What Do Afghans Want?

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The below article was written by Mark E. Smith and posted on the Peace Movement Google Group on September 5, 2010. It's written from a progressive, rather than a libertarian, perspective. Nevertheless, because Mr. Smith has lived among the Afghans and writes from first-hand experience, his insights bear consideration.

 

I lived in Afghanistan for almost five years in the late '60s, early '70s. I went there on my own and was not connected with any governmental or nongovernmental organization. I volunteered in a hospital and ran a free clinic in my home. I learned Pashto. I spent most of my time with Afghans rather than with Americans.

Afghanistan does not have a common language. It has two major or official languages, Farsi (Persian) and Pashto, but there are about 30 other languages.

Whether you do or don't have a gun, as long as you don't attack them, the Afghan people have a tradition of welcoming strangers and are very friendly and hospitable. As all Afghan males usually have guns, they don't see anything wrong with strangers having guns, as long as they aren't hostile or part of an invading army.

While it is true that the Afghans will never be conquered by force, they will never be conquered by diplomacy either. If you could live with them for an extended length of time and learn what they want, you'd find that what they want is not to be conquered and to continue the traditional way of life that has sustained them for thousands of years.

Many Afghans have traveled to or have relatives in the U.S. and Europe. They know what modern development has to offer, and they don't want it. They certainly don't want roads, as roads would only make things easier for invading armies.

Why bring in solar panels and storage batteries when they already have a sustainable green system? Donkeys and camels don't have to be produced in capitalist sweatshops out of raw materials gained through genocidal resource wars; they reproduce naturally. And they provide fertilizer instead of toxic wastes that are impossible to dispose of. Donkeys and camels are totally organic, sustainable, and biodegradable. I don't know of any green energy source that you can say the same about.

As for the opium poppies, if the CIA didn't need heroin profits to fuel its black budgets, Afghans would grow no more opium than they did when I was there, some for herbal medicinal use, and some for barter. They had no drug problem because they didn't use it recreationally and they weren't desperate enough to need it to drown out reality the way many westerners do.

Americans seem to think that everybody wants to be rich. Most Afghans would be ashamed to be rich, as it would mean that they hadn't shared their good fortune with their neighbors and had hoarded it for themselves, a disgrace that could easily see them ostracized.

One Afghan once told me, "Most Americans are rich, but you're an American and you aren't rich. I'm poor, but that's okay because everybody here is poor. But it must be terrible for you to be poor in a rich country." This was an illiterate Afghan who had never been to school. I know many Americans with doctorates who aren't half that astute.

They don't need education either. We have education for jobs that don't exist and I've spent seven decades of my life watching our educational system decline.

The Afghan people are moderate Muslims when they're not being attacked. When they're invaded, they expect the religious warriors among them to lead the fight to drive off the invaders, so they become more militant, but it doesn't last once the invaders are gone.

As for the treatment of women, when I was in Afghanistan there was no prostitution. Women were sold into marriage, not sold to pimps and brothels. Most Afghan men love their wives and children.

Do you judge the U.S. by abusive husbands, brutal pimps, exploitive pornographers, and the other types of male bovine excrement that abound in our society?

The Taliban were nothing and had no power until we started funding them to fight the Russians. The Russians had done things in Afghanistan that we considered totally unacceptable, such as allowing women equal rights, funding schools for both girls and boys, providing free health care, etc. We destroyed the Soviet Union because we abhor Communist crimes like that. Our oligarchs fear that if such heresy spreads, it could interfere with their corporate profits.

I remember the first time I tried to take a taxi at the Khyber pass. There were several empty taxis, but they were unattended. One taxi had five ferocious looking men in it, all with turbans or those pancake hats, beards and mustaches, rifles, and bandoliers full of ammunition. They kept smiling at me and gesturing to me to get into their taxi, but I was terrified--certain they intended to rob me.

Finally somebody who spoke English turned up and he explained to me that the taxi couldn't leave until it had a full load of passengers and they only needed one more. It turned out to be a pleasant ride and was my introduction to overcoming stereotypes.

Understanding the world is a long journey, so I pass along to you the standard Pashto greeting, "St'rai m'shee," which means, may you not be tired.