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Manufacturing Afghan nationalism
by DT (reposted)
Tuesday Jul 19th, 2005 8:41 AM
How can Afghanistan merge together different ethnic factions (with antagonistic pasts)? What incentive or motivation should be introduced to bring them in concert with each other? And how can Kabul convince these groups to trade their cultural identities for an abstract personality in a bid to create the imagined community of Afghans?
Islamabad and Kabul are engaged in a war of words. The verbal battle comes in the wake of the upsurge of violence in Afghanistan, where, according to a news report, the Taliban have claimed over 600 lives since the beginning of the year. Compared to the number of fatalities throughout last year — 850 deaths in militant attacks — the figure presents a frightening picture.

The failing security situation in Afghanistan is the main cause of the current tension between the two capitals. Afghan officials accuse Islamabad of supporting anti-Kabul elements. Islamabad categorically denies the charge.

In early May, there were anti-US demonstrations in Afghanistan to protest the desecration of the Quran at the Guantanamo Bay prison. The violence that sparked in Jalalabad spread towards the east and the south of the country, claiming 16 lives and injuring more than a hundred people.

The areas of bloodshed almost stretched along the region where US forces have been deployed in their battle against the Taliban and other militant factions. So while admitting that US military operations and the ensuing detention of innocent Afghans have become sources of resentment, President Hamid Karzai also made an encrypted reference to foreign involvement.

“Afghan students were encouraged to rise up and start demonstrations,” he said, while “other elements got into the demonstration and in the name of Afghanistan’s students and boys, destroyed [its] property”.

The situation worsened when Kabul claimed it had nailed three suspects of Pakistani descent for plotting to assassinate the outgoing US envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad. Islamabad’s riposte was that Afghanistan should take action against the individuals according to its laws.

President Pervez Musharraf telephoned Karzai twice in the same week. The second time round, he reportedly sought a halt to allegations against his government.

Musharraf said Pakistan’s nearly 70,000-strong security forces along the border were working to stop the enemy from crossing the Durand Line. But he maintained that it was, nevertheless, for the Afghan authorities to improve their internal security.

A few days later, Islamabad revealed information on militants entering Pakistan from Afghanistan. It requested guarantees that Kabul would take necessary measures to end the infiltration to help Pakistan reduce terrorist acts in its urban centres.

Officials in Islamabad have been visibly upset with the Afghan authorities. Most Pakistanis genuinely feel betrayed by Kabul officials, some of whom spent years in Pakistan during the Soviet invasion and after its troop withdrawal when Afghanistan plunged into factional fighting.

The Afghan side of the equation is simple, however. Kabul is busy with the twin processes of state- and nation-building. It needs to engender a spirit of nationalism — and that is where the trouble begins.

How can Afghanistan merge together different ethnic factions (with antagonistic pasts)? What incentive or motivation should be introduced to bring them in concert with each other? And how can Kabul convince these groups to trade their cultural identities for an abstract personality in a bid to create the imagined community of Afghans?

For Ernest Renan, a nation is “a group of people united by a mistaken view about the past and a hatred of their neighbours”. The Afghans display both these characteristics. In fact, the only common factor among the Uzbeks, Tajiks or Pashtuns living in Afghanistan today is a strong feeling of exploitation by external elements. Straddled between three major regions of the world — the Middle East, South, and Central Asia — Afghanistan has witnessed conflict among global or regional power players.

So while Kabul has resorted to positive mechanisms of state-building by conducting the presidential elections to reconstitute the central authority and embracing some high profile challengers of Hamid Karzai to form a more inclusive administration, it has also employed a negative tactic — demonising its neighbours.

Pakistan has been a preferred target for at least three reasons:

* The Afghan officials now calling the shots in Kabul were fighting the Taliban when Islamabad was trying to prop up the militant group to secure its interests in the neighbouring country. Apart from making that historic blunder of monumental proportion, it was also trying to sideline the people now running Afghanistan’s affairs.

* Taliban remnants have two significant links on this side of the border: their Pashtun descent and the religious and ideological affinity they have with the extremist elements.

* The above two factors breed enough suspicion. What worsens the situation are reports that the Taliban have contacts with “rogue elements” of Pakistan’s intelligence community. It is also suggested that Pakistan has not reconciled with losing its “influence” in Afghanistan.

The war of words will only aggravate the situation. Pakistan needs to pursue a strategy of generosity towards Afghanistan. Islamabad must help Kabul acquire greater political stability. It needs to pursue good neighbourly relations with Afghanistan and maintain the sanctity of the border that separates the two states.

Pakistan may even consider giving preferential treatment to the Afghan traders entering the country. This will not threaten our economy in any significant way (especially when the Afghan supplies are thoroughly security-cleared). But it will work to our advantage when the Gwadar port is made operational.

Meanwhile, Afghanistan will do a great service to its people (and the world at large) if it stops externalising its problems. Drug trade is once again becoming a nuisance for the world and, according to a memo written by officials of the US embassy in Kabul, the Afghan authorities — including the president — have not done much to address the situation.

The need of the hour is for both sides to begin to trust each other. Until a minimum level of trust can be developed, the friction will continue and can sour relations all over again.

The writer is Assistant Editor at Daily Times
Pakistan has been directly involved in conflicts in Afghanistan. Inter-Services Intelligence or (ISI) of Pakistan was supporting the Taleban financially and military. I am a witness of this claim. I saw people, carrying small flag of Pakistan on their clothes, in Mazar e Sharif- a strategic city in north of Afghanistan.

Government of Afghanistan should not trust Pakistan any more,