Why we lost Afghanistan

For once, The New York Times has it right. It has an article revealing that ordinary Afghans avoid their regular civilian courts and go to be judged by Taliban courts.

Frustrated by Western-inspired legal codes and a government court system widely seen as corrupt, many Afghans think that the militants’ quick and tradition-rooted rulings are their best hope for justice. In the Pakistani cities of Quetta and Chaman, havens for exiled Taliban figures, local residents describe long lines of Afghans waiting to see judges.

Western officials have long considered a fair and respected justice system to be central to quelling the insurgency, in an acknowledgment that the Taliban’s appeal had long been rooted in its use of traditional rural justice codes. But after the official end of the international military mission and more than a billion dollars in development aid to build up Afghanistan’s court system, it stands largely discredited and ridiculed by everyday Afghans. A common refrain, even in Kabul, is that to settle a dispute over your farm in court, you must first sell your chickens, your cows and your wife.

Recognizing that informal tribal law would remain the choice for most Afghans, the United States in recent years began spending money to support local councils and connect them more publicly with the government. But a review by an independent monitoring organization found that instead of bolstering the government’s image, the effort mostly reinforced the primacy of the informal courts — of which Taliban justice could be considered a radical extension, wielding a mix of Pashtun tradition and extreme interpretations of Islamic law.

The Taliban have seized on this discontent. In some areas, they have set up mobile courts to reach villages outside their zones of influence. They hold hearings two days a week in the southern borderlands, requiring plaintiffs to produce evidence and witnesses.

Unlike most things I read in the New York Times, I believe this article. We have poured billions of dollars into building Afghan institutions and many of our soldiers have paid with their lives, and what do we have for it? A government that barely rules outside the capital. A government riddled with corruption and tied to the drug trade. An army and police  force that we spent 13 years building up is disintegrating and frequently murders their own American advisors. Everyone expects that once the last American soldier withdraws, the Taliban will take over Afghanistan once again.

The question is why. Did we not send enough soldiers? Did we not spend enough on aid, or in the right way? The answer is a simple one.

Afghans, generally speaking, are part of a brutal, intolerant tribal culture that hasn't changed very much from the 12th century. To be extremely clear, most Afghans actually really like living in the 12th century, and really like being brutal, intolerant, and tribal:

The  brutality at the heart of Taliban justice has not been forgotten. Mass public executions were common. Minor offenses, like cutting beards short or listening to music, often brought fierce beatings as punishment. Yet the government system still compares unfavorably in the eyes of many Afghans. “There are no people who think that government justice is better than the Taliban’s,” said Amanullah, a schoolteacher from the Andar district of Ghazni. “Even if someone feels they have had their rights violated, there is an appeals procedure within the Taliban system.”

We were trying to build a central government in a country that never had a central government. Afghanistan is called a country but it is really just a name for a territory housing a bunch of loosely related tribes who occupy the land between Pakistan and the other Central Asian ‘stans. Many of the Afghans, probably the majority, practice a brutal, fundamentalist kind of Islam full of executions, beatings, with special attention being meted out on women and homosexuals. People of different religions aren't exactly favored either, to put it mildly.

We can pour all the aid in we like and give them thousands of guns, but without a tradition of a central government, it's going to be meaningless to most Afghans. The only things that have meaning to Afghans are their tribes and their brutal version of Islam. Nothing we can do can change that.

Mark Levin has spoken dismissively of the democracy project for countries in the Middle East. He pointed out, quite correctly, that countries without civil institutions simply aren't ready for democracy. Countries that don't already have a free press, private property, the rule of law, respect for individual rights, and tolerance for others, can't become a democracy no matter how much money or advisors you send them. It's like trying to bake a cake with mud, maggots, and grass clippings. No matter how good the baker, without good ingredients the end product is always going to give you a bad taste in your mouth.

So what should our policy be? First, we should cut off all aid. There is no need to further fund a brutal society of narcotics dealers. Second, if the Taliban start hosting terrorist camps again, we should do what we did last time -- give arms to opposing militias to attack them, and send in drone strikes as needed. But we shouldn't funnel billions of dollars into the country for yet another futile nation building project. For the most part, Afghans like the Taliban. They like being ruled by brutal tribal law. We tried to help them build something pluralistic and democratic, and that's why they hate us.

Want to build a pluralistic society in Afghanistan? Try again in maybe 500 years or so.

Pedro Gonzales is editor of Newsmachete.com, the conservative news site. Feedback is welcome.

