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When Hearts and Minds are War-Torn

by TOM H. HASTINGS

The Taliban is finally making another try at initiating peace talks. Who is listening and who cares?

Afghans care. Their hearts are in pieces like the rubble that is strewn wherever the US-led NATO/Karzai forces have bombed from the air, or where the Taliban has crude-bombed, sometimes suicide-bombed, from the ground.

The Bush-installed Karzai government cares—and they don’t want it because the Taliban are sort of acting like a government-in-exile, replete with a new office in Doha, Qatar that sported a Taliban flag and a plaque identifying the building as the offices of the “Political Office of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.” Whoops. Hamid Karzai wants it clear that these are just ragtag insurgents, not a government-in-exile. But both sides have a point. Karzai holds that, unlike the Taliban, his government is elected. The Taliban, who did indeed take power by military force—although the origin stories of the Taliban tell of liberation and defense of the vulnerable, making them popular in the early-to-mid 1990s and made recruiting easy for them, paving their way to power—ruled Afghanistan from 1996 until ousted by the US invasion in 2001 (and were heavily supported during their formation and rule by the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence, who were massively supported by the US), so in their eyes they are the government-in-exile. They see Karzai as the puppet government of the occupying military.

Underlying these deep differences are the age-old problems of the conflict industry, that is, those who benefit financially, politically, or militarily by the continuation of the war and so work to sabotage peace efforts. Those parties may be visible or shadowy and they may proclaim public support for peace or peace talks, but their actual work is to undermine any real peace. They are the war contractors, the business owners both in Afghanistan and elsewhere who profit handsomely from the ongoing war, the military leaders from all sides, and the politicians who stand to lose everything if peace breaks out. Indeed, says a Pakistani source who told Reuters on condition of anonymity, “there were many likely spoilers in the peace process who would want to maintain the status quo to continue to benefit from the war economy and the present chaotic conditions.”

How can we who live in a democracy help in a situation like this?

First, tell our President and our Secretary of State and our elected representatives that we expect the US to stick to the military exit plan, to accelerate it if possible, and to bring home or destroy all US military weapons and munitions as we leave. The US should ban itself from selling or giving any weapons to any party in the region. That is a proven losing strategy, again and again. It was a loser when we gave tons of weapons to the mujahedeen in the 1980s—weapons that then became the arsenals of the fighting Islamic forces that either launched the September 11 attacks or harbored those who did. It’s called blowback and it works well for US war profiteers. Ending their profit-taking is perhaps the most important peace step the American people can achieve by themselves, without the involvement of any foreign government. As long as American war corporations are allowed to sell their warmaking arsenals and ammunition either to the Pentagon to give away to Central Asian governments or to any of those governments (or any parties who trade with those governments and who can act as transshipment brokers), we are enabling the conflict industry that is killing innocent Afghans and enraging the survivors and crippling any efforts toward peace.

We, the American people, can take decisive steps to give Afghans more hope than they’ve had since 1979 if we outlaw the sale of the goods of war to the region, withdraw our own troops and weaponry, and convert funds that our Congress was going to take from the US taxpayers for making war and spend them instead on some combination of desperately needed humanitarian aid, US war-debt reduction, and US domestic expenses (education, environmental protection, and US infrastructure maintenance—all of which create far more jobs than the weapons industry ever did).

In short, what is good for peace for the people of Afghanistan is good for the well being of all Americans except for the extremely wealthy war profiteers. It’s time for them to stop controlling us.

Tom H. Hastings is PeaceVoice Director and teaches in the Conflict Resolution program at Portland State University.

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Tom H. Hastings is core faculty in the Conflict Resolution Department at Portland State University and founding director of PeaceVoice

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