Despite international meddling, Karzai’s government certainly exacerbates the issues with greed for money and power. GIRoA has successfully marginalized village elders, and with them the villages they support which only serves to silence the traditional mouthpiece of the population. Rather, the Karzai administration pushes their corrupt and often ineffective bureaucracy that continues to receive glorifying reviews from Western military. These reviews and reports are often authored by mid-level brass who have discovered the political ramifications of having their own success characterized by the success of provincial and district governments. So in effect, corrupt officials continue to fleece money meant for districts, NATO’s middle management and staff get promoted, and everyone wins – except the people of Afghanistan who cannot see the benefit of being connected to a “predatory” or “ineffective” government.
Elder obsolescence is best captured in one of Afghanistan’s oldest conundrums historically mitigated through tribal councils: the land dispute – an issue that has become more problematic now than ever before as Afghans who fled decades ago return to find their land sold or seized, often many times over. The disputes and their frequently violent resolutions pervade throughout the nation with estimated occurrences ranging from hundreds to thousands, and often involve members of GIRoA as the antagonist who fraudulently sells state property, or fraudulently attempts to reclaim it.
According to Kabul-based political analyst, Mohammed Hassan Haqyar, these disputes are the second-largest detriment to the stabilization of Karzai’s government beyond the kinetic insurgent campaign. Particular disputes embody the failure of the population to understand the government they have been given which further exacerbates this misunderstanding with the abuses that government extends.
In 2011, Member of Parliament (MP) Qais Hussan and his brother Mir Wais erected a wall through the village of Mena not far from Kabul. MP Hussan declared that everyone living on one side of the wall needs to evacuate to the other side within twenty-four hours. The brothers claimed the village was unlawfully occupying state land, though the men intended to bulldoze the homes and sell the property for an entirely personal profit. When the village failed to obey, Mir Wais returned with a band of gunmen and shot at the villagers as they fled – killing six and wounding two dozen. Rockets were fired into their homes if they were not set ablaze. Similar instances have been reported in Khandahar when former Governor Ghulam Haider Hamidi destroyed several hundred homes. Shortly after, he was killed by a suicide bomber in a meeting with the village-less villagers. Both instances reveal the predatory nature of the current form of Western-backed GIRoA, and the need some villagers have for an alternative.
Even on a less scandalous, smaller scale, intertribal land disputes also evolve as potable water and tenable land become scarce commodities, but essential to survival. Unfortunately, the recourse for a land dispute often involves a stack of paperwork, a slow bureaucracy, and a lofty bribe which only insures the poor, illiterate tribesman will lose every time. This typically leaves the rural Afghans returning to the last effective form of governance they recall: the tribal jirga, or council. Within a heated jirga, the argument can rage for days over gallons of green chai as both parties lay claim to a piece of land until one side has convinced the majority of his right to the property, or perhaps a monetary decision is made. The process is one of the most grass-roots democratic forms of governance that has existed for centuries within the tribal structure. Each elder is a representative of his sub-tribe or qawm, within a village or collection of villages. Those elders select a malek which represents their collective interests. Through the jirga, women have large influence over the decisions and resolutions capitalizing on their networks of female relatives insuring that each demographic of the village is properly represented. Unfortunately, GIRoA’s power is not extended within the parameters of tribal jirgas, and they are often marginalized, forcing their citizens to utilize a less democratic and drastically more corrupt outlet funded and designed by the international community.
If no resolution for a land dispute can be established within the jirga, or if the dispute is between two separate tribes, the jirga may shift from the neutrality of an elder’s mud-walled compound to a mosque. Here the Taliban is often requested to determine who has the right to the property in a shura, or religious council. If the Taliban can be viewed as Governance in this instance, it serves to illustrate the supplemental relation of State between Religion and Tribe. As Islam and tribe parallel one another, state can potentially stabilize the two like a truss supporting the natural priorities of most rural Afghans. With the common view that the Taliban shuras are unsusceptible to bribery, they effectively bridge the gap between tribe and Islam with decisions believed to be just and final.
The low-hanging fruit of small disputes make popular support an easy harvest in many rural communities, but the more scandalous, large scale disputes could potentially push pockets of Afghans nation-wide to greener pastures. With examples like the suicide bombing of Governor Hamidi, this can send a powerful message to the population that not only can the Emirate peacefully and justly resolve the population’s conflicts through shuras, but they will also sacrifice their very lives against the corrupt for the people’s justice and protection. Whether or not it was interpreted in this manner, the villagers certainly did not miss the opportunity to exact badal, or the Pashtun value of vengeance, while using the topic to eliminate a common and powerful enemy.
So common is the request for local Taliban commanders to resolve tribal and legal issues, that Mullah Omar Akhunzada, the leader of the Afghan Emirate, released guidance in his updated strategy published in The Rules and Regulations of Mujahideen. In two different sections, he establishes mechanisms for Taliban commanders to solve tribal issues, and offers firm regulation to govern those mechanisms. The final section of the pamphlet entirely covers the conduct of his soldiers with the local tribes and elders. Granted, there are still occasions where local Taliban operate outside of regulation that results in abuse of villagers, but this is likely the result of decentralized controls due to the clandestine nature in which leadership is forced to operate. Without proper supervision, even the U.S. military which prides itself on discipline has committed massacres, spree killings, and desecration of the deceased which had major international implications. Lapses in oversight, poor execution, and mistreatment of human beings can occur despite how stringent the rules, but freedom of operation enhances an organization’s ability to enforce them. So it stands to reason that the Taliban can only improve if pulled into the mainstream of Afghan politics – particularly now that they have forged an actual relationship with the population they endeavor to serve.
A Woman’s Right to Purdah
It was amid the Algerian War of Independence, and rebel factions fought to liberate the would-be nation from France. While General Raoul Salan commanded one of the earliest designs of the modern counter insurgency, his wife formed the Women’s Solidarity Movement to liberate the women in public unveilings. Pain lined the Algerian woman’s face as deep as the humiliation that she tried her best to hide behind a forced smile and obligatory applause. The indignity she must feel is as palpable as the condescending magnanimity of the French woman who peels back the veil to show the villagers who were bussed in from the outlying areas that their women are free, now. The French woman bejeweled in pearls and Chanel represents the modernity of 1958, and the great intervention of ideals the West has brought to a culture believed to be stagnant can be seen in the tears that tremble just beneath the surface of the Muslim woman. The scene is as painful to see as the scripts of the forced skits a hundred years before.
Oh! Protective France
Oh! Hospitable France!
Noble land, where I felt free Under Christian skies to pray to our God
These skits were an attempt to alter the mindset of Algerian girls and women as they were performed at graduation ceremonies in 1851 and 1852. However, after a hundred and thirty years of colonial occupation, Algeria won its independence from France in the four violent years that followed the Forum of Algiers where the unveiling ceremony occurred.
The colonial appropriation of women’s rights is as old as the perception that a veils, burqas, and chadors are physical evidence of oppression rather than the manifestation of modesty. However, according to the Holy Koran, one of the first duties of a Muslim is “to comprehend the reasons for practices which are enjoined as absolute duties by God.” Essentially, this excerpt demands the physical response to the commandment of God, rather than illustrating through words and thoughts. Purdah, or partition is the Islamic tenet designed to protect women physically as well as their value systems which manifests in the actions of women such as veiling, covering, and existing separately. The act of donning the burqa in Afghanistan is more or less a statement that the woman beneath has familial honor to protect, whereas women who do not would be mocked for attempting to seclude themselves. This cultural dynamic is often lost on Western observers who view these measures as symbols of a lack of status, rather than the protection of it.