The occupation of Afghanistan by the United States is not only based on misguided policies, denials of truth and glaring political realities, it is also guided by ignorance and profoundly distorted understandings of the cultural and social complexities of this devastated country. A major source of these distortions and misrepresentations is a small number of American-educated Kabul-centered elite who have participated in the American-led destabilization and subsequent genocidal occupation of Afghanistan starting in 2001. Most of this small and identifiable group of “experts” on Afghanistan were and are members of the elite networks in control of the Persianate power machinery of Kabul. This Western-struck, ideologically confused, and superficially modernist Kabuli elite has virtually no personal or institutional exposure to and knowledge about the vast and diverse socio-cultural complexity of Afghanistan. Kabul is their Afghanistan. Recruited by the United States in the years following the 1978 revolution and now scouting for and counseling the occupation machinery about Afghan “culture”, the Kabuli blinders of these experts have shaped the structure of American policies and operations aimed at the cultural, social, and physical slaughter of the people of Afghanistan.
To my knowledge notable members of the American educated Kabuli elite who have directly participated (on the level of policy-making and field operations) in the 2001-present occupation of Afghanistan include: Ashraf Ghani (Ph. D. Columbia University, anthropologist, World Bank employee, advisor to Lakhdar Brahimi [chief UN envoy to Afghanistan] who once described him as an overloaded camel who did not intend to get up [Brookings Institution conference on Afghanistan and Pakistan, 2008], famous for his short temper among co-workers in the Kabul government, former minister of finance and president of Kabul University where he had the reputation for being comfortable only with foreigners, known to Euro-Americans as a person who speaks “well”, nominated by Karzai for the post of UN secretary general), Anwar al-Haq Ahadi (Ph. D. Northwestern University, current minister of finance, son in-law of Said Ahmad Gailani), Mohammad Ishaq Nadiri (Ph. D. University of California-Berkeley, specialist in R&D economics, chief economic advisor to Karzai through 2009, married one of king Zaher’s in-laws), Khushal Habibi (Ph. D. Michigan State University in wild life management, translator and counselor with NAS), Saddudin Shpoon (B. A. Iowa, counselor and employee of VOA), Ali Ahmad Jalali (chief intermediary for the recruitment and training of the mujahidin terrorist gangs, minister of interior during 2002-20010, VOA Paxtu and Dari language program director for Afghanistan during the 1990s, http://www.ndu.edu/nesa/facultystaffbios/JalaliA.pdf), Abdul Jabbar Sabet (B. A. University of Maryland, attorney general of Afghanistan 2006-2009), Hedayatullah Aminarsala (M. A. Southern Illinois University-Carbondale [also awarded an honorary doctorate by SIUC when he was appointed to the cabinet in 2002, chief advisor to Karzai), Amin Tarzi (Ph. D. New York University, director of Middle East programs, US Marine University), Esmael Burhan (Ph. D. University of Texas, chief Dari language teacher with the HTS working out of the Afghanistan Studies Center at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, a central hub of CIA programs about Afghanistan), Mohammad Ishaq Shahryar (B. A. University of California, Santa Barbara, self-salaried Afghan ambassador to Washington, and subsidizer of the 2001 Bonn conference), Mohammad Sharif Fayez (Ph. D. University of Arizona, minister of higher education, president, American University of Afghanistan in Kabul), Zalmay Khalilzad (Ph. D. University of Chicago). (Though not American educated, two other clusters of Kabuli elite in the service of the American occupation of Afghanistan should be mentioned: Hamid Karzai and members of his kinship and lineage networks and Sayid Tayeb Jawad, former Afghan ambassador to the US). The above mentioned are the Godfathers of Kabul.
Members of these Kabuli kinship, political, and social networks occupy potent positions of power in the American installed government of Afghanistan. They operate this American tool of occupation masquerading as a meritocracy producing what the American rulers of Afghanistan plaintively call “corruption”. Information about the identity and activities of everyone on this list is available in the public record. (Another group with possible connections to these networks consists of thousands of educated or half-educated bilingual Afghans residing in Euro-America who serves the Euro-American killing machine in Afghanistan as translators [“terps”] making hundreds of thousands of dollars per person per year).
Every name and group mentioned here offers a case study in betrayal of the people of Afghanistan, opportunism, and blind submission to the American imperial master unaware that the master will never fully trust them no matter how low they bow. The most influential name in the list of Afghan experts in the service of the American occupation machinery of Afghanistan is Zalmay Khalizad.
