Mujib Abid |
The brutality of the Afghan war, while consistently downplayed – in civilian casualty reports, disputed territory, vulnerability of Kabul government, among other indicators – is breaking through the epistemic bounds set by government, its international backers, and its ‘civil society’. The violence that has engulfed Kabul and Afghanistan over the last two weeks should expose the (non)existence, failures and stopgap nature (depending on how one looks at it) of the war strategy in Kabul and Washington.
Of the two possible courses of action, to militarily defeat Taliban or genuinely seek a political settlement (for Obama, it was reintegrate or reconcile), the former is not only taking precedence but has become the only policy. Massive losses in civilian lives, primarily victims of the Afghan war, ought to force decision makers, in many centres of power, to re-evaluate set directions, taken-for-granted in Trump and Ghani-Abdullah’s rhetoric.
Sa’ad Mohseni, owner of Moby Group, the country’s biggest and most influential private media conglomerate and, incidentally, part owned by Rupert Murdoch, declared that the Afghan war ‘must continue until we prevail.’
Instead, it reinforces their ‘commitment’ to failed policies, more war, and reproduction of the status quo. Prospects for peace in Afghanistan have never looked bleaker. Through social media, glimpses of the site of the 27th January suicide bombing at the Chahrahi Sedarat area of Kabul are on display. An ambulance loaded to the brim with explosives blew up at the roadblock leading to the entry gate of the old Ministry of Interior.
Countless bodies lie around, dripped in blood, body parts torn apart, bones pointed outwards, knees and rib cages bare, brains splattered around. It is chaotic, no doubt. Cries of the injured and those looking for their kin coupled with sirens of ambulances and police, are at once all too familiar and shocking to the spectator. The eerie calm of the still photographs from the scene, widely shared on social media, I imagine both as a call for help and an expression of outrage, can be awesome in their capacity to deceive the sense of perception.
Read more: Taliban and IS creating chaos in Kabul
Despite the lesser value attached to native Afghan life, closely tied to space and culture, loss of life shocks. In its wake, the suicide attack left over 100 people dead and over 200 injured, according to latest updates. Just two days later, a military unit near the Marshal Fahim Military University was attacked; over 11 army members were killed and 16 injured. A week before the Ministry of Interior attack, the Kabul Intercontinental Hotel was under fire; the fighting that killed over 20 people lasted for 15 hours.
The ‘civil society’, the engine that legitimates the system, the partisan media – for reasons of funding dependency but also structural ideological overlaps, i.e. privately owned media thrives in American imposed capitalism – operates in mythic regimes of truth: a partisan accessory to the violence and chaos of the Afghan war.
In the same week, Save the Children was attacked in Jalalabad city, leaving 6 dead and another 26 injured. I can go on, knowing this list is not exhaustive and that civilian causalities often (intentionally and at times out of reach of resourceful observer’s gaze) go unreported and unseen. The sheer violence and suffering caused, mostly to the poor and the working class, should be a call for drastic change.
Yet, perhaps not unlike my rendition of these horrific attacks above, the reaction that such episodes elicit in Kabul and Washington could hardly do it justice and are almost systematic and predictable. Important to note this is in relation to the wider leadership elite and not the immediate families of the victims. Social media condemnations (twitter is a favourite of the leadership), intelligence community covering its tracks by claiming they were aware of the impending attack, American leadership declaring victory is ‘absolutely’ possible and disavowing any possibility of peace talks, Amrullah Saleh and Rahmatullah Nabil (two former Afghan intelligence agency directors), relying on their former title, arguing it was the doing of Pakistan, and of course (repeated) calls for vengeance.
Then the initial shock slowly withers away. Within days, the impending amnesia takes over. The elite and their international backers treat such episodes like a bad nightmare, to survive from and forget about – collectively – as soon as possible. Recovery from such traumatic media events means survival of the status quo, that works so well for the leadership.
In their militarism, the Kabul government and Washington are on the same wavelength, dangerously. Abdullah’s views on peace with Taliban, for reasons of historical grudge and identity politics, are well known: he is not a fan.
For the people in the ‘population centres’, of course, moving on is not so simple; it is survival from this one and fear from the next one (Afghans carry around notes in their pockets with emergency contacts, their blood type, and name; imagine living like that). For those outside big cities, such catastrophe too often befalls from all sides: aerial bombings and drone strikes (with their capacity for slow violence), and life under Taliban.
A sizable number, often forgotten like those under Taliban controlled territory, live in the ‘in-between’ spaces, the contested areas that are most volatile and exposed to violence. Such spaces are the ‘state of exception’, life has little value to derail set policies and there are no eyes to capture and report on the suffering of the forgotten. The Afghan war has dramatically intensified since Trump’s inauguration a year ago.
He gladly handed over the reins of war ‘back’ to generals – which became public knowledge in the most violent manner with the dropping of the ‘MOAB’. His militarism is evident in a new ‘surge’ of troops and ‘trainers’ set to join the existing 20,000 or so foreign forces and an estimated 30,000 contractors and civilian agents. 2017 saw 4,300 bombs dropped in Afghanistan, double than what was dropped in 2015 and 2016.
Taliban under pressure in the rural areas, flex their muscle in ‘population centres’ – official Washington policy to favour big cities – where its power is more visible, reported on, and discussed. The double-headed ‘national unity government’, is bent on military victory at all costs. Ghani recently, no doubt attempting to impress his American audience, in his signature irritated tone stated to 60 Minutes correspondent Lara Logan that his forces will fight for ‘as long as it takes, generations if need be’ to prevail in the battlefield.
Then the initial shock slowly withers away. Within days, the impending amnesia takes over. The elite and their international backers treat such episodes like a bad nightmare, to survive from and forget about – collectively – as soon as possible.
Abdullah’s views on peace with Taliban, for reasons of historical grudge and identity politics, are well known: he is not a fan. The ‘civil society’, the engine that legitimates the system, the partisan media – for reasons of funding dependency but also structural ideological overlaps, i.e. privately owned media thrives in American imposed capitalism – operates in mythic regimes of truth: a partisan accessory to the violence and chaos of the Afghan war. Sa’ad Mohseni, owner of Moby Group, the country’s biggest and most influential private media conglomerate and, incidentally, part-owned by Rupert Murdoch, declared that the Afghan war ‘must continue until we prevail.’
These forces are all in cahoots, collectively calling for continuation of the war with little regard for its human cost – on all sides. The dominant discourse (of ‘total victory’ and absolute annihilation of the ‘other’) has dwarfed calls for reconciliation and peace. In their militarism, the Kabul government and Washington are on the same wavelength, dangerously.
“Mujib Abid is Doctoral Candidate at School of Political Science & International Studies, at University of Queensland Australia. His thesis is a critical study of the Afghan-American encounter in the post-9/11 Afghanistan. After his undergraduate studies at the American University of Afghanistan, he completed his Masters in peace and conflict studies program at the University of Sydney; he has also worked as a Lecturer and Tutor at the Western Sydney University. Twitter: @MujibAbid” The views expressed in this article are authors own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.