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IUK: Fisk - Forget the cliches, there is no easy way out ...
By Robert Fisk
19/11/2001 1:58 am Mon
Robert Fisk: Forget the cliches, there is
no easy way for the West to sort this out
War on Terrorism: Rival Factions
17 November 2001
Afghanistan - as the armies of the West are about to realise - is
not a country. You can't "occupy" or even "control" Afghanistan
because it is neither a state nor a nation.
Nor can we dominate Afghanistan with the clichés now being
honed by our journalists. We may want a "broad-based"
government, but do the Afghans? We may regard cities as
"strategic" - especially if reporters are about to enter them - but
the Afghans have a different perspective on their land.
As for the famous loya jirga, a phrase which now slips proudly off
the lips of cognoscenti, it just means "big meeting". Even more
disturbingly, it is a uniquely Pashtun phrase and thus represents
the tribal rules of only 38 per cent of Afghan society.
The real problem is that Afghanistan contains only tiny minorities of
the ethnic groups which constitute its population. Thus, the 7
million Pashtuns in the country are outnumbered by the 12 million
Pashtuns in Pakistan, the 3.5 million Tajiks in Afghanistan are
outnumbered by the 6 million Tajiks in Tajikistan. The 1.3 million
Uzbeks are just a fraction of the 23 million Uzbeks in Uzbekistan.
There are 600,000 Turkmens in Afghanistan - but 3.52 million in
Turkmenistan. So why should the Afghan Pashtuns and Tajiks and
Uzbeks and Turkmens regard Afghanistan as their country? Their
"country" is the bit of land in Afghanistan upon which they live.
Indeed, Afghan Pashtuns have long disputed the notorious Durand
line - the frontier which divided Afghanistan from British India and
which now forms the Afghan-Pakistan border. In 1897, Sir
Mortimer Durand took no account of the fact that the Afghan
Empire once included much of what would become present-day
Hence, today, the constant fear for Pakistan's leader, General
Pervez Musharraf, is not so much an Islamic revolution but a
rebirth of the notorious demand for "Pushtunistan" in the
North-West Frontier province.
A remark by a victorious Northern Alliance official - that his men
might push on to "the Pashtun city of Karachi" - caused a minor
political heart attack in Islamabad. In similar fashion, the journalistic
idea that Taliban leaders might "flee over the border into Pakistan"
seems a lot less odd to the Taliban themselves - who would
merely be moving across an artificial British-made border into
another part of the Pashtun tribal area.
Of course, it's not difficult to see how we Westerners like the idea
of a loya jirga. All we have to do is supervise a massive congress
of Afghan tribesmen - forgetting that the loya jirga is totally
unrepresentative because women are banned - in order to
produce a power-sharing government of the kind that the British
created in Northern Ireland.
Only it's not like that. The loya jirga became part of Afghan
tradition when, in 1747, Ahmed Abdalli took 4,000 soldiers to
Kandahar - which was then just two small towns - and brought
together the leaders of the eight major Pashtun tribes. They chose
Ahmed Durani as the king. But since then, despite the inclusion of
Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras, Pashtuns have ruled Afghanistan for
all but three brief periods of the 20th century.
It's easy to see why. The Uzbeks never had loya jirgas. The Tajiks
are an urban, non-tribal group. How can they obtain equal or
proportionate weight in such a meeting when they do not have
tribal leaders? Will the Tajiks have one representative for the
Pashtuns' eight or more?
Nor can history be excluded. The Shia Muslim Hazaras - who may
or may not owe their origins to Genghis Khan's invading hordes -
were the victims of savage repression at the hands of Pashtun
forces under the "Iron Emir", King Abdur Rahman, in 1880. Abdur
Rahman, it should be added, repressed his own Pashtun people as
well. He had been invited to rule Afghanistan by - you guessed it
- the British government.