pipeline across Central Asia, through Afghanistan and Pakistan included Amoco, BP, Chevron, Exxon, Mobile, and Unocal - with Unocal taking the lead. The US also supported the Taliban's commitment to fighting the drug trade. The US even commissioned a letter indicating it may re-open its embassy after the Taliban took Kabul (it later retracted the statements).

    Pakistan has definitely interfered in the politics of Afghanistan - but I think some of there reasons for doing so were legitimate - and there intentions were not purely altruistic. The picture is more complex than it may initially look. Saying that the Taliban is a Pakistani supported group doesn't do justice to the historical evolution which helped shape the Taliban.

    >2) Don't u think afghan attitude of not letting women work or study is highly retrograde.

    Since its a personal question, I'll answer it. Yes I do. But who am I to judge. I have my own perceptions of what's right and what's wrong. Those perceptions are shaped by my own world-view. Afghan's have very different perceptions. There Pushtun culture and the tribal laws of Pushtunwali dictate the way they live there lives and have done so for centuries. The problem with people today is that they view the policies of the Taliban in isolation of the culture of Afghans. The fact is that even before the Taliban came into existence women did not (for the most part) work or study - it wasn't part of their culture. This is especially evident if you talk to a relief worker who worked with refugees in Pakistan - one of the greatest obstacles was, and continues to be, allowing girls to be educated and women to work (especially widows who have no way of supporting themselves). If you want to judge Taliban's policies you should at least examine the way Afghan society oriented itself vis a vis gender relations pre-Taliban - it wasn't much different. In fact the number one reason cited by Afghans for leaving their homeland and seeking refuge after the Russian invasion was the compulsory female schooling policies of the communist controlled Afghanistan.

    Besides all this talk is the simple fact that Afghanistan has been for the last 20 years at war (both civil and international). Females don't have the chance to think about education, there too busy trying to survive, feed their children and avoid mines (Afghanistan incidentally has the most mines, than any other country in the world).

    >3) Don't u think that taliban laws are crude and they have no room for disagreement.

    There is no law in Afghanistan. The Taliban don't have courts, they don't have lawyers and they don't have a specific legal system. What exists is a tribal system, where loyal jirga's decide the fate of the accused. Prior to the coming of the Taliban, the people of Kabul were starving to death. There was a blockade of food - the Taliban opened that up. There was also no laws. Thugs ruled locales. They instituted their own brand of justice, raping women, looting and killing innocent people. This was unheard of prior to the Afghan-Russia war. This is one of the things that the Taliban wanted to root out. Thus some of the rather draconian laws. No I don't support such draconian laws. But in a time of lawlessness, I can understand how they have come to exist.

    >4) And mainly do u support taliban and role of pakistan in internal problems of afghanistan?

    This is a tough question. At this moment I support the Taliban because I see no alternative. If the Taliban can unite Afghanistan, bring peace to the region, than perhaps there is a chance to rebuild the country and develop the infrastructure necessary for Afghans to function as human beings. This is the same answer that I get from most Afghans I talk to. The only ones who object are the non-Pushtuns, this of course has more to do with ethnic relations.

    As far as Pakistan is concerned, I don't think the problems in Afghanistan were "internal". They definitely were international - the Soviet invasion, the US support of guerillas and Pakistan's role as a intermediary and ally to the US internationalized the conflict. Pakistan's involvement therefore should be viewed as part of a larger picture. Pakistan took in the largest refugee population in modern history. A population which became and continues to be highly militarized and armed. The refugees are a group with strong ties to Pakistan's own Pushtun's. This lead to Pakistan's involvment, after seeing no end in the war in Afghanistan, Pakistan helped create the Taliban - to help insure that peace would come to its neighbor and the refugee population it supports (currently 1.2 million, perhaps more) returns to Afghanistan, removing the immense pressure placed on Pakistan's weak infrastructure. That plus the opening of trade routes to Central Asia. I don't fully support Pakistan's involvement, but I understand it.
    Its not really a black and white affair. This whole thing is one giant mess. I could write pages about this, but I'll stop here before I write a novel.


    It is all overanalyzing not such a complex problem. The problem is that Taliban don’t call their rule a cultural takeover but a “right” bestowed upon them by Allah. Making generalizations that Pathan culture does not support education of females couldn’t be farther from the truth. Pashtun is a male-dominated ethnic group, but this banning of female education is not a cultural norm, but a direct result of religious teachings in the Madrassas of Peshawar. If Pathans were so opposed to educating their females, no one would have heard of Begum Wali Khan, and other notable Pathan politicians, artists, and singers.

