Finally Anthropologists Examine Afghanistan

Interesting article about Afghan society in the NYT.

If we members of the public had read any of these thorough, professional, anthropological analyses of Afghan society 15 to 20 years ago, then probably we wouldn’t still be fighting in Afghanistan today.

Of course, there are powerful interests who aren’t really interested in the truth about a situation, but, rather, in how to profit from it personally, at the expense of everybody else. Part of that involves telling lots of lies, which is most of what we were told about most of the countries in this part of the world, for a long, long time. Remember that stuff about weapons of mass destruction?

Well, here are a few quotes from the article:

“… the [elders] were only as strong as their communities allowed them to be; they were not secure hereditary chieftains but anxious agents of the professions or neighborhoods or clans they served.

[the author of the study] speculates that when villagers obeyed a curious edict permitting music at weddings only if it issued from a single boombox, they did so largely because they feared that louder music would draw too many guests needing to be fed.)

The mullahs, for their part, had little ability to intervene outside the mosque, and the village’s wealthy merchants had little sway since they lived primarily in Kabul and often came from the low-status weaver class.

Aging commanders of the anti-Soviet jihad supplied money and guns to young men, who struck a menacing pose by wearing the “pakul” hat of the great Tajik fighter Ahmed Shah Massoud, rather than the “karakul” hat favored by Hamid Karzai. While the commanders successfully extorted rent from local merchants who ran shops on public lands, they were unpopular and preferred to remain in the shadows, strenuously avoiding one another as well as any direct conflict with the state.” …

[another author] insists that Western powers made a serious error by installing Karzai in a presidency with quasi-monarchical powers. They “attempted to restore a system designed for autocrats in a land where autocracy was no longer politically sustainable.” Similarly, Barfield suggests that asking rural Afghans to rethink their beliefs about religion or women’s rights is sure to fail. Afghanistan’s own Ataturk, Amanullah, who tried to ban the veil in 1928, fled to India in 1929. 

 … the most successful rulers “declared their governments all-powerful but rarely risked testing that claim by implementing controversial policies.” After the Taliban’s departure, “the enthusiasm for restoring a highly centralized government was confined to the international community and the Kabul elite that ran it.”  …

In “Can Intervention Work?” Rory Stewart castigates that very same international community for its irrelevant data sets, flow charts and attempts to define “best practices.” He worries that “a culture of country experts has been replaced by a culture of consultants” who travel everywhere with jargon: “Lofty abstractions such as ‘ungoverned space,’ ‘the rule of law’ and ‘the legitimate monopoly on the use of violence’ are so difficult to apply to an Afghan village that it was almost impossible to know when they were failing.

That idea of counting words and phrases in a document as much more important than people’s lives reminds me sharply of what is happening in the educational arena.

Apparently it’s now our longest war (except for the Cold War).

Published in: on November 19, 2011 at 6:24 pm  Leave a Comment  

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