BY CHRIS SZABLA
The U.S.-led War in Afghanistan, plagued by unclear goals and unintended consequences, must change course, according to Tariq Ali. Condemning the conduct of the conflict, the influential London-based Pakistani historian, journalist, and editor of the New Left Review also touched on the regrouping of the Taliban and the geopolitical motivations for NATO’s presence in the region. Ali also presented what he believed would be a successful exit strategy from the now eight year long war. The event was sponsored by Unbound, Harvard’s journal of leftist legal thought.
After an introduction by Tor Krever ’11, spokesman for Unbound, and by Prof. Duncan Kennedy, Ali praised recent developments in Pakistan, calling the reinstatement of the country’s Chief Justice, Iftikhar Muhammed Chaudhry – dismissed after standing up the country’s ruling elites – a rare bit of good news for the region. He also lauded the country’s lawyers’ movement, which had helped to place Chaudhry back on the bench – and wondered why there was not a similar movement against breaches of the rule of law in the U.S.
Turning to Afghanistan, Ali speculated that the war had been primarily motivated by revenge. He highlighted the Taliban’s initial offer to turn over members of Al-Qaeda if the U.S. produced evidence of their role in the September 11th attacks – a request, he lamented, never taken seriously. He also hinted at darker motives for NATO’s role in the conflict, pointing to statements by the organization’s Secretary General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, that Western armies’ ongoing role in the region is meant to “contain China”.
Ali also said that the U.S.’ initial goals – to kill or capture Osama bin Laden or the Taliban’s former leader, Mullah Omar – had become a driving obsession, interfering with attempts to make a positive impact on the country. If NATO had gone into Afghanistan with the stated goal of reconstruction and development, Ali reasoned, its conduct would not have alienated as many Afghans. Instead, he claimed, their raids into the countryside have increased support for a resurgent Taliban and sent many Afghans streaming to shelter on the outskirts of the capital, Kabul. There, they live in shanties within direct sight of the comparatively luxurious lifestyles of aid groups and Western militaries.
In the face of an occupation force that ignores the social realities of the Afghan state, Ali said, and an Afghan government that barely retains control of Kandahar and Kabul, the Taliban has not only expanded its territorial scope and military strength, but its membership. Ali asserts these new recruits have changed the character of the organization. Citing formal Taliban press conferences in which members of the group wore suits, he went on to describe their offer to cleanse the region of Al-Qaeda – if NATO forces were to leave the region, entirely. While not explicitly exhorting NATO to take up their offer, Ali did suggest that the organization aim to fulfill Afghans’ social and political needs rather than continue to concentrate on Al-Qaeda, which he said had become a wildly overstated threat.
Doing so, Ali said, would allow Afghanistan to recover from a state which was “worse than under the Taliban,” worse even, NGOs now report, for women. Noting that rapes had increased significantly, he said that Afghans now looked to Iran as a model society. Echoing the alleged Obama administration plans to engage that country to seek a regional solution for Afghanistan, Ali said that Pakistan, Russia, and China should all be involved as well. Still, Ali did not believe the war could continue to be prosecuted as a fruitless assault on Al-Qaeda, a campaign promise which Pres. Barack Obama ’91 could only possibly deliver at Afghanistan’s continuing expense.