FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Perils of Modernization in Afghanistan

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

 

More articles by:

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.

September 20, 2018
Michael Hudson
Wasting the Lehman Crisis: What Was Not Saved Was the Economy
John Pilger
Hold the Front Page, the Reporters are Missing
Kenn Orphan
The Power of the Anthropocene
Paul Cox – Stan Cox
Puerto Rico’s Unnatural Disaster Rolls on Into Year Two
Rajan Menon
Yemen’s Descent Into Hell: a Saudi-American War of Terror
Russell Mokhiber
Nick Brana Says Dems Will Again Deny Sanders Presidential Nomination
Nicholas Levis
Three Lessons of Occupy Wall Street, With a Fair Dose of Memory
Steve Martinot
The Constitutionality of Homeless Encampments
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
The Aftershocks of the Economic Collapse Are Still Being Felt
Jesse Jackson
By Enforcing Climate Change Denial, Trump Puts Us All in Peril
George Wuerthner
Coyote Killing is Counter Productive
Mel Gurtov
On Dealing with China
Dean Baker
How to Reduce Corruption in Medicine: Remove the Money
September 19, 2018
Bruce E. Levine
When Bernie Sold Out His Hero, Anti-Authoritarians Paid
Lawrence Davidson
Political Fragmentation on the Homefront
George Ochenski
How’s That “Chinese Hoax” Treating You, Mr. President?
Cesar Chelala
The Afghan Morass
Chris Wright
Three Cheers for the Decline of the Middle Class
Howard Lisnoff
The Beat Goes On Against Protest in Saudi Arabia
Nomi Prins 
The Donald in Wonderland: Down the Financial Rabbit Hole With Trump
Jack Rasmus
On the 10th Anniversary of Lehman Brothers 2008: Can ‘IT’ Happen Again?
Richard Schuberth
Make Them Suffer Too
Geoff Beckman
Kavanaugh in Extremis
Jonathan Engel
Rather Than Mining in Irreplaceable Wilderness, Why Can’t We Mine Landfills?
Binoy Kampmark
Needled Strawberries: Food Terrorism Down Under
Michael McCaffrey
A Curious Case of Mysterious Attacks, Microwave Weapons and Media Manipulation
Elliot Sperber
Eating the Constitution
September 18, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Britain: the Anti-Semitism Debate
Tamara Pearson
Why Mexico’s Next President is No Friend of Migrants
Richard Moser
Both the Commune and Revolution
Nick Pemberton
Serena 15, Tennis Love
Binoy Kampmark
Inconvenient Realities: Climate Change and the South Pacific
Martin Billheimer
La Grand’Route: Waiting for the Bus
John Kendall Hawkins
Seymour Hersh: a Life of Adversarial Democracy at Work
Faisal Khan
Is Israel a Democracy?
John Feffer
The GOP Wants Trumpism…Without Trump
Kim Ives
The Roots of Haiti’s Movement for PetroCaribe Transparency
Dave Lindorff
We Already Have a Fake Billionaire President; Why Would We want a Real One Running in 2020?
Gerry Brown
Is China Springing Debt Traps or Throwing a Lifeline to Countries in Distress?
Pete Tucker
The Washington Post Really Wants to Stop Ben Jealous
Dean Baker
Getting It Wrong Again: Consumer Spending and the Great Recession
September 17, 2018
Melvin Goodman
What is to be Done?
Rob Urie
American Fascism
Patrick Cockburn
The Adults in the White House Trying to Save the US From Trump Are Just as Dangerous as He Is
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
The Long Fall of Bob Woodward: From Nixon’s Nemesis to Cheney’s Savior
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail