Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Much Ado About “Nothing we didn’t already know”

Confidential reports about the state of the war in Afghanistan was recently released by an organization called Wikileaks :- an organization devoted to whistle blowing (collecting and releasing documents that wikileaks feels the public ought to know). It headlined in 3 leading newspapers :- NyTimes, Guardian, Der Spiegel, while every other piece of news including Iran’s sudden “ Oh. Now that you really really really mean to punish me by meting out sanctions, is there somewhere we can sit and discuss this?” was fully submerged. By the end of the day, the documents’ revelations- ISI collusion with the Taliban, civilian casualty, bribe and corruption, the strength of Taliban’s military capability were concluded as “there’s nothing new here. We already knew this.” Yet the manner in which it all came out, the sensational undercover Wikileaks organization, its platinum-blonde, handsome and forthright editor-in-chief & spokesperson Julian Assange and the sheer magnitude of the reports made it meaty media material.

Editorials and opinions swarmed the internet, and again, they concluded that we knew all this already. Perhaps a few things have been distorted. We were lead to believe that American Helicopters were shot down by guns and artillery whereas they were shot down by heat seaking missiles that the Taliban possess. Some of the money going into the war is being used to bribe Afghan officials into doing their job. Afghan civilians are even more scared about the Taliban than we originally thought. But really, these are questions of degree, not of outright lying and purposeful misleading. Terrorism in Afghanistan is real and present. If it isn’t stopped, the rest of the world is going to be attacked. AGAIN.

White house officials for their part got all childish and insisted that it put their troops in risk (because until now the Taliban and the ISI thought that the US had believed their bluff about being nice people ???). They insisted that the person who had passed on these reports be found and prosecuted, only making ordinary people ask “ Why are you so scared that we know the truth. What else are you hiding from us. Did we never land on the moon either ?”. Ultimately however, everyone had to at least revisit their opinion about the war strategy.

For a while now, people have pretended that this war is anything like other wars- where the battlefields are clear, where civilians can wait safely in their houses, risking only those lives that are in the battlezone. And we’ve also pretended that there is a mathematics to it that will let us set an unambiguous deadline for finishing the war and heading home. It seems that the American people must be reminded more frequently that Afghan Terrorism exists today because we sought their help while fighting the commies and then hung them to dry when we’d finished with Russia. We left them in the lurch then. To do that again would be not only foolhardy, not only unfair, but also dangerous. Afghan anger against Americans and allied forces is fully justified. So also is their fear and perhaps even their belief that the Taliban will do them more good as long as they listened and abided by every radical rule that was imposed on them. To earn Afghan loyalty is of prime importance – as rightly and strongly outlined in Gen. Petraeus’s CounterInsurgency Field Manuals. To abandon them, when some of them may at last be seeing hope outside of Taliban’s dictatorship would be ridiculous. Earning trust is not something we can put a timestamp on. Neither is saying “we’ll protect you for the next 3 years. After that we’ll throw you to a pack of wolves”, which is what it must seem like to the Afghans. Thankfully, the US congress finally approved more funds for the war and perhaps president Obama will stop the nonsense about discussing timelines come December.

Meanwhile, all is not lost. Media in Afghanistan is ramping up. At least some people are looking at soap operas, of lives lived in foreign lands and are beginning to wonder if they could live like that too. Gossiping about the neighbor, plotting against mother-in-laws may be a luxury that they will soon begin to yearn. At least some people are listening to criticism against the Taliban and are wondering if there may be some truth to it. And at least some of them are looking at images of cities with roads, hospitals and education and are hoping that they too can be like that someday.

And already women are beginning to get enrolled in schools. And people are beginning to talk to each other non-stop on cellphones and landlines. And thanks to US occupation, many of them can at least apply a band-aid on a gash if not have their hip replaced. Some of this is worth fighting a really long time. Even if the peace lasts only a day or two, there will be some kids that will go on to remember what it was like to play in fields of hay and will strive to make that last in turn.

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