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Opinion: Children of war and nation-rebuilding in Afghanistan

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By Abdul Basir Azimi-Although there have been significant works done on nation-building in Afghanistan, it’s still a mystery. It should be confessed that the nation-building has been a challenge for all the politicians, scholars and even five-star generals in the history. One of the reasons is that there is no agreed-upon conclusion regarding how, when and who would do the nation building. In the other words, are governments, the international community, elites or every single citizen of a nation responsible for nation building?! Moreover, the philosophical perspective of nation-building makes it even more complicated: Whether a nation builds a state or the state builds the nation?! Does not the state-building process break nations?!

It has never been easy to answer these questions as people argue and say “it depends” instead of giving any specific answer. Moreover, there could be many internal and external factors influence and catalyze the process of the nation-building. It is clear that situational approaches have resulted in trial and error in the nation-building process. For instance, international community sometimes supported people of a country to build a nation by their own imagination. Sometimes, while scholars were trying to convince politicians to prioritize economic and political reforms to pave the way for nation-building, in a military view, five-star generals could convince the international community to send troops to sabotage the dictatorial regimes and spread democracy. Many instruments of power like diplomacy, information, military or economic supports are being used to foster the nation-building process.

The Middle East is one of the regions where nation-building has proved to be challenging. For instance, countries like Iran, Turkey, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria have applied different approaches to nation building based on trial and error and the lessons learned. The lessons learned are very useful assets and is much more considerable, but it takes a lot of time, effort, capital, high opportunity cost which is sometimes not even recoverable.

In the Middle East, Afghanistan is a unique example where international community consumed time, effort, and capital to build a nation since 09/11 until now. But recently, the U.S. President Donald Trump’s speech of U.S. engagement, and “The Path Forward” in Afghanistan and South Asia changed the entire plans.  When he said “Ultimately, it is up to the people of Afghanistan to take ownership of their future, to govern their society, and to achieve an everlasting peace. We are a partner and a friend, but we will not dictate to the Afghan people how to live or how to govern their own complex society. We are not nation building again. We are killing terrorists.”

Various reactions emerged to the President Trump’s approach to the nation-building process in Afghanistan. Some civil society, human’s rights, and women’s rights activists were shocked. They thought if international community stops supporting the process of the nation-buildingin Afghanistan, achievements of the international community in Afghanistan would be negatively affected. Despite billions of dollars have been spent on the war in Afghanistan and also the nation-building process in the last two decades, the war did not end and the nation-building process is costing more and more. That’s why President Trump had to change the strategy and thus he clearly said “We will no longer use American military might to construct democracies in faraway lands or try to rebuild other countries in our own image. Those days are now over. Instead, we will work with allies and partners to protect our shared interests.” Now the question for Afghan citizens is “who will be responsible for the nation building”? Is it the responsibility of Afghan citizens, government, civil society, or international community? To answer this question, Afghanistan should be looked into more deeply.

Afghanistan is a multi-tribal society and nation-building process has been internally and externally influenced and realigned but it never worked. This is complicated by different ethnic groups with different languages, cultures, religions, beliefs and even different historical backgrounds in Afghanistan. The ethnic groups were more divided when the Soviet Communist Army left Afghanistan in 1989, fighting over which group would control the country. The civil war did not only destroy economic and political infrastructures, it also destroyed the long-standing attitude of tolerance and nation-building process. Moreover, ethnocentric sentiments became the biggest threat to the cohesion of Afghanistan during the civil war and the role of ethnic leaders in a multi-tribal society became eminent during the civil war while they obviously attempted to save their people in the desire for revenge, military victory, and power control.

After 1989, alliances against Soviet army were broken and turned into the internecine civil war. Yesterday’s allies become today’s enemies, breaking afghan nation into many factions. The different parties involved in the civil war had to find tools and techniques to motivate and inspire their infantry. Ethnicity, religion, cultural and historical values were supposed to be very powerful provokers. Unavoidably, they misused them to win battlefields regardless of how badly they could affect the nation. In addition, ethnic leaders highlighted the differences between Afghan people and feared them from each other. They forced people into a conflict to kill each other to get more power and lands. In the other words, the ethnic leaders killed their nation to build their own states.

The writer believes the Afghanistan nation was broken apart during the civil war and need to rebuild. Nation rebuilding process should be approached like healing family wounds and pains. On the one hand, addressing old wounds and mistakes in the family can be painful, but on the other hand, letting them go away can result in losing valuable family members. Sometimes we get hurt and sometimes we hurt others in our family, but we can’t leave each other and have to rebuild our family again. Now the question is, how to rebuild the Afghan nation? How could we rehabilitate the lost glory that we enjoyed once? The writer believes the only generation who is able to accomplish the mission of rebuilding Afghanistan is the children of the war, who born in the war, grown up with the violation, discrimination and felt everything by their own heart.  Here are ten ways that will help the yesterday’s children of the war and today’s young generation in the rebuilding of the Afghan nation:

