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writing for godot

A Cultural Way out of Afghanistan and Defusing Pakistan

Written by Kris Merschrod   
Thursday, 30 December 2010 03:48
originally written in 2008 and Up-dated in April 2009

Although the present tensions within Pakistan between the Government of Pakistan and the insurgent groups located in the tribal area have historical roots with as many layers as an onion. To me the most important layer is the Pukhtoon culture which covers substantial areas of both Pakistan and Afghanistan – about 38 million people.

Accordingly, the war in Afghanistan is exacerbating the tensions between the government of Pakistan and the people of the tribal area as well as with other, foreign, governments.

There is a cultural way out of the conflict in Afghanistan that could set a precedent for a negotiated solution to the long pending disputes between the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan and the central government of Pakistan1 and, hence, bring peace to those conflicts. Importantly, I think that the cultural way has solid precedents and, importantly, fits the avowed overall foreign policy strategy of President Barrack Obama, that is, diplomacy rather than military solutions. Follows is the idea of a cultural way out which is “outside the box” of conventional thought of first having military superiority and then negotiating.

In late 2008 Prime Minister Hamid Karzai made overtures to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia to obtain his help in a negotiated solution. It was a passing note in the press that generally commented that it was in contradiction to US policy to negotiate with the Taliban. Then Sec. of Defense Gates said that negotiations with the Taliban was possible but not with Al Qaeda. Since then various indications of willingness to negotiate, albeit, with conditions, have been expressed. This attitude toward negotiations is a major break through and has the potential for a peaceful way out instead of the present trend to see the solution only through overwhelming military force. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister’s overtures were not comprehended by the US.

There are cultural aspects to the effort by P.M. Karzai which should be understood. In the Pukhtoon culture when there are conflicts between parties one of the parties can attempt to resolve the issue by appealing to what is known as a Jirgamaar. It is usually the weaker party who makes the appeal. The Jirgamaar is a person who is known to be a just peace maker and, importantly, is respected by the parties to the conflict. These “conflicts” may be inter-family differences such as the use of irrigation water or common pastures; they may be inter-tribal such as which one governs the use of mining areas; or they may be over deaths and armed conflicts. The larger the groups in conflict, the higher the level of appeal must be.

In the case of the conflict in Afghanistan, King Abdullah is the guardian of two of the most sacred places of Islam. The House of Saud is also Sunni as are most of the Taliban. The Saudis, since the war against the Russians have supported the Pukhtoon with funds and also, importantly, in the development of the Madrassas and the training of teachers and religious leaders with Wahhabi/ Sunni thought. Their version of Sunni Islam is similar to the leadership of the Taliban and also Al Qaeda. It is generally believed that the King of Saudi Arabia has important links to the US presidency and political affairs, as well as economic links to the US. These characteristics make King Abdullah an ideal Jirgamaar.

The role of the Jirgamaar, if he accepts the role, is to contact the other side in the conflict, in this case the Taliban, to see if they will submit to the process of a Jirga (This is similar to binding arbitration). If so, then the Jirgamaar will convoke a team of leaders respected for being just to listen to the case. Both sides will state their position, complaint, and expectations to the team or Jirga. The Jirga will endeavor to reach a judgment that will result in a settlement with which both sides of the dispute can live. The cultural goal is to avoid conflict and to find a solution which both sides can live and also move on to a constructive relationship (reconciliation). The goal is also to save face all around while serving justice and moving on to a functional society.

The beauty of this cultural way out is that it fits President Obama’s emphasis on negotiated solutions. Accordingly, The US and NATO should, quietly, support the overture by P.M. Karzai. Judging from past Afghani governance, a probable solution would include a decentralized form of government instead of the present centralized government; the requirement that all foreigners leave (What a graceful way out to say that the government of Afghanistan now has established governance!) would include not only NATO, but also Al Qaeda-types; and, most importantly, the reduction of conflict between tribal groups. This would provide the basis for the proposed civilian reconstruction effort.2 The need for an army to repress or hold the tribes into a centralized power structure would be avoided.

Although the Jirga format does not lend itself to the UN forum, once an agreement is reached, the parties, then they could go to the UN to petition recognition and respect for their agreement so that the weight of the UN upon its members would remove the external belligerents from the scene.

The cultural way out of the conflict in Afghanistan could set a precedent for a negotiated solution to the long pending disputes between the people in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan and the central government of Pakistan and, hence, bring peace to those conflicts.

It is important to remember that the conflicts between the government of Pakistan and the Pukhtoon people are not limited to the 3.7 million Pukhtoon people living in the FATA. The context includes many millions more living in the cities and rural areas of the North West Frontier Province and all the way to Karachi. The Taliban are a social movement within the Pukhtoon people, but their interests in Pakistan are different from their interests in Afghanistan. To conflate the two, for example the AF-PAK mentality, is a serious cultural error which is leading to strategic errors in the policies expressed in the last few weeks. your social media marketing partner

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