Thursday, June 19, 2008

Language And Conflict: The Taliban (UPDATE 2)

UPDATE 1: Added new introductory, summary sentence.
UPDATE 2: The scholarship behind this paper is called into question

The Taliban "problem" is entirely and exclusively co-extensive with that of the Pashto language community.

I had thought the Kurds, population over 20 million, were the largest linguistic group on Earth without a country.  It turns out the Pashtun, population 25 million, have that distinction.  Who are the Pashtun?  Most of the rest of this piece will be quotes from the article "No Sign until the Burst of Fire: Understanding the Pakistan-Afghanistan Frontier" by Thomas H. Johnson and M. Chris Mason, published in the Spring 2008 issue of International Security, Vol 32, No. 4.

[R]eligious and political extremism in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region ends neatly at the borders of the Pashtun lands.
[T]he [Pakistan-Afghanistan border] region is also home to Baluchis, Ketranis, Nuristanis, Brahui, Munjis, Chitralis, Shinas, Gujaris, Hazaras, Kowars, Savis, Tajiks, Hindkos, Damelis, Kalamis, Urmurs, and Wakhis, as well as te Gawar-Batis, Badeshi, Khirgiz and Burushos, among others -- each of whome speaks a different language[.] ... Of all these ... groups, however, only the Pahstuns have ever demonstrated an interest in the type of jihad being waged by the Taliban.
The extent of the interest in the Taliban's brand of jihad is the extent to which the Pashtun language is spoken.

Language is what makes a person Pashtun or not, if they want to be or not.
Ther are, for example, tribes that are ethnically Pashtun but that pretend not to be and speak Dari; other tribes that are not of Pashtun descent and claim to be and speak Pashto.
Communication between Pashtuns is generally easy, although not always.
All Pashtuns speak Pashto, or its harsher dialect of Pahkto. Both Pashto and Pahkto have many regional dialects; communication difficulties are not unknown betwen them.
The Pakistanis, as part of their "greater depth" (increased regional power) policy, brought radical Islam to the Pashtos in the early 1970s, to undermine the centuries old tribal system.  The CIA and Saudis leveraged this sytem, bringing in a combined 7.2 billion dollars, during the Soviet occupation.  Some other causes why the Taleban have succeeded in Pashtun lands are rejected by the authors.
This susceptibility of the people of the region to such religious insurgencies, and their resistance to external governmental control, have been ascribed by some observers to tribal culture, or simply a response to chronic poverty and underdevelopment.  Yet all the ethnic groups of the border region have in common the same key elements of segmentary, patrilineal tribal organization, and the same endemic poverty, so tribalism and tribal social structure alone cannot account for this insurgent behavior.
The authors seem to conclude that Westerners lack of respect for the Pashtun code (Pashtunwali), consisting of indepedence (no Pashtun adult male may give any other an order), honor, hospitality and chivalry is a great cause of the problem. I reject this.
Complex and sophisticated conflict-resolution mechanisms, legal codes, and alternative forms of governance have developed [, the Pashtunwali.] ... Moreover, the rural Pashtuns prefer their own mechanisms to alien, external ones because, in their perceptions, theirs are clearly superior.
Continuing later on that same theme:
Pashtuns are generally convinced that their system of social order produces men superior to those of the Western model.
So, the "problem" for the Americans is the Taliban, and the Taliban have a support network in the Pashto-speaking tribal areas, in all the Pashto-speaking areas and nowhere else.  The Pashtun, like the Kurds, encompass many millions of people.  Also, like the Kurds, they live in harsh, mountainous terrain.  Afghanistan's highest peak, Nowshak (24,557 feet/7,485 meters) is in the region.  The large population is certainly a factor why the Pashtuns can mount an effective insurgency.  The geography gives them a perch which it is difficult to knock them out of, and their language provides a road for the Taliban's ideas to travel.

Some of the "problem" was caused by the Colonizers, the British.
[The Pakistan-Afghanistan border] was drawn [in 1893] by a team of British surveyors, led by Sir Mortimer Durand, to creat a boundary between colonial British India and Afghanistan.  To a great extent, the line followed the countours of convenient geographic features, as well as the existing limits of British authority, rather than tribal borders.  It divided the homelands of the Pashtun tribes nearly equally between Afghanistan and Pakistan, effectively cutting the Pashtun nation in half.
It should be noted that most of the borders in Africa and southern Asia follow this same rule.  In almost all instances the borders reflected the needs of the imperial power, and not of anyone living in the region.

Is there any good news?  Yes, there is. 
The [secular Pashtun party] ANP surprised many observers in February 2007, however, with a victory over the once invincible [religious Pashtun] MMA Party in ejections in Najuar and swept into power in the NWFP in February 2008.
The MMA, for example, still calls the Taliban the legitimate government of Afghanistan.

The authors say the model for the USG is to extend "central power" (from Kabul and Islamabad) to the outlying regions.  The only historical time of peace was exactly when this was not the case.  This, then, can also be seen as good news:
[The Pashtun regions of] [s]outhern Afghanistan, for example, [were] neither radical nor unstable in the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s, when the national government was invisible in the tribal lands ... a foreign visitor could have walked unmolested from Kandahar to Kabul relying entirely on hospitality along the way.
The United States government(USG) has not adopted any language based understanding of conflict prevention. 
Most U.S. soldiers deploying to Afghanistan still receive little or no cultural or language training.

That's the end of that, but I also want to point out something that I feel a need to point out.  Like I have repeatedly mentioned, the Nazis don't appear to have significantly used air power to suppress the French resistance.
[I]ndiscriminat use of airpower in inhabited areas ... [is] extremely damagin to counterinsurgency efforts among a revenge-oriented people with a zero tolerance for insult and "collateral damage."
And from the footnote from the end of the above sentence:
As one Pakistani diplomat noted, "When a child is killed in a [Pashtun] village, that village is lost for 100 years."

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