Monday, April 20, 2009

The Afghan perspective on Afghanistan

By Lidija Knuth, Research Fellow for the International Program

In the seventh year after the fall of the Taliban, two Afghanistans exist. One is characterized by civil and military efforts of the international community in the country, which include billions of money pumped into reconstruction and development as well as military successes against Taliban cells. These stories emphasizing positive news, are largely told from the perspective of foreigners consisting of diplomats, development workers and soldiers, and would surprise the majority of Afghans. The other Afghanistan of 30 million people in whose name the war is being fought is often forgotten. The population feels disappointment, bitterness and pessimism. Indeed the vast intervention to rebuild a country devastated after decades of war has benefited only a small handful. Afghanistan is moving towards a new crisis. The prevailing fear is that the war is in danger not of being lost or won against the Taliban, but in the perceptions of Afghans. There is a sense of alienation among the population towards the foreign troops as well as the international development community. The initial optimism that existed after the fall of the Taliban has decreased slowly and steadily. It is no wonder that, after years of help and support from the international community, the promises to bring peace and development to the country sound increasingly hollow. The Afghan reality is one of: 40 % unemployment, wide spread poverty and undernourishment, increasing insecurity, and an unremarkable outcome despite huge amounts of development aid spent.

Having said this, one thing is certain- the international community will have to find a long-term solution because more foreign troops and more strategic attacks and bombs against the Taliban and splitter groups are increasingly and unavoidably killing innocent civilians, and in the long run won’t bring the desired peace to the region.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

When Are You?

By S. P. Udayakumar, Research Fellow for the Kirwan Institute

Khan Abdul Wali Khan, a Pakistani statesman, was once asked how he saw his identity. He said he had been a Pakistani for the past 50 years, a Muslim for the past 500 years, but a Pathan for the past 5000 years. Evidently, his ethnic identity was the most important for him. It is common knowledge now that a pure ethnicity is an illusion in today’s world. So the question of “who are you?” cannot be answered in a simple and straightforward manner anymore in our complex, complicated interdependent global society.

The moment we think of our ethnic identity, we impulsively turn to our past as it is our history and heritage that define it. In a world where pure ethnicity is problematic, historical rendering of identity and single and linear narratives are also equally tricky. Does that mean we should be content with the broad human identity that answers the question “what are you?”

There are people who argue that we are all born for a purpose and hence the secret of your success and happiness on the Earth depends on your answering the question “why are you (born)?” or “how are you (living)?” and so forth.

In my opinion, none of these questions actually answers our existential predicaments in the world today. Considering the interdependent nature of our societies, inter-relatedness of all the planetary issues such as climate change, population explosion, poverty, etc., and the inter-reliant futures we all face, the right question to ask would be “when are we?” A Pakistani futurist and friend, Sohail Inayatullah, posits it is our common and collective futures that should define our identity and not our past or present. So, when are you?