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Sep. 25 2009 - 7:51 am | 6 views | 1 recommendation | 1 comment

Pakistan Needs To Get More Involved In Afghanistan, Not Less

Pakistan’s role in the Afghan insurgency cannot be overstated. Afghan and foreign anti-government elements use the rugged and lonely mountains of western Pakistan  as a base of operations, planning headquarters and keystone of the Taliban supply line.

Osama bin Laden himself is, if still alive, widely thought to be holed up in the region and intelligence agencies from around the world have focused on places like Baluchistan, looking to kill or capture top insurgent commanders.

But Pakistan also plays another vitally important role in Afghanistan, one of positive cultural change.

The most progressive, open-minded and well educated Afghans I’ve met have almost all studied or lived for a time in Pakistan. And I don’t mean Karachi. A good friend of mine lived for years in western Pakistan, near Swat, and has some of the best ideas about reform and conflict resolution around. He learned many of these ideas, along with his fluent English, in a Pakistani school. I know another Afghan, a businessman, and his first jobs were in Pakistan. These jobs led to his current position at a major wireless provider here in Kabul.

And as much as Iran is demonized in the west, the Afghans I know who have studied in Tehran return to Afghanistan far more liberalized than when they left.

Despite what many western commentators say, Islam is not responsible for the woman torture, boy rape, blood feuding and corruption that defines too many lives in Afghanistan. Rather, these ills are the legacy of a culture still mired in dark-age norms, where honor-killings are considered the right of every man and where tribe is exalted above all except family.

Afghanistan’s neighbors to the east and west are uniquely positioned to help lead Afghan culture out of the past in a way that, due to broader geopolitical concerns, NATO seems unwilling to even try (a point I address here.)

I am not naive. I know that there are places in Pakistan where they bury women alive for trying to marry whoever they want. And I started this essay saying how important certain parts of Pakistan are to the Afghan insurgency. But I don’t condemn the entire nation any more than I hold every good citizen of Kentucky responsible for this cross burning I covered there in 2006. (2006!)

If Afghanistan is really ever going to change, to move away from this culture of violence and repression, it will need outside help that the west is  seemingly unwilling and probably incapable of providing.

NATO’s engagement with Pakistan cannot be limited to threats about keeping their hands off our war. The coalition should in fact encourage Pakistan–and even arch-nemesis Iran–to export their majority cultural practices through mass media and other avenues.

Many Afghans don’t like Iranians or Pakistanis any more than they like Americans. But these nations at least share (for the most part) a common belief system with Afghanistan and also a some key ethnic ties. They also have better universities, infrastructure and per-capita-incomes than Afghanistan, and their leaders are taken seriously here.

And who knows? If NATO partners with Pakistan and Iran on a project such as this, it might bring a new era in the US and Europe’s relationships in the region. As it is, these relationships couldn’t get much worse.


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  1. collapse expand

    Mr. Tobia,

    Your points are well taken, however, I do not believe that there is much basis for Afghanistan, as whole, to move in a direction of greater education and liberalization. The majority of people there have a medieval mindset because they live in a medieval reality. Iran, and to a lesser degree Pakistan, are much more industrialized nations, than Afghanistan. The Afghan economy is almost entirely agricultural, with hardly any mechanization. With all of the land (and power) concentrated in the hands of hereditary feudal clan and tribal leaders, the ordinary people outside of Kabul lead lives hardly different from those of European peasants 1,000 years ago. Until the economic base of the country changes, there will be little for the culture of Afghanistan to change.

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    About Me

    I’m a writer and reporter living in Kabul, Afghanistan. For the past four years I’ve been an investigative reporter at various Village Voice Media weeklies, and before that I worked on documentary films in New York City.

    I am currently a journalism mentor and news editor for The Killid Group, a not-for-profit radio and print organization based in Kabul, with five radio stations and many bureaus throughout Afghanistan.

    My writing has appeared in The Washington Post, Philadelphia Inquirer, Christian Science Monitor, Village Voice, Modern Drunkard and other fine publications.

    Originally from Philadelphia, I’ve also worked in south Florida and Nashville, Tennessee.

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    Contributor Since: June 2009
    Location:Kabul, Afghanistan