The lion prowls in Afghanistan
By Slater Bakhtavar
"What I want to say is that he was never an extremist, neither in his private nor political life. He believed that a modern moderate Islam could work in Afghanistan. He said that the extreme left or right failed in Afghanistan, since both had neglected the needs of the people. Therefore, we could not govern Afghanistan like any traditional Muslim country." -Ahmad Wali Massoud regarding Ahmed Massoud Shah of the Northern Alliance.
In 1996, funded financially and backed morally by their allies in Pakistan, the Taliban ("Students of Islamic Knowledge Movement") emerged as the prominent force in Afghanistan after the war against the Soviet Union and the fall of the corrupt communist dictatorship. In a campaign of failed promises, the Taliban unified various ethnic and religious groups in their attempt at stifling power. Originally the Afghani people, who were exhausted and weary due to decades of civil war, supported what they saw as a unified force that would be able to bring stability to the nation. On the global platform, Pakistan was able to convince the Clinton Administration, Saudi Arabia, and the United Kingdom that the Taliban was the ideal choice of governance for Afghanistan. Having the desire to consolidate their own power while dismissing US-calls for the return of King Mohammad Zahir Shah they solidified the most fundamentalist elements of the regime.
Foreign government subsistence for the Taliban was thoroughly tied to economic self-interest. Pakistan and others wanted to protect a convoy of open trade between Pakistan and Central Asia. So that Afghani nationalists could not procure power, a Shar'ia led Sunni fundamentalist regime was implemented. Viable opposition groups such as the Northern Alliance led by The Lion of Panjshir, Ahmed Massoud Shah, fought against the regime from the north and controlled about 30% of the territory. Nevertheless, countries neglected morally or economically supporting these groups instead maintaining their support for the extremist regime. During the next couple of years, the Taliban ruthlessly oppressed the Afghani people, initiating a radical form of Wahhabist Sunni Islam in the nation.
Some of the crimes of Taliban government were the jailing or beating of men for shaving their beards, execution of women in stadiums, executing homosexuals with excessively large bricks, stoning of adulteresses, shooting of criminals by family members, banning of television and music, destruction of religious minority holy sites, requiring religious minorities to wear badges, forbidding women to attend school or hold a job, and requiring women to wear the burqa, among others.
After the terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center and The Pentagon, the Bush administration initiated the ‘Bush Doctrine,' implemented with the objective of spreading democracy throughout the Middle East. The basic theory behind the doctrine may be solidified by Historian Spencer R. Weart, "democracies will not fight each other." The trumpeted conclusive objective of the doctrine is the implementation of a democratic region that respects human rights, religious and ethnic minorities, and the basic foundations of freedom.
In Afghanistan, the Bush Doctrine has been a monumental success. During presidential elections, 10.5 million Afghanis registered to vote, 40.3% percent of them women. Afghanis were given a diverse list of eighteen presidential candidates to choose from while being given access to 25,000 poll stations across the country. In December's parliamentary elections the country elected its first parliament since the late 60's. A variety of ethnic, religious, and cultural backgrounds were represented by the three hundred fifty one elected. The spurring turnout surprised most pundits, the thought of one of the poorest nations in the world where there's more illiterates than literates embracing democracy was a mandate.
In 2005, ABC conducted the first nation-wide poll inside of Afghanistan, showing the enthusiasm and confidence of the average Afghani. According to the poll ninety one percent said that they supported Karzai's government while only one percent said they supported Taliban. When asked their sentiments towards the United States overthrow of the Taliban, eighty seven percent said it was a good thing while only nine percent said it was a bad. When asked if women should be allowed to hold office, sixty four percent said yes. When asked if Afghanistan is going in right direction seventy seven percent said yes. When asked for approval of current living conditions, eighty five percent agreed. When asked what the greatest danger to Afghanistan is, forty one percent said the Taliban only four percent said the United States.
In a 2005 report, The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) said "under the post-Taliban interim Government, Afghanistan's economy has recovered significantly. Non-drug gross domestic product (GDP) rose to about over $4 billion in 2002, and economic growth for 2003 was estimated at 16 per cent. Considerable progress has been made on the education front. By 2004, 54.4 percent of primary age children were in school. Since 2002, a record four million high school students have enrolled. But Afghanistan still has "the worst education system in the world," and one of the lowest adult literacy rates, at just 28.7 per cent of the population, according to the report." These results show the dynamics of the Afghani nation and their proud push towards a modern, progressive democracy.
Many Americans have been false-heartedly led by the mainstream media to believe that the doctrine has become an unmitigated disaster. This form of distorting reality frames a deceptive image of the conditions in Afghanistan. Propaganda wars aside, the truth emanating from Afghanistan is that the Asian country is progressing in remarkable fashion and the tremendous majority of Afghanis are supportive of both the Karzai government and are grateful to The Bush Administration. The Afghanis understand that it takes time to progress toward an independent, proud modern democratic nation, but they also understand that Afghanistan will eventually emerge as one of the seats of progress in the Middle East because the spirit of the The Lion of Panjshir lives on.
(c) 2006 Slater Bakhtavar