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Barnett R Rubin: The Fragmentation of Afghanistan

By Levi Clancy for Student Reader on

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Note: Since there are as many transliterations as there are authors, I have introduced native spellings in the excerpts so that I can easily search without consulting an endless list of alternative spellings; these were not present in the original text.

After the historical regurgitations of Syed Hyder Akbar's Come Back to Afghanistan and Ann Jones' agonizingly redundant Kabul in Winter, it felt good to finally to get to the source of the many footnotes. While the authors had indeed been in Afghanistan and offered incredible information, they pained me with their histories of 20th century Afghanistan. While Akbar was a bit dry at times in his historiography, he offered dazzling stores from friends and family.
Unfortunately, especially with Jones and other tourists, Afghanistan histories were oft just opinions decorated with official-looking references. Thus, I decided to read the reference texts themselves. From there I would be able to come to my own conclusions. While I have already finished Ahmed Rashid's Taliban, it was overwhelming and I can recall little of it off the top of my head. Thus, Rubin's Fragmentation of Afghanistan will really be the beginning of my learning.

It is tacitly requisite for New Yorkers writing about Afghanistan to begin with anecdotes on 9/11,

Unlike most New Yorkers, I had witnessed similar scenes before, and certain images and phrases came back to me, like the quotation from the Quran I once read at the botom of a list of hundreds of civilians slaughtered in كندز Kunduz province, Afghanistan, in the winter of 1986: "We come from God, and to him we return." (Rubin, p ix)

Rubin continues for the next pages with notes about being chauffeured around the country. Such self-indulgence and self-promotion tires me. Take, for instance, the great patience that is required to endure remarks like, "one evening, after the journalists had stopped calling" yadda yadda yadda yadda (Rubin, p ix).

Regarding the علماء ulama and مدرسة madrassa students, a brilliant illumination of 1990's افغانستان Afghanistan ensues,

This group had become marginalized as a result of years of state building by the royal regime, which created a new elite (including Islamic scholars and judicial officials) trained in modern schools and universities. The royal regime, the Communists, and the Islamists recruited primarily from different sectors of this new elite. The internecine battles of he past twenty years, in which one faction after another of that intelligentsia succeeded to power, each decimating its rivals, eventually led to the eclipse of this modernizing group. At the same time, as millions of Afghans became refugees, and the country's educational system collapsed, rural المدرس madrasas provided almost the only education available to a generation of Pashtun boys reaching school age since 1978. The West did little to provide refugees with any other education, leaving the المدرس madrasas supported by Middle Eastern donors with a virtual monopoly. The rise of the Taliban occurred as the first of these students were completing this new educational process, just as the Communist coup d'état (and Islamist resistance) occurred about twenty years after the massive expansion of the state educational system. The collapse of the state administration and community leadership in many places also increased the importance of the mosques and the mullahs and the taliban (students) who staffed them.

The مدرسة madrasa networks created ties among a potential new elite while other institutions were being destroyed. But the mullahs lost the ties to the landlord-dominated local economy and society that had circumscribed their power. As described in particular in my discussions of كندهار Qandahar, both the state and the rural economy that had sustained tribal leaders collapsed. The علماء ulama became more autonomous in exile and in warlord-dominated Afghanistan, and as a result they became more extremist and deracinated. In exile they also became linked to international networks, both political and economic, including Pakistani political parties and intelligence agencies and the Arab Islamists who aided the jihad. The طالبان Taliban attitude toward the state and reforms are not the continuation of some unchanging "tradition" but the result of their own uprooting and trauma of the past twenty years, during much of which period a central state dominated by a foreign ideology destroyed the country in the name of progressive reform. Foreign aid, commercial agriculture (opium), and long-distance contraband provided this newly armed elite with the opportunity to mobilize resources for a direct exercise of power, which had been out of its reach before. The mosque network enabled it to penetrate society as well.

