Strangely, though a lot of importance is given to move ahead and change with time, practically little consideration has been given to the so-called “modern” powers and a “superpower” still literally bound by yesterday’s norms. Yes, it is time to stop understanding today’s world from their perspective. True, this process has begun in quite a few quarters, including this newsletter. Now, is also the time to question their use of words such as diplomacy, democracy, peace, aid, friendship and among others, terrorism. These must no longer be understood by parameters set by so-called major and super powers, but by what they actually stand for.
What have more than ten years of stationing of foreign forces in Afghanistan really spelt for the soldiers and the affected people? For a while, let us look at it from the soldiers and their families’ angle. What have they gained by fighting in a foreign land, for and against Afghans? Loss of lives, severe injuries, for them as well as Afghans. Howsoever deceptive and guarded, most of the media maybe, it cannot be ignored that such a prolonged stay of troops in a foreign land does not convey a positive message. Ten years, despite the best arms and techniques at their command, have not been sufficient to apparently secure their aims. Now, can this be labeled as wise and sensible diplomacy? Certainly not. Basically, diplomacy does not require use of or threat to use war and war-like measures. Rather, when bullets, missiles and other weapons are put to use, that marks only the failure of diplomacy. In this context, from day one, diplomacy of US and its allies towards Afghanistan can be labeled as nothing but a failure.
Sadly, rather than paying attention to failure of Afghanistan-diplomacy, attention has been primarily focused on giving credibility and some legitimacy to war-measures being exercised there as essential to defeat terrorism and establish democracy. Either ways, use of force cannot be linked with even most crude aspects of diplomacy.
Where democracy is concerned, it certainly doesn’t spell installation of puppet-regimes, whose primary responsibility is not to their own citizens. Seriously speaking, would it really be correct to assume that influence of the present Afghan-government, headed by President Hamid Karzai, is truly democratic? Were it so, would the Afghan citizens complain of being caught in fire from two sides, that of American forces and Karzai? Also, does Karzai’s influence extend beyond Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan? In other words, ten years of warfare, have failed in totally subduing the region’s warlords and terrorists, despite the most severe war-exercises indulged in by the superpower and its allies. The latter point refers to even innocent Afghan citizens, including children having fallen victim to these exercises. Not surprisingly, over the years, Afghans’ support for presence of foreign troops on their own land has diminished.
Irrespective of whether it is really in the interest of democracy, but can it really be established in another country by use of force? After all, in war-prone zones, democracy demands a victory of ballot over the bullet and not use of bullet to fool people about having their say through the ballot. When and if people in a nation at most levels are not in support of presence of foreign troops on their terrain, but even then they remain there, unmoved by innocent citizens falling prey to their bullets, shouldn’t this be viewed as terrorism? OK, accepted that blaming Uncle Sam and his associates for “terrorism” would be subject to strong criticism and may spell hell for all sharing this stand. Think of it from a different angle. Just as indulgence, even initiation, of war can only be viewed as failure of diplomacy, usage of even country-made weapons to force people to the bullet box cannot be regarded as democracy. Rather, when local/national leaders indulge in such practice to coerce votes only in their favor, kill their rivals or use other means, that would not be defined as democracy, but indulgence in warfare for the sake of access to power. It also amounts to abuse of ballot box, the citizens’ right to vote as their choice and virtually manipulating politics for selfish gains. When external forces resort to almost the same tactics, forcibly manipulating the country’s political system so that it works at their command, how can this be termed as democracy? Even if peaceful measures are used, democracy cannot be imposed upon another nation by external forces.
Nevertheless, presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan is justified as necessary, a must, as an “aid” from US to people there. Now, can any community or nation “love” being “aided” when it spells almost uprooting them from their own region, killing them and using all means to subdue them to maximum extent possible. Also, is the US providing any notable help to American soldiers and their families who are stationed in foreign region to, ostensibly, fight for foreigners, whom they don’t at all understand. For a minute, let us place sufferings faced by Afghans in the background. How have the American soldiers gained? Give a thought to the gloom that has ascended on the home and entire neighborhood, every time the soldier has returned home severely handicapped for life or worse, when only the coffin has marked the soldier’s return. It is difficult to believe and accept that ten years in Afghanistan have not proved costly, from a humanitarian angle, in terms of lives lost and people injured, whether Americans, Afghans or of any other country.
Why should United States’ Afghan policy be viewed as a part of its diplomatic drive in the region? US is pursuing the colonial policy in a bid to retain a “strategic” hold in Afghanistan without permitting any hype to be raised about the losses it is suffering in return, monetarily, diplomatically and socially. Now, when the US to date only failed in exercising its neo-imperial designs to it its satisfaction across Afghanistan, on what fronts should its foreign drive be hailed as a success? Had the US pursued similar policies several decades ago, when the Internet and television had not kept almost the entire world familiar with what is happening in most parts of the world, Uncle Sam may have succeeded in convincing all to go by its “diplomatic” culture, without questioning its colonial designs. The global culture is no more the same. And this is what makes it all the more imperative to stop understanding and even believing the diplomatic jargon used by US, be it diplomacy, democracy, terrorism or aid, among other such other terms. This is the demand of today’s diplomatic ethics and communication revolution.
NILOFAR SUHRAWARDY is a journalist based in New Delhi, India.