While Obama’s Talking Borders…

President Obama’s "Middle East" speech last week ignited fresh controversy with Israel for proposing to form a new Israel-Palestine partition congruent to the pre-1967 border demarcation.  Perhaps Obama intends the message to be an extension of an "olive branch" to the rest of the Arab world in order to diffuse further rebellion and anti-American sentiment there.  Or perhaps he’s finally realized that the United States’ fiscal quandary is going to force the reduction, if not outright ending, of foreign and military aid in the region and the speech is an attempt to initiate domestic dialogue about that inevitability. 

This is wishful thinking.  But with Mr. Obama temporarily finding himself in the mood to encourage border-realignment for a country, he should look no further than Afghanistan…especially as the means to a broader U.S. exit strategy from the country.  Such a strategy would most certainly address international "olive branch" and domestic fiscal initiatives if that is what he is ostensibly intending to address. 

Following a U.S. withdrawal, Afghanistan’s various tribes would have a myriad of political options, with border realignment being but one possible course of action.  But the United States at least owes it to the country’s suffering people to propose the possibility of realignment.  The fact is, Afghanistan has never been a nation state in the modern sense, but rather an amalgamation of many ethnicities occupying a large land mass arbitrarily placed within border confines drawn up by Western colonial powers, and which few of its inhabitants happen to recognize.  Our recent attempt at imposing a central governing body to rule over this large and diverse land territory has only further exacerbated Western distortions upon the land and its people.   

Withdrawing would put an end to such distortions (at least for the moment).  And encouraging border demarcation would send the truly humane message of not wishing any future bloodshed upon the territory’s people.  For if it was truly up to the land’s inhabitants, the borders across the Afghanistan land territory would unequivocally have emerged different from today’s Western-imposed borders. 

In fact, many of the patronage and power structures necessary to facilitate such partitioning have been in place for some time.  As a matter of fact, much of this "encouragement" would actually transpire back in the West, specifically by having its respective ivory tower planners swallowing their pride and acknowledging, and thereby formalizing, these existing power structures.  Some groups might simply merge their lands with those of the adjacent country that already largely consists of their respective tribe/nationality, as is likely to be the case with Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and possibly Tajikistan. 

The ivory tower planners will not go quietly, for they will most certainly try to incite fear over the Taliban reemerging.  But the odds of such a reoccurrence are profoundly minute.  In fact, most of what has been propagandized as Taliban activity in the U.S. media has actually amounted to petty score settling between neighbors, such as shepherds and farmers, regarding "who cheated who" in a negotiated transaction.  As another glaring example of Western distortions in this society, the eventual "winners" of these transactions are those quickest to file the "Taliban" accusation with the local military PRT (provincial reconstruction team). 

Other supposed "Taliban" members are simply aggrieved, desperate shepherds and farmers whose livelihoods have been decimated from the fighting and whose families are starving as a consequence (When people lose everything and have nothing to lose…).  Further, with the very small "real Taliban" element having always been a militant arm of the Pashtun tribe, a new demarcation would confine them to the Pashtun territories instead of being the Afghanistan-wide cancer that it has been.  It is a Pashtun issue, not everyone else’s. 

The only real problem would be the fate of the Hazaras, who possess a significant population disadvantage relative to the Pashtuns.  Given the extreme antipathy between them, this is a potentially grave problem.  They would likely find it most convenient to merge with the Tajiks to the north given their common language, Northern Alliance kinship, and common enemy in the Pashtuns.  Whatever they decide, the West must respect the decision for it is not up to ivory tower planners in distant capitals around the world to decide their fate. 

Others might question the rationale of bringing our troops home during the present economic maelstrom, fearing that thousands of returning troops will only exacerbate unemployment problems.   But few politicians truly realize the financial burdens these conflicts have placed upon American citizens and the self-inflicted economic stagnation as consequence.  Not having to pay for these conflicts will inevitably lower present and future government expenditure, thereby reducing the need for as many taxes.  The increased individual wealth would in turn be spent and invested on more productive endeavors.  Returning the troops home and the accompanying decreased war expenditure would inevitably result in an enormous boon for the domestic economy. 

The United States’ 10+ years of imposing a central governing body to rule over the large and diverse land territory of Afghanistan is the latest chapter in a Western-imposed distortion upon the land and its people.  It was always fated to be a fool’s errand.  And our troops know it, as evidenced by their continually plummeting morale.  But with President Obama’s newfound inclination to propose border-realignments, the case can surely be made for doing so in Afghanistan, especially so we can bring our troops home and rebuild the domestic economy. 

Author: Josef Storm

Josef Storm has been an aid worker in Afghanistan and is a taxpayer. He is intimately familiar with the costs of chasing ghosts.