Liam Fox's comments on '13th-century' Afghanistan show a failure to understand its problems are contemporary by nature
The recent comment from Britain's new defence secretary, Liam Fox, describing Afghanistan as a broken country stuck in the 13th century
, has offended Afghan officials
, triggering responses that are equally off the mark factually and diplomatically fruitless.
To begin with, the cold-war rivalry
between two powerful, antagonistic industrialised empires that initiated the crisis in Afghanistan is evidence that from its inception it has been international in its scope. To isolate the country from the international politics of the last decades, and single it out for the subsequent failures is slightly unfair and factually inaccurate.
After all, from its beginnings in the 1960s
, the conflict was international in its outlook. Young Afghans who in the 1960s become involved with the radical, supra-nationalist political movements of internationalist communism and their nemesis, political Islamism, had much in common with their student counterparts in Paris, London and San Francisco. They joined internationalist political movements, desiring to radically change society even if the transformation involved the use of violence.
Ironically, the justification for Afghan student radicals, who later become political leaders of the country, was the same backwardness that Fox has pointed out in his recent comment. In this manner, the two antagonist forces of political Islam versus internationalist communism had much in common. They both represented a fierce assault on traditional Afghan social structures and cultural values. In doing so, both movements attacked the moral compass and the social glue that had held Afghanistan together until then.
Perhaps the extent of this attack could have been curbed had it not been for the international partisanship and active involvement in the crisis, which artificially empowered both sides, the mujahideen and their communist nemesis. But early on, prior to the communist coup of 1978 and the subsequent Soviet invasion, both movements were equally marginal and unpopular for the simple reason they clashed with Afghan traditional values of pragmatism, and political and religious moderation. The radicalisation of Afghan society, which upsets and astounds the wider world, is not an inherent feature of Afghan cultural norms. On the contrary, it is the loss of traditional religious and cultural values that has created a restless society, normalising political violence and making stability a distant dream.
Prior to the 1980s, Afghanistan's isolation from the rest of the world meant that the country missed out on much of progress common to the rest of the world. But the isolation also offered the country protection against the destabilising influence of revolutionary thoughts and the desire to start a new society by means of violence, aggressively pushing the country forward into the arms of the 20th century, be it in its socialist or revolutionary Islamist guise.
The Taliban represent a pure example of this. Their appearance, the full beards and the turbans, creates the misleading impression that theirs is a movement with a medieval mindset. But in reality, the Taliban has proven itself a most powerful enemy of traditional Afghanistan. Their systematic destruction of traditional justice, social and political structure, which over centuries had ensured a degree of stability, is a modern phenomenon. In its fierceness of animosity towards traditional Afghanistan, the Taliban's only match is the communist group who invited the Red Army to invade Afghanistan. Both desired a radical departure from the isolationist past, embracing global ideologies and partnerships beyond Afghanistan's borders.
After 30 years of direct involvement with the rest of the world, through migration, and wars that were largely fought alongside a diverse group of people, from Soviets to Arabs, and now British and Americans, Afghans are now struggling to find common ground with each other. This is the broken society that Fox has correctly identified. But what Fox failed to recognise was the fact the root causes of the fracture are contemporary by nature, and international in their scope. Ultimately, this mistaken interpretation of Afghanistan is fairly widespread and as such, much in need of correction. ....Fox's mistaken view of Afghanistan needs correction
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