In his State of the Union address, the president of the United States announced that the American army will begin to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan before the end of the year, so that by the end of the year, 34,000 soldiers, approximately half of the total force, will have left, and the other half by the end of 2014.
The American media – the Wall Street Journal’s weekend edition for the 9th and 10th of February, for example, paid close attention to the fact that the United States military is withdrawing without regard for the situation that these forces leave behind. The thrust of the coverage is that what is important for the United States today is how and when to get out of Afghanistan, without addressing the simple question: “What did we want to achieve and what have we actually achieved in the eleven years of the Sisyphean war in this country?”
The West’s invasion of Afghanistan began in late 2001, after the September 11 attacks revealed Afghanistan to be an al-Qaeda state and Osama bin Laden had formed a pact with Mula Umar, the Taliban leader, the main point of which was that the billionaire bin Laden would fund Afghanistan, and would be allowed to do whatever he wished with it. Bin Laden kept his word and Mula Umar kept his part as well. Within a few years – from the mid-nineties – the state of the Taliban became a terror state and hundreds of facilities such as training bases, enlistment centers and schools that taught the doctrine of terrorism were established on its soil.
Many Ethnicities, but No “Afghans”
This process was made possible because the Taliban, an organization based on the Pashtun people, gained dominance over the other ethnic groups in the country. Afghanistan is a multi-ethnic country that comprises more than eleven (!) ethnic groups: Pashtun, Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks, Aimaqs, Balochs, Kyrgys, Turkmen, Nuristans, Pamirs and more. It is interesting to note that none of these groups are called “Afghan.” The country was named Afghanistan by the British and Russians who delineated the borders in the mid-nineteenth century because “Afghan” is a variation of the name historically attributed to the main ethnic group in that area, known today as Pashtuns.
Contrary to India, where English is the common language for all of the groups, in Afghanistan, the various ethnic groups have no common language. The weakness of the civil system stems from the fact that these ethnic groups differ from each other in every way: language, culture, leaders, dress, leadership and world view.
The fact that these groups are forced to live with each other creates friction and continual conflict, which has turned the country into a hell where armed militias fight each other fiercely and continually, despite the fact that everyone is Muslim.The Hazaras, for instance, are Shi’ites and are seen as unclean. It is important to note that each one of these ethnic groups is further broken down into tribes, which don’t always coexist peacefully with each other, and many of them tend to resort to violence immediately.
A Litany of Failures in Afghanistan
Since the creation of the state of Afghanistan, there have been several attempts to stabilize it. The British tried, failed and left it to its misery. The Soviets tried to stabilize its political system during the eighties and failed miserably, which accelerated the collapse of the Soviet Union. The United States invaded – along with its partners – toward the end of 2001, and it seems that it also is about to fail in its efforts to stabilize the state and governmental system.
The question that naturally arises is why all of the attempts to stabilize this miserable state have failed. The only possible answer is that it is simply not achievable, because the many ethnic and tribal units will never become one cohesive unit with a shared national consciousness, with loyalty to a common framework and common leadership. When a state tries to unify rival groups that have nothing in common, the task of leading all of them under one national framework is not possible. The Impact of Ethnic Diversity in European Cases
This need not surprise us: we need only glance for a moment at Europe to see what happened to the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, who also – despite their having been functional states for more than seventy years – disintegrated into entities based on ethnicity. And what is happening in Belgium between the Flemish and the Walloons? And in Spain with the Catalonians who seek to secede from Spain? And in Britain with the Scots who, in another two years will vote in a referendum on whether to remain as part of the “United” Kingdom or not? And Cyprus, which is also divided on an ethnic basis? So what do the Aimaq and Hazara citizens of Afghanistan expect? That they will get along with each other better than the Czechs and the Slovaks?
About the Author: Dr. Mordechai Kedar (Ph.D. Bar-Ilan U.) Served for 25 years in IDF Military Intelligence specializing in Arab political discourse, Arab mass media, Islamic groups and the Syrian domestic arena. A lecturer in Arabic at Bar-Ilan U., he is also an expert on Israeli Arabs.
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