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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 11/20/12

Afghanistan's Civil Society faces a perilous future

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Message Carlo Ungaro

The resignation of General David Petraeus certainly brings to mind his role in the Afghanistan conflict and ought to stimulate us to focus  attention on  that country, which, beyond occasional reports of violence against civilians or NATO forces, nowadays tends to be ignored  by international commentators.

Ever since its  inception  the unfortunate Afghan venture appeared haunted by the risk  of a  hurried departure of the invading forces with no real, valid or credible "exit strategy"  having been planned. This  prospect  has recently emerged with particular vigour, and there is indeed a growing fear that Afghanistan, if left to its own devices, will be unable to avoid civil war and  virtual collapse.

As a consequence,  in the future memory of the Afghan people, the present invasion may well be seen as even more damaging than the   Soviet occupation of the 1980's, which caused  extremely critical and hostile reactions in the West, to the point of the United States displaying its "moral outrage" by boycotting the Moscow Olympics of 1980.

Stripping political rhetoric from all the statements and justifications put forth first from one side (The Soviet Union), then the other (NATO allies), the political and strategic "reasoning" behind the two invasions have much more in common than what could be normally suspected.

The initial phase of the Soviet invasion -- ostensibly on the "request" of the Afghan government -- appeared  particularly violent and brutal, with the very Government which had allegedly formulated the "request" being mowed down by firing squads, as a prelude to the formation of an adequately "obedient" regime.

NATO's opening moves seemed more acceptable to the International Community, also because,  to a certain extent, the  "niceties" of international intercourse were respected: a formal, although obviously unacceptable ultimatum was issued, and the invasion took place with a double asserted  purpose. One of these, the elimination of the Al Qaeda headquarters, had at least an aura of legitimacy. The  other motivation  was to bring about a regime change and install an obedient and docile government  in the place of the Taliban.

This goal was not all that different from the one pursued a couple of decades earlier by the Soviet Union, and is quite probably destined to a similar, ignominious fate.

The two invasions were therefore both of dubious legality, with the  Soviet venture being very strongly stigmatized in the West and causing a major Cold War crisis with  long term effects far graver than the boycotting of the Moscow Olympics, such as a long and violent civil war and the creation of the Taleban, imagined then as a useful anti-Communist tool.  By contrast, in the general climate of  understandable indignation caused by the  September 11 attacks, the NATO invasion received little criticism, and was generally seen to be justified by the need to eliminate the  Al Qaeda power structure.

The apparently excessive brutality exercised against civilian populations soon, however, attracted some  guarded criticism which, with the passage of time, grew into a mounting opposition  in the public opinion within the participating NATO countries. The governments of the NATO powers involved, however, felt tied to an international commitment which, in their view,  had to be respected. Acceptance -- sometimes wholehearted and enthusiastic -- of NATO operations was encouraged by a vigorous press and propaganda campaign launched by ISAF, which  had the practical result of  creating a "de facto" complicity between the International Mainstream Media and NATO.

On the occasion of its withdrawal, the Soviet Union, while it lasted, remained essentially supportive of the puppet government it had left behind, but this served  only to delay and could not prevent the civil war which broke out almost immediately after its collapse.

Legitimate doubts arise on whether it will it be possible for NATO, upon its departure,  to avoid  the total disintegration of the fragile  socio-political structure left behind after  over a decade of occupation. The signs point  to the inevitability of a chaotic outcome.

Many diverse  political scenarios  could arise as a consequence of this ill-fated military mission,  and in the little time left  greater attention should be focused on the fate of the Afghan civilian population, victim of a present-day particularly cynical version of the "Great Game".  Recent "disclosures" on the presence of  mineral wealth in Afghanistan's soil will not help the situation, and, in reality, are a complicating factor.

For all its undeniable brutality, the Soviet occupation furthered the development of an already rather dynamic civil society, and growing numbers of children and young adults, particularly women,  continued to have access to educational and training facilities both at home and abroad, being thus moved away from the more extreme forms of religious fundamentalism. The hiatus caused first by the civil war, and then by the years of Taliban led regime was certainly a setback,  but some ground was regained, though in a less systematic fashion, in the course of the present occupation. In spite of  all these decades of foreign occupation and internal conflict, and  notwithstanding  all the negative images we receive of the country, Afghan civil society continues to be a potential asset, indeed, perhaps the only real hope for that country's future development.

A critical analysis of the errors committed in these past years which have  handicapped  the full emergence of this civil society would be relatively easy, but quite useless at this stage, while attempts to  foresee and to curtail the  damage that the NATO military withdrawal  will  cause  to the Afghan civilian population -- particularly, but not exclusively the women -- is certainly of much greater urgency and interest.

It seems quite fair to state that the military situation in Afghanistan has not met its ill-defined goals, and is destined to a disappointing end. This, however lends even greater poignancy to the basic question of whether  a way can be found of avoiding the tragic sequel which seems inevitable, and which will further damage a civilian population which certainly deserves a  better fate.

Although it is probably too late, efforts ought to be directed not so much in the strengthening of a corrupt and inept central government, but in the enhancement of local autonomy, in which populations flourish which have  little or no sympathy for Taliban inspired extremism, both for ideological reasons and for  ancient, deep-rooted tribal and ethnic differences. The risks are notable, especially in some regions in which the old warlords still wield influence, but attempts should be made to concentrate the future Taliban authority's power and influence in areas more sympathetic to their ideology and ethnically closer to them.

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Carlo Ungaro Social Media Pages: Facebook page url on login Profile not filled in       Twitter page url on login Profile not filled in       Linkedin page url on login Profile not filled in       Instagram page url on login Profile not filled in

I am a former, now retired, senior Italian diplomatic officer. I have spent many years (over 25) in Central Asia (sixteen in Afghanistan).
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