Mujahideen Victory Day: Afghans still voiceless decades later

A US withdrawal does not mean abandoning the Afghans. Afghanistan suffers from too much foreign meddling, not a lack of it. And through all of it, the Afghans themselves remain completely helpless to the fate of their own country.

I am the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for The Seminal and Brave New Foundation. You can read my work on The Seminal or at Rethink Afghanistan. The views expressed below are my own.

Happy Mujahideen Victory Day! This is the national holiday when Afghans celebrate their victory over the communists in the 1980’s. We remember the Mujahideen of course, they’re the folks we gave all that CIA training and Stinger missiles to kill Soviets with. We all at least saw the film version of Charlie Wilson’s War, right?

Basically the historical narrative is that the Soviet superpower (who incidentally invaded in the name of democracy and development), the bad guys, are defeated by the heroic Americans, the good guys, who saved the hapless, incoherent hillbillies, the Afghans, by giving them lots of weapons to kill each other with. Yay for freedom fighters! The danger, our story warns, is that we abandoned Afghanistan after Mujahideen Victory Day, causing America to become the victims. Blowback! Poor, foolish America should have interfered more with Afghanistan I suppose. But we’re ignoring the Afghan version of history, and completely missing the point of Mujahideen Victory Day.

Let’s take a look at their celebration, via Pajhwok Afghan News [subscription]:

[Deputy President Qasim Fahim] urged Afghan citizens to join together to find a solution to the problems faced by the country.

He said there were some people, both inside and outside the country, who were trying to destabilise Afghanistan.

A strong army, a vigilant fight against corruption and smuggling and respect for good government and the rule of law were some ways in which Afghanistan could retain its strength. Corruption, he said, was the fifth pillar of terrorism.

Fahim delivered a warning to unnamed countries who he said were meddling in Afghanistan’s affairs, saying they would find themselves mired in similar problems if they did not leave.

Oh yeah, he’s got our number all right! We are definitely “meddling,” which is a nice way of saying occupation. And boy are we ever having similar problems! Indeed our meddling mires us in corruption, what with the billions lost to waste, fraud, and abuse by war profiteers. And rule of law is sure out the window since the President can now lock you up forever because he calls you a terrorist, or just assassinate you. But notice that the Afghans don’t think of the holiday as a time to pine for American intervention, Mujahideen Victory Day is about throwing off any foreign occupation, be it Soviet or American.

And the dirty secret here is that nobody abandoned Afghanistan. We like to take Afghanistan’s decades of war and blame it on the Afghans being xenophobic, or “tribal,” or some other backhanded way of saying they’re all backwards idiots. If only they would just let us manipulate them, they’d have peace. But the history of Afghanistan’s “war-torn” decades is a history of nothing but foreign meddling. Take a look at these snippets from the Washington Post:

Already, efforts to jockey for future control of Afghanistan have been seen among Pakistan, India, Iran and even Russia. […]

Karzai and most Afghans fear that if Washington waits too long to decide about talking to the Taliban, control will fall to the ISI as happened in the 1980s and 1990s — when Washington abandoned Afghanistan to Russia and Pakistan but the ISI played favorites and was unable to end the civil war among Afghan factions.[…]

Pakistan’s maneuvers have prompted India to try reactivating its 1990s alliance with Iran, Russia and Central Asia, which supported the former Northern Alliance in a civil war against the Pakistan-backed Taliban regime.[…]

See all the meddling? Iran, India, Pakistan, Russia, all of “Central Asia” apparently, plus all of our meddling. Everybody had a hand in it. And check out that bias: “ISI played favorites and was unable to end the civil war.” Gee whiz, I wonder why they were “unable” to end it when a few sentences later we see that Iran, Russia, and Central Asia were all playing favorites with another side of that civil war.

Afghans don’t need more of us, they need more of themselves. Everyone but Afghans has a say in their affairs. Remember the outrage over Karzai appointing Afghans (Scandalous!) instead of foreigners to the election commission? Guess how many foreigners regulate the elections in Montana. Zero. Now don’t misconstrue this as a defense of Karzai’s fraud, it’s simply illustrative of our rejection of Afghans at every step of the process. We whine about abandoning the women of Afghanistan, instead of letting them do it themselves. We complain that Afghan electricity isn’t sufficiently dependent on our puppet in Kabul, instead of helping them develop their own energy capacity. And instead of letting Afghans develop their own security, we support child molesters and drug addicts who ravage the population.

Just take a look at this movie showing in Afghanistan, keeping in mind that this is only one anecdote, from an American no less:

Last weekend, at the university where I teach, the new documentary film Addicted in Afghanistan by director Jawed Taiman, a British-Afghan, was shown. At point, one of the young boys in the family of opium and heroin addicts the film follows shouts to the camera that his addiction was produced by the U.S.-led occupation. The overwhelmingly student audience erupted into applause. I later heard that some shocked faculty members walked out in disgust with students. One, an American, reportedly said the incident has her reconsidering whether she will return after this semester.

I was stunned that my colleagues were surprised. Our students are not going to speak up in a well-lit classroom in an “American university” and tell their instructor what they honestly think about the United States. Some of the older students lived under Taliban rule. All of the students were directly impacted by the chaos of civil war and the latest bloody foreign occupation. Every Afghan understands that what you say in public can earn your execution.

But in the anonymity of a darkened gymnasium, with abundant peer support, they can exercise their frustration, disappointment, anger or disgust in a collective manner that affords both plausible deniability and little likelihood of reprisals. Popular resistance always finds, or creates, opportunities to express itself.

That’s how battered and beat down by foreign interference they are. They can only express themselves anonymously in the dark. They’re completely voiceless in the fate of their own country. Then there’s that Pajhwok article I linked. They have to hide their exclusively Afghan voices behind loads of ads and a paywall just to keep the lights on.

But there’s good news here. You are not behind a paywall, your voice is not confined to the darkness. Listen to what Representative McGovern said on a recent conference call about Afghanistan:

“I have to tell you as a former staffer and as a member of Congress– pressure works, grassroots pressure works. It really makes a difference here,” he said. “And when many people do it it’s a movement. And what we need to create here in a very short period of time is a movement to try to change course on Afghanistan.”

I was on that call, and I can tell you he very strongly emphasized that point over and over again. Pressure works. Calling your member of congress works. Writing your member of congress works. Hell, even shutting down their office works. They have to listen to you, they desperately need you to tell them what to do. Unlike the Afghans, your voice still counts for a lot, and you can demand that the US stop interfering in Afghanistan, primarily by ending our bloody and expensive military occupation. Tell them the Afghans need to solve their own problems, they don’t need us there manipulating them.

It’s super easy, too. Take Peace Action West, for example. They’ve got a form all ready for you to tell congress to end the war, you just have to fill out your personal details. Click send and poof, it goes straight to your specific members of congress. There are dozens more organizations out there just like that one, too. And of course it’s always effective to just straight up call them at their office and speak your mind. And you won’t be alone in doing this. Contact your representative, then join us on Rethink Afghanistan’s Facebook page and collaborate with the tens of thousands of others around the country working to bring this war to an end.