How much do we really understand about Afghanistan? Recently, major U.S. media outlets were reporting about U.S. negotiators meeting with the head Taliban negotiator: Abdol Ghani Baradar. The fundamentalists and the Taliban in Afghanistan typically do not have last names. Abdolghani is a first name and baradar, in Afghani means brother. The Taliban head negotiator refers to himself as Brother Abdolghani, and our reporters think the man’s name is Mr. Abdol (first name) Ghani (middle name) Baradar (last name). It gives one the impression that we know very little about a country we have been at war with for more than 18 years.

In 2001, the overthrow of the Taliban was justified because al-Qaida operated from Afghanistan and the Taliban supported and housed them. Since then, our insistence on supporting their government and helping them to rebuild a relatively more progressive Afghanistan devoid of terrorism has been fraught with miscalculation and misjudgments. We have the best source of expertise and knowledge about most every culture and society in the world due to the fact that we are a nation of immigrants. Our think tanks and academic institutions are flush with people of all backgrounds, and yet it appears our administrations do not understand Afghanistan and the Taliban, nor are they advised by those who know that area of the world.

Afghanistan is a poor nation, and beyond the few major cities the country is made up of undeveloped villages with mud houses. Villagers rely on bartering and growing poppies. They are highly suspicious of foreigners, highly patriarchal, and their leaders have mastered the use of religion as a means of maintaining control over their masses. Beyond the major cities, the primary form of education is religious teachings in schools that are often sponsored with funds from rich Arab countries. The Taliban has sympathizers in Pakistan with a large population that derides the West. All the money spent on building roads and improving infrastructure to keep Afghanis safe and al-Qaida and ISIS out will be countered by Taliban supporters for their own benefit. Now that the Taliban know we are on our way out they will flex their muscles with daily bombings to ensure they recover their lost fiefdom once our troops are out.

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The history of Afghanistan is rife with periods of time when one country after another expended human and material resources only to finally give up and get out without accomplishing much. The British, then the Russians and now the United States got caught up in the quagmire that is called Afghanistan. If, after 18 years of the longest war in our history, our reporters have not figured out something so basic as the naming system in Afghanistan, how are we ever going to be able to sense their feelings and attitudes towards us?

A better solution would be to outsource the Afghan problem to the other countries in the region. They understand the people of the region better than we do. Pakistan was a logical choice, but they have learned that they could continue to milk us for funds as long as the terrorism threat exists in Afghanistan. ISIS receives support from wealthy Saudi donors and other Sunni Arabs to counter the growing Shia influence from Iran.

While the Taliban bombs to accelerate our exit, ISIS has been bombing and attacking Shias in Afghanistan to get a foothold against Iran when their friendly Taliban recover their power. This means their presence in Afghanistan would be a threat to Iran as well. Ultimately a coalition of Islamic countries in that region will have to step in with our encouragement to put a stop to Taliban and their cohorts.

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Lou Honary is a retired professor and researcher at the University of Northern Iowa. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect those of the University of Northern Iowa.


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