The poverty of the American government policies and operations dealing with Afghanistan is clearly available in the publicly expressed views and writings of Zalmay Khalilzad. The former ambassador of the United States to Afghanistan, Iraq, and the United Nations subscribes to a bizarre understanding of the organization and structure of human society.
In his August 23, 2005 appearance on the PBS NewsHour NewsMaker segment while discussing the American occupation of Afghanistan, Khalilzad made the astonishing claim that “compromise does not come easy in this part of the world, that the word compromise does not exist in the Arabic language, and when I served in Afghanistan, the same problem existed there as well. The word compromise did not exist in the Afghan language as well”.
Zal (as he is known by his friends) Khalilzad’s condemnation of the people of Afghanistan and Iraq to compromise-deficiency is starkly contradicted by extensive cultural, linguistic, and ethnographic evidence from Afghanistan and Iraq. The cultural and social tools for compromise exist in all corners of human communities. Social life, as we know it, would be virtually impossible without the flexibility which the universal human ability and practice of compromise offers.
Arabic is not the only language spoken in Iraq and at least six languages are spoken in Afghanistan. Dictionaries of Arabic, Farsi, Paxtu, Kurdish, Uzbeki, Baluchi and other languages in the region contain elaborate linguistic labels and cultural constructs for the equivalent of the English concept of “compromise”—the settlement of differences in which each side makes concessions. The extensive ethnographic record about the Middle East, Central and South Asia is replete with unambiguous evidence for not only the existence of the concept “compromise” in the cultures of these regions but also for the creative and varied application of this complex construct (and ways in which it facilitates consensus) in the social, political, and economic lives of the people in these regions. These culture areas contain rich traditions for peaceful disagreement, dialogue, compromise, concord and consensus. In fact, no other region of the world has more elaborate and complex cultural procedures, tactics, strategies, and rituals for compromise than the societies stretching from Morocco to the Indus and on to Southeast Asia.
Claiming that the people of Afghanistan and Iraq lack the cultural and behavioral ability to produce compromise is all the more disturbing since Mr. Khalilzad was hired by the Bush administration as the chief academic authority on the peoples and cultures of the Middle East, especially Afghanistan and Iraq. He has played central roles in the planning and implementation of the destabilization and the so called “reconstruction” of the two countries. Khalilzad played a major role in the production and management of the mujahidin terrorists who caused the collapse of the state infra-structure of Afghanistan and the emergence of the Taleban movement. During the 1990s he negotiated on behalf of UNOCAL with the Taleban regime and openly recommended its recognition by the United States. But when UNOCAL decided not to pursue its involvement in Afghanistan, Khalilzad changed his mind and announced his opposition to the Taleban regime.
Khalilzad’s distorted understandings of the countries in which he has represented the United States contradict everything we have been told about his cultural and educational background by his employer, the media, and the public record that he has created for himself over the past three decades. Zal may very well be engaged in some form of wishful thinking that produces the imaginings of the non-existence of the ability for compromise and concord among the people of Afghanistan and Iraq because the empire he so loyally serves thrives on division and disunity as its major weapons of control and domination.
Zalmay Khalilzad’s defective knowledge and understanding of the cultural and social complexities of Afghanistan is camouflaged by the American war propaganda machine with his “Afghan birth”, that he “is well versed in negotiating tribal and ethnic divisions”, and that he speaks Afghanistan’s “two main languages—Pashto and Dari” (Andrew North, BBC News, February 2006). Khalilzad’s published writings dealing with Afghanistan are framed by explicit American Cold War ideology and are based mostly on anecdotal data and information and are uninformed by the cultural, social, and historical realities of the country he claims as the place of his birth.
Zalmay Khalilzad is on record for gleefully acknowledging the destruction of the state of Afghanistan as a “worthwhile” price for American “strategic” interests: “The gains we made as a result of the struggle in Afghanistan, even with the problems we have had since, I think from the American strategic point of view, it was very much a worthwhile investment” (“CNN Presents: ‘Cold War’” TV broadcast, March 7, 1999).
Khalilzad has cleverly manipulated information about his ethnicity and national background by portraying himself to his employer as a member of the numerically dominant Paxtun group in Afghanistan. In practice he has no meaningful competence in the language and culture of Paxtuns or, for that matter, any other ethnic group in that country. He speaks rudimentary Farsi but it is not known whether he can read and write it. There is no public record of Khalilzad ever speaking in coherent Paxtu, language of the Paxtuns. Anyone with adequate personal and/or ethnographic familiarity with Afghanistan would know that no Paxtun would self-select a name that ends with the suffix “zad”. “Zad” is a Persian word that means nativity or descent and it is sometimes used as a suffix in last names among non-Paxtun Kabuli Afghans. Its Paxtu equivalent is “zai” (e. g. achakzai, ahmadzai, ‘abd al-rahimzai, noorzai, etc.). Some knowledgeable Afghans have suggested that Mr. Khalizad’s parents were members of the peripatetic jat or qawal (gypsy) ethnic group.
