It’s important to keep all this in mind as we try to evaluate what Matthew Hoh, the State Department official who resigned recently, said about Afghanistan.
Throughout the 20th century, Afghanistan’s history has been one of fitful modernizations and liberalizations spearheaded by Westernized elites which have met with varying degrees of pushback, often quite violent, from the rural conservative population. The CIA World Factbook lists Afghanistan’s urban population to be 24% from a 2008 survey. What Hoh is saying is that while we think we’re fighting an unholy alliance of Al Qaeda and the Taliban, what we’re really fighting is the conservative Pashtun resistance to a modern, centralizing, Westernized minority.
We may find the rural Afghan traditions to be harsh and incomprehensible, especially their attitudes towards women. But are we really helping the long-term situation by fighting on the side of the people who are considered alien to their own countrymen for the very values they espouse? It would seem that the only way for long-term stability to arise in Afghanistan is if the rural hinterland is very slowly, gradually, and gingerly brought into modernity by rural Pashtuns themselves.
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