What kind of Peace would Afghans choose if the conditions were not chosen for them?

[I wrote this article on 21 September 2011. I thought I should repost it here as background to my previous post regarding the Afghan peace negotiations.]

What kind of Peace would Afghans choose if the conditions were not chosen for them?

Michael Skinner 21 September 2011

Yesterday, 20 September 2011 was the tenth anniversary of George Bush’s declaration of a Global War on Terror. Whether the symbolism was intentional or not, an as yet unidentified assassin killed the leader of the Afghan High Peace Council, Burhanuddin Rabbani.

Rabbani’s latest title and the news published in Western media, since his assassination, might lead us to believe he was a benign perhaps even pacific elder statesman overseeing peace negotiations between the Afghan government and Taliban leaders. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Afghan and international human rights observers allege Rabbani among many other warlords committed just about every crime defined by the Geneva Conventions and International Humanitarian Law including abductions, prisoner abuse, mutilation and torture, forced labour, disappearances, pillage and looting, as well as rape and sexual violence.

Burhanuddin Rabbani

Nevertheless, Rabbani, along with all the alleged criminals holding key positions in both the current Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the opposing Taliban organisations were granted legal impunity in 2010.

During the anti-socialist jihad of the 1980s, which was financed by the US government, Rabbani led a Tajik faction of mujaheddin. His faction was the first to invade Kabul in 1992 to topple the ruling People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) led government.

The former PDPA government – best described as brutal and paranoid – had, nonetheless, legislated numerous progressive initiatives to improve the plight of Afghan women in particular. In fact, it was legislation to institute the universal education of boys and girls that sparked the anti-socialist jihad that began March 1979, which the administration of US President Jimmy Carter decided to fund a few months later.

When Rabbani seized power from the PDPA in 1992, he immediately instituted the first Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. The consequences were catastrophic for all Afghans, but most notably for Afghan women. American propaganda would have us believe the repression of women’s rights began when the Taliban seized power from Rabbani in 1996. Rabbani had, however, already done most of the dirty work during his four years in power.

From 1992 to 1996, Rabbani clung to power in Kabul, while rival mujaheddin factions bombarded the city with artillery and rocket fire. During these four years, 80 percent of Kabul was destroyed and all the warring parties committed some of the most egregious war crimes.

The Rabbani faction holding Kabul and the four rival factions besieging the city achieved no more than a bloody stalemate after four years of brutal warfare. The Taliban were able to seize the advantage and war-weary Afghans grudgingly accepted the new regime, which had at least imposed some order upon the chaos of civil war.

Rabbani meanwhile fled to northern Afghanistan, where he cobbled together an alliance with some of his former mujaheddin warlord rivals. They called their alliance the United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan. Western media sanitised the United Islamic Front to rename it the Northern Alliance.

Rabbani’s United Islamic Front/Northern Alliance, of course became famous as the frontline forces that seized power in Kabul, during the Operation Enduring Freedom invasion of Afghanistan. Rabbani then handed power to the transitional national government headed by Hamid Karzai.

Warlord rather than peacemaker is thus the accurate description for Berhanuddin Rabbani.

[For a detailed history of the events leading to 9/11 read: Steve Coll’s Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001; and Ahmed Rashid’s Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia.]

Building peace in Afghanistan?

Peace scholars don’t regard every peace as equal. They describe two different kinds of peace: negative peace, which is a condition merely without warfare; and positive peace, which researchers Tasier Ali and Bob Matthews describe as “a condition of stable and widening shared values”.

Ali and Matthews observe peacebuilding can be a top-down process driven by governments. Or peacebuilding can be a bottom-up process resulting from the “attitudes and socio-economic circumstances of ordinary people”. The actions undertaken by groups, organizations, and smaller communities that compose a society drive this bottom-up process.

In a few cases in recent decades, the negotiation of the conditions of peace leading to post-conflict peacebuilding resulted from a combination of both top-down and bottom-up processes. In most cases, however, it is the men-with-guns who determine the conditions of peace in an exclusively top-down process. The current peace negotiations in Afghanistan, which may have been irretrievably derailed by Rabbani’s assassination, conform to the model of men-with-guns dictating the conditions of peace.

Negative peace is preferable to warfare, but only if it facilitates the conditions for building positive peace. However, the “shared values” of the warlords on all sides who were, until yesterday, negotiating peace in Afghanistan are a great cause of concern for many Afghans and international human rights activists.

The Taliban are radical Islamists intent on isolating Afghanistan from the rest of the world. The former United Islamic Front warlords who dominate the Karzai government are radical Islamists intent on profiting from their relationship to Western states and corporations. The negative peace currently under negotiation between these two sides is not likely to establish stable and widening shared values to liberate most Afghans.

Many people both inside and outside Afghanistan believed the rhetoric of the North American and European leaders who backed the dual Operation Enduring Freedom and International Security Assistance Force military interventions in Afghanistan. Many people believed the goal of the invaders was to liberate Afghans and especially Afghan women.

However, to understand the current geopolitical and economic context, it is instructive to examine the long history of Western intervention in Afghanistan.

In 1840, an officer of the British East India Company wrote in the company’s official report regarding its invasion of Afghanistan in 1838-1839: “I trust, under Divine Providence, the event may not only cause the regeneration of Affghanistan (sic); but may, in future times, be attended with great commercial advantages to Great Britain”.

The wealthiest and most powerful states of the world are still pursuing “great commercial advantages”. Today, these advantages include: re-opening a New Silk Road as a modern network of transportation, communications, and energy transmission infrastructures to connect China to Europe and India to Russia; exploiting Afghanistan’s great wealth of strategic and commercially important mining resources; and opening new markets, which among many potentially profitable markets include equipping, training, and maintaining the Afghan army, air force, and security services.

Who gets to participate in the negotiation of peace in Afghanistan will determine how these “great commercial advantages” are distributed. Currently, the men-with-guns are the ones divvying up Afghanistan’s wealth in a top-down process that includes few Afghans. This process may have been fatally derailed by Rabbani’s assassination, but it was seriously flawed even before his death.

What kind of peace would Afghans choose if the conditions were not chosen for them? That’s not for anyone else to say, but I suspect they would negotiate a more equitable deal for themselves than if the peace process is left only to the men-with-guns.

Michael Skinner is a researcher, human rights activist, musician and composer. For a decade he was a National Education Facilitator for the Canadian Union of Postal Workers. Since 2006, he has been an Independent Researcher and Graduate Fellow at the York Centre for International and Security Studies at York University, Toronto, Canada. Skinner is currently writing his Ph.D. dissertation titled, Peacebuilding, State-building, & Empire-building: The emerging Empire of Capital and its interventions from Central America to Central Asia. Michael Skinner recently returned from his second research trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan. You can read Michael Skinner’s blog at: https://michaelskinnerresearch.wordpress.com/ and academic papers and journalism at: http://yorku.academia.edu/MichaelSkinner/About

© Michael Skinner and Michael Skinner Research, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael Skinner and Michael Skinner Research with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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  1. That’s a very interesting article. Are you in touch with Afghans for Peace. There is a Canadian chapter, I understand.

    • Hi Joe, Thanks for the compliment. I have read some of your work as well – very commendable writing. I often hear from military and ex-military personnel who express their frustrations with having been duped by the government, but it is rare that someone can express in writing the situation as well as you do. Yes I am in contact with the Toronto AFP group. I participated as a speaker at one of their events this spring.

  2. Excellent stuff and thank you. They seem like a very good crowd. We’ve had a thrilling day down at the Ecuadorian embassy in Knightsbridge watching battalions of confused-looking coppers go in and out of the building. Viva Ecuador!


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