    Taliban do not deserve any international support or recognition. Pakistan will be better off solving its own mess than interfering in Afghanistan.

    Viewing atrocities committed against human beings through a cultural paradigm is a foolish way of looking at things.

    The real problems of Afghanistan (poverty, illiteracy, malnutrition, etc.,) do not require solutions that Taliban are exhorting. Twenty years is a long time to sit, do nothing, blame the USA, and be the largest exporter of illicit drugs. If Taliban are serious in building their nation, they should abandon their primitive views and seek recognition through good intentions and deeds and not through their support of terrorism and ill treatment of women.


      The Necessity to Over-Analyze

      Afghanistan and the situation it finds itself in today is no doubt complex. There is no such thing as over-analyzing - if you fail to over-analyze you also fail to see the entire picture. The problems of Afghanistan are not solely the cause of any one factor - Cold War and post Cold War fall out, ethnic rivalry, religious revival and gender relations are just a few of the issues you have to deal with when you confront Afghanistan.

      Laying Blame

      In order to understand what is happening today you have to lay some blame - most are in consensus, laying blame towards the US, USSR, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Iran, for the mess in Afghanistan.

      "People in the West blame the Afghanis, the mujahadeen, the Taliban for what is happening in Afghanistan, they do not see how they are implicated, they do not see that their political and economic interests and their politicians, as well as the interests of Afghanistan's neighbors have created the Afghanistan today. They [non-Afghanis] will not accept responsibility for how they are implicated in the plight of Afghanistan and the conditions of Afghan women." (Adeena Niazi, President of Afghan Women's Association, Toronto, 1997)

      In terms of the US - envoys were sent to Pakistan periodically to discuss affairs in Afghanistan with the Taliban. It is also reported that 20 million US dollars were spent by the US Congress to destabilize Afghanistan and filtered through the Taliban. The problem was the Pakistan/US experiment with the Taliban backfired - the Taliban evolved into an independent entity.

      Extremism and Moderation within the Taliban

      There exists different degrees of extremism and moderation amongst the Taliban themselves. Some Taliban stress that there observations of the sharia is the only legitimate interpretation of Islam, others however argue that "many of the stricter rules are a part of their own Afghan heritage and Pashtunwali, Pashtun tribal law." (Far Eastern Economic Review, August 7, 1997, page 53). Nancy Hatch Dupree (probably the most respected authority on Afghanistan from the Western world) writes,

      "In the Taliban areas of Afghanistan there are Taliban and there are Taliban. There is everything from the most conservative fanatics to rational moderates. There is no unanimous policy, so what you can and cannot do depends on where you are." (The Women of Afghanistan, Nancy Hatch Dupree, UNDP).

      Educating the Taliban

      Many of the Taliban were brought up in refugee camps and did attend Deobandi oriented madrassas in Peshawar. They were brought up in a highly militarized environment, where guns were more important than books. Even the curriculum taught in schools signified this militancy - American experts developed curriculum inciting young Afghans to join the Mujahideen and fight the "infidel", some books read "one dead Russian plus two dead Russians equals how many dead Russians" or "Two Klashnikovs plus five Klashnikovs..." etc. (Nancy Hatch Dupree). This type of education obviously effects the minds of the youth - and it was developed by US experts to perform a specific task, which it did.

      Ubiquitous Policies - Sending Afghans into the Hands of the Taliban while Cutting Aid Budgets

      What we hear about the Taliban is filtered through our newspapers. We hear horrifying tales of torture and execution and severe abuse and mistreatment of women. We don't hear about the peace they've restored to villages which were bombarded with rockets during the civil war which ensued after the last Russian soldier left Afghan soil in 1989. In the last 3 years, since the Taliban have established a base of power, the UNHCR has embarked on one of the largest refugee repatriation schemes in its history. It is encouraging Afghan refugees to return home from Pakistan and Iran. If conditions are so horrible than why the sudden interest to repatriate the refugees? Would the UNHCR ask Kosovars to return home amidst Serb occupation of their homeland? No, the UNHCR actually admits that the Taliban occupied areas of Afghanistan are peaceful enough for returning Pushtun Afghan refugees.

