Belmont Club

Sitting in darkness

The WSJ has a special on “Holbrooke of South Asia”, as he listens to what the tribesmen of the NWFP want from him.

His face tense and unsmiling, a young man from a village in Pakistan’s western tribal areas tells his story, mixing English, Pashto and Urdu. He is the only male in his clan to get an education, but can’t find a job, and blames a corrupt national government. Americans are bombing his neighbors, he says, tempting him to join the Islamist militants in his area. Across the room, another Pakistani turns toward his hosts at the U.S. Embassy and says, “You are hated.” …

After the meeting, Mr. Holbrooke looks shaken, out of character for a diplomatic operator who picked up the nickname “bulldozer” a decade ago in the Balkans. As he knows, these men who spoke so directly to him are the “friendly” types from the tribal areas — literate, ambitious and willing to risk the ire of the Taliban fighters to meet him and Adm. Mullen at the embassy.

And one reason they “hate us”, the LA Times warns, is because of corruption. They even use the “Vietnam” word.

The Vietnam War lesson we must remember when Afghanistan votes — Saigon’s rigged presidential election undermined U.S. efforts decades ago; similar corruption in Kabul can only aid the Taliban today. … Because Afghan elections are entirely dependent on outside financing, the United States, together with its partners at NATO and the U.N., could have enormous influence over how they are organized and run. But only if we condition assistance on practical measures such as creating a combined international-Afghan monitoring group capable of adjudicating complaints during the election campaign, not just after the results are in. We must ensure that the Afghan army and honest elements of the police, with our advisory assistance, are free from partisan political influence. Together they must ensure security from intimidation by either the Taliban or the candidates, both during the campaign and at the polls.

Another set of grievances against America is explicated by the Seattle Times which warns that women’s gains are being lost in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan’s women again face Taliban oppression … This time our man in Kabul, President Hamid Karzai, signed a Personal Status Law that enshrined the lowest personal status on women from the Shiite minority that makes up 10 percent of the Afghan population. He bargained women’s lives like a chit in the struggle for political power, wooing the religious right in the run-up to the summer election.
The international reaction was swift and powerful. The headlines read “Marital Rape” and “Women Sex Slaves to Husbands!” Human-rights activists protested. President Obama declared the law to be “abhorrent.” I was not surprised at the uproar. Ever since the Afghan war began, we assured ourselves that whatever else, we had one moral victory. We’d freed the women from Taliban rule.

It might not have been amiss for Holbrooke to have asked  of the eloquent tribesman, which of his neighbors, including the government officials in Islamabad, he had not hated in turn.  And while Karzai is doubtless corrupt, would it be impertinent to ask whether he was more so than his successor, or the men in Pakistan? And as to women … one school of thought holds that the Jihad is a reaction to what is called modernity: that the harder the West tries to win the battle of “hearts and minds”, the graver the peril traditional Islamic society perceives itself to be.  Heard with different ears, “hearts and minds” can sound like a threat to remake the Other in our own image.  It is ironic how the West, at a time when it proclaims itself to be so unsure of its own values, is equally sure of a particular subset of them, provided they are held by enough universities and NGOs.

But if this is what we want, then we ought to make up our minds and do it, at gunpoint if necessary or through as many JDAMs as required. But to promise the moon and then provide a handful of dust; then woe to the Afghans and Pakistanis who become most “like us”, who come over halfway — who abandon the old ways without quite being accepted by those who admit entrance into the new ways — since they may be caught between between the roof and the skid of  the Last Helicopter should it come to take Holbrooke of South Asia back to Washington.  Absent that commitment, maybe it would be best to see injustice through local eyes and deal justice out in the ways they see fit. That’s what Lawrence of Arabia would have done, and remained an Englishman.