From the beginning of his years in the United States, Zalmay Khalilzad has been involved in American right-wing politics. He holds a doctoral degree in political science from the University of Chicago (1979) where he was heavily influenced by the anti-communists Leo Strauss and Albert Wohlstetter. His doctoral thesis, framed by American neoconservative ideology and Cold War anxieties, was titled “The political, economic and military implications of nuclear electricity: the case of the Northern Tier (Middle Eastern countries bordering the former Soviet Union).” When the Afghan monarchy was overthrown in 1978, Khalilzad published several anti-communist articles under the pseudonym “Hannah Negaran.” After the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 (and during the Taleban regime) Khalilzad wrote (now under his real name) numerous anti-communist and anti-Afghan government pieces in various right-wing outlets. He has also stated these views in several appearances before congressional committees during the 1990s. His anti-communist views earned him close association with the Zionist neoconservative cliques that had penetrated the military and foreign policy machineries of the United States. This band of ideologues included Condoleezza Rice, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, John Bolton, Elliot Abrams, David Wurmser, Douglas Feith, and Lewis “Scooter” Libby. Khalilzad and his neo-con colleagues shared strong anti-communist orientations: Rice’s 1981 Cold War inspired doctoral thesis in political science “The politics of client command: party-military relations in Czechoslovakia: 1948-1975” at the University of Denver was directed by the Zionist Jonathan R. Adelman. Wolfowitz’ 1972 pro-Israeli and anti-communist doctoral thesis in political science titled “Nuclear proliferation in the Middle East: the politics and economics of proposals for desalting” at the University of Chicago was written under the direction of Albert Wohlstetter.
Zalmay Khalilzad played a central role in putting together the government of Kabul after the invasion of Afghanistan by the United States in 2001. As in other post-1920 governments of Afghanistan, Khalilzad invoked and manipulated the so called “Loya Jerga” (Paxtu, grand assembly, council) as the legitimizing mechanism for the Kabul government. Conceived after the Paxtun tribal sodality of Jerga (assembly, council) for the resolution of conflict, the Loya Jerga was invented by the rulers of Afghanistan as a hegemonic device for the domination of Afghan civil society not a democratic framework for popular participation and representation. Passing themselves as Paxtuns these non-Paxtun rulers manipulated the myth of the numerical majority of Paxtuns in Afghanistan and their concept of Jerga to legitimize their rule. In reality the Paxtun numerical majority in Afghanistan is a mere speculation and the use of the Loya Jerga by Khalizad has denied the people of Afghanistan a genuine framework in which to build the foundation for democratic political institutions. (See my “Editing the Past: Colonial Production of Hegemony Through the ‘Loya Jerga’,” on this blog).
Khalilzad is known in Washington as the one who thinks of “security to the exclusion of everything else. He tends to look at military solutions as the first, not the last policy option” (Washington Report on the Middle East, April 2003, p. 12). As the official leading authority on the Middle East, Central, and South Asia in the Bush administration, Mr. Kalilzad’s defective understanding of Afghanistan and Iraq has produced results that do not bode well for the rehabilitation and future stability of these beleaguered countries and the security interests of the United States. Hundreds of billions of American tax dollars have been wastefully spent in Afghanistan and Iraq on neocolonial projects in which the blind lead the blind. This sightless and mindless enterprise foretells calamitous prospects for international security and global peace. Hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost in Afghanistan and Iraq because of the implementation of uninformed and ill-fated American policies in which Zal Khalilzad played a major role. In both countries, one man’s neoconservative blinders and distorted understanding of local cultures have produce results to the detriment of stability, peace and security. Khalizad’s neoconservative ideological blinders and misunderstanding of the cultural, political, and social complexities of Afghanistan and Iraq have brought these countries to the brink of disintegration. Zal Khalilzad has participated in the production of aimless and destructive American imperial rage in the country of his birth. This rage is reciprocated by the people of Afghanistan with eternal resistance and bottomless wells of anti-American cultural and political energies full of disrespect, contempt, and hatred for Zionist imperial America.