For once, The New York Times has it right. It has an article revealing that ordinary Afghans avoid their regular civilian courts and go to be judged by Taliban courts.

Frustrated by Western-inspired legal codes and a government court system widely seen as corrupt, many Afghans think that the militants’ quick and tradition-rooted rulings are their best hope for justice. In the Pakistani cities of Quetta and Chaman, havens for exiled Taliban figures, local residents describe long lines of Afghans waiting to see judges.

Western officials have long considered a fair and respected justice system to be central to quelling the insurgency, in an acknowledgment that the Taliban’s appeal had long been rooted in its use of traditional rural justice codes. But after the official end of the international military mission and more than a billion dollars in development aid to build up Afghanistan’s court system, it stands largely discredited and ridiculed by everyday Afghans. A common refrain, even in Kabul, is that to settle a dispute over your farm in court, you must first sell your chickens, your cows and your wife.

Recognizing that informal tribal law would remain the choice for most Afghans, the United States in recent years began spending money to support local councils and connect them more publicly with the government. But a review by an independent monitoring organization found that instead of bolstering the government’s image, the effort mostly reinforced the primacy of the informal courts — of which Taliban justice could be considered a radical extension, wielding a mix of Pashtun tradition and extreme interpretations of Islamic law.

The Taliban have seized on this discontent. In some areas, they have set up mobile courts to reach villages outside their zones of influence. They hold hearings two days a week in the southern borderlands, requiring plaintiffs to produce evidence and witnesses.

Unlike most things I read in the New York Times, I believe this article. We have poured billions of dollars into building Afghan institutions and many of our soldiers have paid with their lives, and what do we have for it? A government that barely rules outside the capital. A government riddled with corruption and tied to the drug trade. An army and police  force that we spent 13 years building up is disintegrating and frequently murders their own American advisors. Everyone expects that once the last American soldier withdraws, the Taliban will take over Afghanistan once again.

The question is why. Did we not send enough soldiers? Did we not spend enough on aid, or in the right way? The answer is a simple one.

Afghans, generally speaking, are part of a brutal, intolerant tribal culture that hasn't changed very much from the 12th century. To be extremely clear, most Afghans actually really like living in the 12th century, and really like being brutal, intolerant, and tribal:

The  brutality at the heart of Taliban justice has not been forgotten. Mass public executions were common. Minor offenses, like cutting beards short or listening to music, often brought fierce beatings as punishment. Yet the government system still compares unfavorably in the eyes of many Afghans. “There are no people who think that government justice is better than the Taliban’s,” said Amanullah, a schoolteacher from the Andar district of Ghazni. “Even if someone feels they have had their rights violated, there is an appeals procedure within the Taliban system.”

We were trying to build a central government in a country that never had a central government. Afghanistan is called a country but it is really just a name for a territory housing a bunch of loosely related tribes who occupy the land between Pakistan and the other Central Asian ‘stans. Many of the Afghans, probably the majority, practice a brutal, fundamentalist kind of Islam full of executions, beatings, with special attention being meted out on women and homosexuals. People of different religions aren't exactly favored either, to put it mildly.

We can pour all the aid in we like and give them thousands of guns, but without a tradition of a central government, it's going to be meaningless to most Afghans. The only things that have meaning to Afghans are their tribes and their brutal version of Islam. Nothing we can do can change that.

Mark Levin has spoken dismissively of the democracy project for countries in the Middle East. He pointed out, quite correctly, that countries without civil institutions simply aren't ready for democracy. Countries that don't already have a free press, private property, the rule of law, respect for individual rights, and tolerance for others, can't become a democracy no matter how much money or advisors you send them. It's like trying to bake a cake with mud, maggots, and grass clippings. No matter how good the baker, without good ingredients the end product is always going to give you a bad taste in your mouth.

So what should our policy be? First, we should cut off all aid. There is no need to further fund a brutal society of narcotics dealers. Second, if the Taliban start hosting terrorist camps again, we should do what we did last time -- give arms to opposing militias to attack them, and send in drone strikes as needed. But we shouldn't funnel billions of dollars into the country for yet another futile nation building project. For the most part, Afghans like the Taliban. They like being ruled by brutal tribal law. We tried to help them build something pluralistic and democratic, and that's why they hate us.

Want to build a pluralistic society in Afghanistan? Try again in maybe 500 years or so.

Pedro Gonzales is editor of Newsmachete.com, the conservative news site. Feedback is welcome.