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UN Dispatch: How the U.S. Is Still Getting Afghanistan Wrong

Author: Ahmad Shuja
March 13, 2012

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The debate following the Kandahar massacre shows that Americans at home and in Afghanistan still don't quite understand the meaning of events in that country, writes Ahmad Shuja.

The debate following the Kandahar massacre shows that Americans at home and in Afghanistan still don't quite understand the meaning of events in that country. Domestically, the calls for a swifter withdrawal are not only divorced from the realities of logistical constraints but also displays a reckless disregard for the negative consequences of a hasty pullout on Afghans. In Afghanistan, an instinct of fear pervades the US and ISAF reaction, which leads them to ignore the grief of the victims.

This approach is precisely the wrong one because disregarding the human suffering and concentrating on "Afghan anger" and threat of a "backlash" dehumanizes the people affected by this incident and paints them not as victims but as potential aggressors. From a practical standpoint, it is especially counterproductive that the mission charged with protecting the civilians is taking the fear approach, because it separates them from the population and prevents a more human connection with the population in grief.

Further, it ignores all historical precedent of how civilians have reacted to such incidents, which is with much restraint. Afghan civilians have been killed intentionally – like in the case of the "Kill Team" – and unintentionally during aerial strikes, but the civilians have remained overwhelmingly peaceful despite the loss and a pent-up sense of anger. Misreading the public reaction after repeatedly observing an overwhelmingly peaceful population means the international mission has some serious difficulties connecting with the people and drawing the right lessons.

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