The طالبان Taliban movement initially responded to some needs felt by Afghan people and received some popular support in Pashtun-dominated areas during its initial advances in 1994-95. By establishing a common authority, collecting weapons, and establishing order through strict enforcement of شريعة sharia, the طالبان Taliban presented themselves as an Islamic solution to the problems of a failed state. Had they stopped after bringing roder to the Pashtun areas of southern افغانستان Afghanistan, they might have joined about five other ethnoregional coalitions that existed at that time in negotiating a decentralized form of Afghan statehood. Besides the numerous other obstacles, however, such a state did not meet the needs of Pakistan, which wanted a centralized state that would reliably control the territory in its interests. At that time interest by several international corporations in oil and gas pipelines through Afghanistan also increased incentives for a centralized force to impose order. The United States regarded the طالبان Taliban as a force that might make افغانستان Afghanistan more secure and enable U.S. companies to export gas and oil from Central Asia while maintaining sanctions on Iran. Hence Pakistan, initially with U.S. acceptance, supported the طالبان Taliban's growing aspirations to reconstruct a centralized state. (Rubin, p xiii-xiv)

The shift of افغانستان Afghanistan cultural leadership from the cities to the countryside,

The domination of the country by this previously marginalized group reversed the pattern of social, political and economic bifurcation developed under the royal regime and intensified under the Communists. Under these regimes, foreign financial military aid enabled an urbanized elite to insulate itself from the countryside and create a sort of parallel society of at least superficially modernized institutions. Under the طالبان Taliban, however, foreign aid empowered a network based in Afghan rural areas and refugee settlements in Pakistan to control the capital city, reversing the reforms of past decades. The annihilation of the state and the development and reformist agenda it had pursued under several governments spelled the end of the halting emancipation of urban women that decrees by modernizing male leaders had effected. (Rubin, p xiv)

The طالبان Taliban are a continuation of leadership originating from كردهار Qandahar.

Although the leadership of such a state by علماء ulama was unprecedented, the underlying structure reproduced a historic pattern: the state was dominated by a dominated by a small solidarity group of Pashtuns, in this case كندهاري Qandahari mullahs (rather than محمد زی Muhammadzais), dependent for its resources on foreign aid and taxing commercial agriculture, now mostly illegal drugs rather than karakul lamb and cotton, and foreign trade, now mostly smuggling rather than exports of natural gas. (Rubin, p xiv)

How were the طالبان Taliban organized and what were the origins of their philosophy?

The social network of the elite at he core of the coalition was formed from كندهاري Qandahari mullahs who studied in the same set of المدرس madrasas in Pakistan and participated in the jihad. ملا عمر Mullah Umar and all but one member of the Supreme Shura were كندهار Qandahari Pashtuns. All the members of the military shura whose ethnic and regional origins I know were كندهار Qandahari Pashtuns. The Kabul shura was also predominantly كندهار Qandahari but included more eastern Pashtuns, a few Persian speakers, and at least one Uzbek. All without a single exception were Sunni mullahs trained in private المدرس madrasas. Hence the movement had a strong ethnic and regional characteristic, without its leaders having any intention to form such a movement, and it therefore attracted support from some who sought a Pashtun ethnic movement capable of ruling افغانستان Afghanistan.

These core leaders belonged to the ديوبندى Deobandi movement in افغانستان Afghanistan and Pakistan. ... Deobandis reject al forms of itjihad ... they oppose all forms of hierarchy within the Muslim community ... they strive to exclude شيعة Shi'a from participation in the polity, and they take a very restrictive view of the social role of women. All of these characteristics of the Indian and Paksitani ديوبندى Deobandis were found in exaggerated forms among the Afghan طالبان Taliban. (Rubin, p xiv-xv)

The following paragraphs are so incredibly informative regarding طالبان Taliban structure, foreign relations, financial resources and ability to maintain stability. I could not resist placing substantial quotes on my طالبان Taliban reference page rather than directly in my notes on the book.

(Rubin, p )