Liberal Hegemony versus Buzkashi


The history of Afghanistan, to quote historian Tamim Ansary, is the history of often interruption. Whenever this ‘land-in-between’ country attempted to set on a course, a major power interrupted and halted its march of progress. The history of Afghanistan is also the saga of imposition of rules on Buzkashi or goat grabbing. The above mentioned historian uses the metaphor of Buzkashi, the national sport of Afghanistan, for Afghan society. The description of Buzkashi would take longer than necessary, however, it is suffice to say that it is a game without any rules, boundaries and referee. The major powers for the last two-hundred years interrupted the history of Afghanistan and futilely attempted to impose rules on this Buzkashi of Afghan society. Five attempts, after 1747, were made: three by Great Britain during its heyday of imperialism; one by Soviet Union under its inspiration of Brezhnev Doctrine; and the latest by United States. One thing, as history tell us, is common between all five attempts: they failed and failed badly. The latest attempt by the mighty United States has been the most organized attempt to organize the disorganized Afghan society. It has, the contemporary history is witness, however, produced no encouraging results.

The story of latest attempt to impose rules on Buzkashi of Afghan society actually goes as follow as it has roots in the end of Cold war.

The end of Cold war gave birth to two major yet conflicting opinions about the future of international politics: nihilistic pessimism of civilisational conflict and utopian optimistic liberalism of end of history. The former (in)famous thesis passionately put forward by Samuel P. Huntington argued about future international conflict in civilizational terms. To him the major identity and actors in international politics would be distinct civilisations. On the other hand, the later as a triumphant theory propounded by Francis Fukuyama, however, considered the future as peaceful and progressing. To this liberal thinker, the end of Cold war is the end point of struggle between ideas. Liberalism has triumphed in this centuries of struggle. This optimistic school believed that liberalism is not only an effective panacea for the structural diseases of international politics but also a torch for progress and prosperity. This line of argument was adopted and translated by America as an official line of policy after Cold war. The shape of this policy may have been changed by various presidents of the United States but the core substance remained same. Add to this, the gigantic superpower America, in the absence of any rival, had considered its civilizational duty to spread liberalism across the world. The purpose was, as argued by its advocates, to bring peace and prosperity for mankind.

This crusading exercise, what John Mearsheimer calls it the liberal hegemony, however, has been proved total disaster. America in the span of three decades invaded seven countries to turn them into its own image. In these seven countries, the wounded Afghanistan also fell victim to this liberal hegemony. It is true that casus belli for invading Afghanistan was 9/11 and subsequently to annihilate Al-Qaeda and to punish ‘barbarian’ Taliban. However, the purposes of American engagement in Afghanistan saw various turns the more it engaged. Soon after Bonn Conference in 2002, it was decided that Afghanistan needed a nation building—an invitation to embroilment. It was assumed that the remedy to disorganized Afghan society is democracy, development, human rights, emancipation of women, and alike. Now America will solve structural Afghan problem that in reality Afghans needed and best know how to solve.

But the issue of Afghanistan was neither political nor of military one. It is a deep sociological issue. The Afghan societal fragmentation and national incoherence are the fundamental traits of Afghanistan. It never went through ‘national imagination’. The various Afghan actors—ethnic, religious, urban, rural—have struggled for centuries for power and their due economic share. Its sporadic nationalistic coming-together were just temporary responses to either foreign invaders or foreign expansion. The domestic power wielding actors of Afghan society know best how to deal and incorporate the interest of each other. Their understanding of each other is part of their centuries built culture. Imposition of foreign political or sociological ideas against Afghan society would always prove counterproductive. Political ideas or governance models, after all, are indigenous production born from the womb of practical needs of any society. They cannot be imported lest imposed by foreign actor from above.

It is true the with great power comes great responsibilities but responsibilities demands sanity and constraint. That were, unfortunately, short supply in policy circle of America. First, it must be remembered that the purpose of war is to convince the opponent to change its mind in relation to the rival. American war against Taliban, however, was a war of vengeance fueled by the arrogance of power in absence of sanity. Second, soon after ousting Taliban in Afghanistan, America (read Central Intelligence Agency) empowered warlords and drug dealers just to bring stability in Afghanistan. Those actors deprived, majority were Pushtoons, from empowerment process soon joined the opposite camps. Add to this, more than sixty per cent nation building fund went through non-governmental organisations. The result: more corruption by both governmental and non-governmental organisations. The more America engaged the more corruption went high and Taliban organized. Thus, it was tragedy in making for two decades. A former Red Army officer best illustrate this: ‘we did not read books about Afghanistan’ and ‘America need to take the fastest route out from Afghanistan’. America now after two decades of senseless war in Afghanistan is exactly acting upon this advice of the former Red Army officer. It is taking the fastest route out from Afghanistan.

Tahir Mehmood
Tahir Mehmood
Mphil Scholar at Department of History, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad, Pakistan


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