FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Perils of Modernization in Afghanistan

by BRIAN DOWNING

Since counterinsurgency was first bandied about in US bureaus and agencies in the early sixties, the idea has been associated with western ideas of economic development and modernization – dissolving a backward traditional society and building a vigorous modern one. In the mind of many American policy makers, it is their nation’s mission in the world to help this process along, inevitable though they believe it to be.

Western and Afghani bureaus must abandon this idea, as sweeping change will be opposed in tribal areas and elsewhere too. In the late seventies the Afghan government embarked on a reform program of redistributing land, bringing education to the villages, and increasing the state’s presence throughout the country to carry through reform – a program that will not strike many outsiders as problematic, resonant as it is with American aid plans dating back to the sixties. The reforms led to opposition and later to open revolt in almost every quarter of the country, which in turn triggered the Soviet intervention and an agonizing war.

Even land reform – a hallmark of US development programs from postwar Japan to Vietnam and Central America – was opposed. Rural dwellers in Afghanistan felt little antipathy toward notables as long as they performed reciprocal duties and weren’t overly grasping. Roy Prosterman once proclaimed of land reform in Vietnam, “We’re going to breed capitalists like rabbits.” In Afghanistan it might breed far more Taliban than capitalists.

One of the more visible aspects of ongoing development programs is road construction. Western, Indian, and Iranian engineers are building roads linking Kabul to various parts of the country, and proudly point to their achievements. Many people in previously isolated districts will look upon the roads as beneficial, but many will not. They will see them as ominous contrivances that will facilitate outside interference and control. Furthermore, roads link many parts of the country but bypass and isolate others. Established trade flows will be altered to the detriment of some.

Economic development is a dynamic process, even more so today than in centuries past. A development project in Kandahar or Paktia today can bring more disruption in a year than a new cotton mill did over a generation in Manchester or Birmingham two hundred years ago. Older artisanal and trade patterns could be disrupted or ruined. Development programs in South Vietnam brought innovation and greater crop yields, but also unemployment for many rural laborers. Cast aside by outside forces, they were recruited by the Viet Cong and a loyal worker became a dedicated guerrilla in just a few months – confirmed by after-action intelligence. The Taliban have shown similar adroitness in the East, where government directives have restricted lumber production.

Organizations charged with counterinsurgency will face complexities unimagined by the early thinkers in the field. Modernization and related ideas of progress that are deeply embedded in the western mind, must be set aside. They must build dialog and reciprocity between state and society without fundamentally altering the latter. Their efforts will be better devoted to restoring a traditional society that has been disrupted by decades of war and the destructiveness of the Taliban.

Paradoxically, this counterinsurgency program will perhaps be the first whose task is in many respects to avoid modernization and all it portends – for men and women alike.

Brian M. Downing is the author of several works of political and military history, including The Military Revolution and Political Change and The Paths of Glory: War and Social Change in America from the Great War to Vietnam. He can be reached at: brianmdowning@gmail.com

 

Brian M Downing is a political-military analyst, author of The Military Revolution and Political Change and The Paths of Glory: Social Change in America from the Great War to Vietnam, and co-author with Danny Rittman of The Samson Heuristic. He can be reached at brianmdowning@gmail.com.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

August 24, 2016
John Pilger
Provoking Nuclear War by Media
Jonathan Cook
The Birth of Agro-Resistance in Palestine
Eric Draitser
Ajamu Baraka, “Uncle Tom,” and the Pathology of White Liberal Racism
Jack Rasmus
Greek Debt and the New Financial Imperialism
Robert Fisk
The Sultan’s Hit List Grows, as Turkey Prepares to Enter Syria
Abubakar N. Kasim
What Did the Olympics Really Do for Humanity?
Renee Parsons
Obamacare Supporters Oppose ColoradoCare
Alycee Lane
The Trump Campaign: a White Revolt Against ‘Neoliberal Multiculturalism’
Edward Hunt
Maintaining U.S. Dominance in the Pacific
George Wuerthner
The Big Fish Kill on the Yellowstone
Jesse Jackson
Democrats Shouldn’t Get a Blank Check From Black Voters
Kent Paterson
Saving Southern New Mexico from the Next Big Flood
Arnold August
RIP Jean-Guy Allard: A Model for Progressive Journalists Working in the Capitalist System
August 23, 2016
Diana Johnstone
Hillary and the Glass Ceilings Illusion
Bill Quigley
Race and Class Gap Widening: Katrina Pain Index 2016 by the Numbers
Ted Rall
Trump vs. Clinton: It’s All About the Debates
Eoin Higgins
Will Progressive Democrats Ever Support a Third Party Candidate?
Kenneth J. Saltman
Wall Street’s Latest Public Sector Rip-Off: Five Myths About Pay for Success
Binoy Kampmark
Labouring Hours: Sweden’s Six-Hour Working Day
John Feffer
The Globalization of Trump
Gwendolyn Mink – Felicia Kornbluh
Time to End “Welfare as We Know It”
Medea Benjamin
Congress Must Take Action to Block Weapon Sales to Saudi Arabia
Halyna Mokrushyna
Political Writer, Daughter of Ukrainian Dissident, Detained and Charged in Ukraine
Manuel E. Yepe
Tourism and Religion Go Hand-in-Hand in the Caribbean
ED ADELMAN
Belted by Trump
Thomas Knapp
War: The Islamic State and Western Politicians Against the Rest of Us
Nauman Sadiq
Shifting Alliances: Turkey, Russia and the Kurds
Rivera Sun
Active Peace: Restoring Relationships While Making Change
August 22, 2016
Eric Draitser
Hillary Clinton: The Anti-Woman ‘Feminist’
Robert Hunziker
Arctic Death Rattle
Norman Solomon
Clinton’s Transition Team: a Corporate Presidency Foretold
Ralph Nader
Hillary’s Hubris: Only Tell the Rich for $5000 a Minute!
Russell Mokhiber
Save the Patients, Cut Off the Dick!
Steven M. Druker
The Deceptions of the GE Food Venture
Elliot Sperber
Clean, Green, Class War: Bill McKibben’s Shortsighted ‘War on Climate Change’
Binoy Kampmark
Claims of Exoneration: The Case of Slobodan Milošević
Walter Brasch
The Contradictions of Donald Trump
Michael Donnelly
Body Shaming Trump: Statue of Limitations
Weekend Edition
August 19, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Carl Boggs
Hillary and the War Party
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Prime Time Green
Andrew Levine
Hillary Goes With the Flow
Dave Lindorff
New York Times Shames Itself by Attacking Wikileaks’ Assange
Gary Leupp
Could a Russian-Led Coalition Defeat Hillary’s War Plans?
Conn Hallinan
Dangerous Seas: China and the USA
Joshua Frank
Richard Holbrooke and the Obama Doctrine
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail