Saturday, September 4, 2010

Broadening The Horizons

All men by nature desire knowledge.

Aristotle (384 BC - 322 BC), Metaphysics

Along with strictly military training, the Army also has mobilizing units become familiarized with cultural aspects of Afghanistan. Unfortunately, there isn’t a great deal of time dedicated to this activity; it’s more of a very brief familiarization with various ethnic groups, languages, and current customs in the form of a PowerPoint presentation or lecture. We have been given CDs with Dari and Pashto instruction on them, which is a significant step in the right direction, although it’s generally up to the individual how much effort will be put into using them.

Several of us have found a number of books regarding Afghanistan for sale on post. I’ve just finished Stephen Tanner’s A Military History From Alexander The Great To The War Against The Taliban. There’s a considerable amount of information here that I’ve never encountered in or outside the military.

From 2001, it had been my impression that Afghanistan was essentially a nation-state that had failed. After reading the history of ethnic migration and settlement over the last millennia, combined with the interaction between these groups, I have a much different understanding of what makes up the populace, and how vastly different they are from one another within the current borders, as well as compared to the Western concept of the nation-state.

Also new to me was the role Pashtuns historically held in government and social structure. This hasn’t been touched on at all during our briefings, yet it’s the Pashtuns who comprise the overwhelming majority of the original and current versions of the Taliban. The Taliban is addressed in the final pages. The author notes what he believes to be some of the changes the Taliban has undergone in the past decade, and has an interesting perception of what may be required to arrive at some semblance of a stable society in the region that isn’t commonly encountered in the military.

For those that have an interest in our ongoing commitment to Afghanistan, I’d strongly recommend reading this book, as it reveals the complexity of a truly multicultural society within a conservative Islamic tradition.

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