  1. Learn to forgive each other: The biggest revenge is forgiveness. The weaker people are forgiven and the stronger ones forgive them. For a long time, Afghanistan experienced the war which lifted many victims.  “Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.”—Paul Boese .Think of someone who killed any of your relatives, it causes you pain every moment when you think of it. This is more common in Afghanistan where murderers talk about it as an act of bravery and war victims have to listen to them. It is so difficult but we have to forgive each other the sense of revenge kills our moments.
  2. Learn to forget: if not forgivable, forget it; forget what happened in the past. Understandably, this is also difficult to forgive who killed your dreams and caused nightmares every night for you, but we have to forget them, otherwise, nightmares never end. We Afghans have to leave the wartime behind and go forward to a brighter future. There is no need to address the pains happened in the war. Let’s forget the past.
  3. Learn not to judge:  The civil war in Afghanistan is so complicated and judgment is not easy particularly casual people were misused as infantry and they were enforced to fight. People were not left with any option but to be soldiers and serve as infantry for different sides of the war. Imagine two families lost their fathers while the fight against each other during the war. No need to judge these families’ fathers for what they fought for. Both families are deserved to be respected. They lost their fathers in the civil war regardless of who was right.
  4. Learn not to be antagonized: The civil war made ethnic leaders in a multi-tribal society and created opportunities for them to act as heroes for their tribes. These yesterday’s so-called leaders who got used to motivate and inspire their races to bring people to battlefields, know how to bring people to streets as bargaining chips to secure their own interests. One of their effective tools is to provoke dissertation and conflicts between different races based on their language, ethnicity and sect differences. The ethnic leaders pretend if they did not exist, their people would be deprived of their rights. Moreover, they have manipulated their tribes to support them otherwise they will be harmed by other ethnics. Certainly, this is fake and the new generation does not need them.
  5. Learn to ignore: Whenever you write a comment on an ethnic leader’s photo in a social media regardless of what your comments deliver, actually you empower him. Whenever a media broadcast news about an ethnic leader, they are actually promoted for free. We should accept that most of the ethnic leaders have their own followers and companions who are difficult to be convinced. They have sacrificed the entire of their lives for their values and no one can change their minds. The opposing slogans of “down with ethnic leaders” motivate ethnic leaders’ followers to come together to shout the agreeing slogans of “long live ethnic leaders”. The ethnic leaders enjoy this situation which reinforces the roles of the ethnic leaders more. Questioning creates opportunities of answering. Thus, the best strategy is to ignore the ethnic leaders.
  6. Learn not to be afraid: Most of the population in Afghanistan think only their ethnic leaders are able to defend their rights and survive them against the oppression of other ethnics. In reality, these ethnic leaders split the Afghan society based on ethnic and language differences and enjoy their leadership. These ethnic leaders get a lot of financial support from the war, narcotics business, corruption and illegal custom revenues. The reality is the ethnic leaders do not care about people, they do care about themselves and their wealth. This is time to end the culture of impunity and not to be afraid of breaking the taboo.
  7. Learn to be a leader: Although the majority of the Afghanistan population is young a very few number of them could be leaders. Actually, all today’s young Afghans were born in the revolution, grown up in the war or in refugees camps. They felt violation and discrimination badly. Since the government transition in 2011, young Afghans have been busy getting an education and working to support their families. Their roles have been more as an engine for economic development not as leaders. Moreover, there has been a limited space for young Afghans to get promotion and be leaders but this is time not be follower any longer.
  8. Learn how to make money: Money plays a significant role nowadays and influences the process of leadership in a number of ways. In the other words, money talks and persuade others to get things done. The Afghanistan ethnic leaders have access to substantial financial resources enabling them to direct and manipulate the social movements. The recent justice advocacy movements in Afghanistan like” Jonbesh-e-Roshnayee” and “Rastakhiz e Taqieer” which were started by young people but later hijacked by the ethnic leaders. The ethnic leaders provided some equipment and support and could use them as a bargaining tool against the government to gain their personal benefits. Young people should be able to make money to be independent leaders.
  9. Learn to build trust: Trust is a main factor in successful nation-building process. It is important that all ethnic groups trust each other to ensure unity and cohesion. However, trust building in a nation where it has been broken many times need a lot of effort and time. We have to build a foundation of trust by doing what we say, giving up on hypocrisy. We need people to believe in themselves and others consistently. For instance, when someone breaks a promise with others be mindful it is not only about damaging trust between two people or two parties, it is also affecting the public environment.  We need to learn that honesty is the best policy and so trusting each other.
  10. Learn to spread hope: Media can create public opinion and also manage it in a good way but positive changes not get enough media coverage. Covering suicide attacks, violence, administrative corruption, and terrorist activities are more newsworthy than development activities. Majority of media newsroom in Afghanistan concentrate on violations rather than modern news values. The environment is not so promising and consequently, the young people are willing to leave Afghanistan and investors not to invest in Afghanistan. A nation needs hope to step forward, to work together for a better future and to build a united nation. Making a hope, even a small one can change the public view to become more optimistic about everything. At this time, we need the media to show more responsibility and broadcast good news that brings hope and optimism to our people.

President Trump recently addressed the nation-building process in Afghanistan as a national responsibility of every Afghan citizen. The civil war lift Afghanistan with a broken nation with unforgettable pains. It totally was a lose-lose situation for all Afghans and every family was sacrificed in many ways. Now, it’s the time for the young Afghan to think about how to build their nation again. Indeed the civil war was totally wrong, and the responsible persons should be punished, but at this time more important is how to make peace with each other before to make peace with enemies otherwise the nation’s dream will be killed.

The writer is Civil Eng., MBA, PMP, PGMP

Finance and Administrative Deputy Minister at Ministry of Energy and Water of Afghanistan

Project Management Professional Instructor at American University of Afghanistan