Monday, March 29, 2010

Understanding the Taliban: Five Minutes with Agha H. Amin

I recently obtained a review copy of the newly printed volume called The Development of Taliban Factions In Afghanistan and Pakistan. One of the authors, Major Agha Amin, is a retired Pakistan army officer whom I became acquainted with through the Internet when he invited me to contribute to his blog, Understanding Each Other, Diversity and Dissent.

This year President Obama elevated the U.S. presence in Afghanistan by another 30,000 troops in a region of the world that continues to make little sense to Americans. And this weekend the President made an unannounced trip to Kabul, affirming the importance of this military activity.

But what is the war in Afghanistan really all about? Agha Amin and co-authors David J. Osinski and Paul Andre DeGeorges wrote this book in an effort to bring greater clarity to the Afghan situation. At the outset the authors explain the difference between religious Islam, and radical “Jihadist” or political Islam (a small minority within Islam) and attempt to define terms and explain the country’s complicated demographics. Like Africa the nation of Afghanistan is comprised of a multitude of tribes. 49 languages are spoken there.

The authors proceed to outline the history of these peoples, and one can well understand why solutions there will not be easily come by. The Taliban themselves are not a homogenous whole. Some are funded by drug lords, some by al-Queda, some are connected to Pakistan and some to Iran or Russia or Punjab. It doesn’t take long to see why the U.S. media, when assembling a two minute sound bite for the evening news, might just oversimplify things a bit.

The introduction to the book concludes with a quote from Robert E. Lee. “It is well that war is so terrible, or we should grow too fond of it.”

Ennyman: What prompted you to write this book? Why do you feel it is an important book?

Agha Amin: The immense amount of lies and disinformation about Afghanistan, and projecting lust for money as a Holy War or a war against terror.

Enny: Who were the other authers and how did you meet?

Amin: I met David Osinski while he was managing contracts in Kabul in May 2005 and later met Andre (DeGeorges) through Lewinski.

Enny: Evidently Afghanistan is still important to the U.S. because they just upped their troop levels there by 30,000 and this weekend President Obama made an unannounced visit to Kabul. Why do you believe the U.S. is in Afghanistan today?

Amin: The USA is in Afghanistan because U.S. policy makers thought that they needed to dominate the Indian Ocean hinterland and the Central Asian region. 9-11 was, of course, used as an opportunity to do this. It’s a vindication of Karl Marx’s theory that men do not wholly make history, instead they inherit a situation and they make use of it.

Enny: What will happen when the U.S. leaves Afghanistan next year?

Amin: Fighting will re-start if the USA leaves without concrete framework and a plan. Some measures have been suggested in our book.

Enny: Will there ever be peace in Afghanistan? What will that peace look like?

Amin: Because of its neighbours who have a vested interest peace may elude Afghanistan for a long time to come. Basically it’s a Russian versus American, Indian versus Pakistani, and Iranian versus Talib conflict.

Enny: Why is it so difficult for Americans to understand what is going on in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India?

Amin: Because of a media which does not fully understand the situation or just commercially mis-uses it.

Enny: What is the most important thing people need to understand about the Taliban?

Amin: They are not as independent as they seem. They have state and non-state sponsors.

EdNote: It takes work to understand cultures whose histories we do not share and peoples of whom we are not familiar. A book like this can serve a cautionary note to be careful about coming to snap conclusions about other situations which can be oversimplified in order to pigeon-hole them into our neat worldview compartments.

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