By René Wadlow*
Since 15 August 2021 and the start of the control of Kabul by the Taliban armed forces, there has been a good deal of commentary on whether the US and NATO methods of action were appropriate or adequate to the challenges they faced. The challenge faced was clear from the start even if not articulated by the US government as the reason for its intervention. The challenge has confronted all the central governments of Afghanistan. The struggle between the central government and the extremely independent tribal groups is a persistent theme of Afghan political life. Every Afghan government that has tried to centralize power has encountered this issue.
The value structure and social practices are permeated by tribal attitudes and loyalties even in urban settings. There are inter-tribal antagonisms of different ethno-linguistic backgrounds. The major antagonism is between the Pashtun and the non-Pashtun ethnic groups. The non-Pashtun have resented and resisted Pashtun domination.
Into this complicated national framework has come since the end of the Second World War, the power considerations of foreign governments: the Soviet Union and the USA, Pakistan and India, Iran and China. In addition to formal relations between governments, certain intelligence agencies such as the CIA of the US and the Pakistan military intelligence agencies (ISI) have played fairly independent roles backing certain factions with money and arms. The Iranian revolution of 1979 and the increased role of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States have added more foreign states to the political scene. The Soviet intervention of 1980 saw the rise of fundamentalist Islamic resistance groups some of which have formed the base of the current Taliban.
Twenty years of US and NATO presence and the serious work of many non-governmental organizations as well as United Nations Agencies had not changed the basic political and social configuration of the country. The image of the Kabul airport with those leaving, those wanting to leave, and those left behind remains as the image of failure even if continued military presence held out little hope for a more just and consensual society. It is likely that the image of the Kabul airport will remain in the pubic mind, as does the evacuation of the US Embassy in Vietnam sums up the long years of US intervention there.
There might have been a different image of another Afghanistan. That image could have been the final sequence of the 1979 film “ Meeting with Remarkable Men” of Peter Brook staring Terence Stamp, drawn from the book of the same name by G.I. Gurdjieff. The scene is of the temple dances or movements learned by Gurdjieff in Sufi-related monasteries in Afghanistan and in other parts of Central Asia. A close co-worker of Gurdjieff, Jeanne de Salzmann advised the film director on the nature of the movements whose aim is to develop self-awareness.
Along the same line of thought, the Turkish government, rather than sending 600 soldiers to help guard the airport during the final evacuation could have sent 600 Whirling Devishes from the Mevlevi Order with its classical Turkish music to show the Taliban that music is not anti-Islamic.
Afghanistan and the frontier area with Pakistan has long been a center for Sufi reflection on the ways to reach the Higher Self. Perhaps a larger number of people who had developed greater self-awareness might not have faded away before the Taliban as the US-trained Afghan military did.
For those of us active in peacebuilding, the Afghan situation requires evaluation and a willingness to consider new approaches much as the US State Department and the Pentagon will be doing. We can say now that military forces are not trained or socialized to bring about democratic liberal societies. However, we may have to be clearer on what peacebuilding measures could have made a real difference in such complex and divided societies as Afghanistan. I fear that Afghanistan will not be the end of such challenges.
*René Wadlow is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment. He is President of the Association of World Citizens, an international peace organization with consultative status with ECOSOC, the United Nations organ facilitating international cooperation and problem-solving in economic and social issues, and editor of Transnational Perspectives.
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service