      What has happened as a result of the western pre-occupation with Afghan women is severe cuts in funding to relief budgets. At times it seems as though the smear campaign against the Taliban in effect is a tool to legitimize cuts in funding. A question that one should ask those commenting on the Taliban's policies against educating women and allowing women to work is - where are the schools for these girls in Afghanistan (destroyed in the war and without funding they won't be built) and where are the jobs for women? There are none. Jobs for men are primarily focused on fighting Jihad.

      Taliban's Policies

      Firstly there exists a rural/urban divide between Afghan women. 95% of Afghan women live in the rural countryside. Most of Taliban's stricter enforcement of its interpretation of the Shariah law is evident in urban centers, like Kabul and Herat. 95% of Afghan women are not affected by these policies (or at least not a great extent vis a vis pre-Taliban Afghanistan).

      Weather Taliban's policies are influenced by their cultural norms or religious edicts is not important (its probably safer to say its a combination of both, keeping in mind that there are degrees of moderation and conservatism within the ranks of the Taliban). What's more important is how the people of Afghanistan feel about the policies. What's missing in all of the arguments coming from the west is an in-depth look at how Afghans view the Taliban. What's missing is the Afghan women - she has been excluded from the discourse - although she's central to the argument her self has been alienated and re-presented by 'others' who feel they know her better than she knows herself.

      The Taliban, like most every ruler of Afghanistan in the past, use women as a symbol to mobilize support and retain there power. The protection of Afghan women's honor is held in high esteem amongst Afghans. Afghans attach great value to female purity. In a time when bandits had taken over villages, women were raped summarily and people were in a state of utter distress, the Taliban provided hope. To restore honor to Afghan women, boost morale within the ranks of Taliban's soldiers, it also demonstrates their commitment to Islam and the preservation of cultural identity - its actually a policy all mujahideen in Afghanistan utilize to legitimize their power.

      The Taliban, once peace is achieved vow to change their policies Qulmuddin (head of the Talibans controversial Department for the promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice in Kabul) stated that "we (the Taliban) will be blamed by our people if we don't educate women. We will provide education for women eventually, but for now we have serious problems...There are security problems. There are no provisions for separate transport, separate school buildings and facilities to educate women for the moment. And within us we have those men who cannot behave properly with women."

      "I am myself convinced that reality will force the Taliban to change their policy and the restrictions for women, even if they try to insist upon a very strict dress code. I doubt that their current stance can last. When the Taliban came in they said all the right things. They were going to establish an Islamic state, they were going to end corruption and they were going to collect all the guns. They said all Afghans were brothers, and there would be no discrimination between Sunni and Shia. That is what they said, but they keep making mistakes. They keep showing that they do not really believe what they say." (Nancy Hatch Dupree)

      What alternative do you offer the people of Afghanistan ?

      If not the Taliban - than what's the alternative for the people of Afghanistan - keeping in mind the drastic cuts in their budget - the fact that they have no money to support themselves, the aid community has isolated them, and there country is in ruins?


      Leila Helms, a Westernized, Afghan-born woman who is pro-Taliban, has just returned from a two-week tour of Afghanistan where she says she filmed six hours of interviews with women in five provinces. The burqa, she said, is not widespread in the countryside, and she met many women moving freely about, without male relatives as chaperons.

      Says Helms: "I met 150 women. I asked every one if they were beaten or knew someone who had been. . . . There was one woman who'd been beaten once on her shoulders two years ago because her face was showing and she was talking to a man she didn't know. Every single other one hadn't been beaten, and did not know someone who had been beaten." Helms - a secular, pro-abortion American - favors the Taliban because for six years she witnessed the country's devastation when she and her husband worked in Afghan refugee camps at the Pakistani border from 1988 to 1994. For Helms, the admittedly repressive Taliban at 'least brought peace to the country', and Hollywood's sudden concern for Afghan women angers her. She explodes: "Where were they when all these women were being raped, when women were being killed because they were not following the Muslim Brotherhood," the faction that ruled Afghanistan after the expulsion of Soviet troops. "Where were they before the war when women didn't have rights? Where were they throughout the war when women were rotting in the refugee camps?" She continues: "For nearly 20 years in Afghanistan there has been no law, no order. We lost almost 2 million people to the Russians. The women don't want to be saved...Finally they have peace, and people in America find religion on the issue of women in Afghanistan?"