Oppose Interventionism, Seek Unity
Hayward, California In a courageous attempt to assert their national identity, Afghan-Americans have voiced, for the first time since the terrorist attacks of September 11, a unified proposal for a post-Taliban Afghanistan. Meeting on October 17 under the rubric of the Worldwide Afghan Unity Foundation (WAUF) in Hayward, California, almost 400 Afghan-Americans turned out to hear speakers ranging from UC Berkeley students to elder statesmen of the Afghan movement.
For Waheed Momand, president of the Afghan Coalition, the event would serve as "a starting meeting for bringing this movement worldwide." The gathering sought to unite the Afghan-American community towards a common goal the liberation and reconstruction of Afghanistan and to unveil a mandate for change, in the form of a proposal that will be sent to President Bush and the UN. This came as confirmation of Mr. Momands speech, that the historic meeting would go down as " the start of a new Afghan intellectual movement as a political force for the reconstruction (of Afghanistan)."
A focus on foreign interference
Anti-interventionism is at the core of the Afghan political proposal. The WAUF has declared that the first task of the new government should be the "protection of national interest of Afghanistan, which includes liberty, as well as national and geographical sovereignty based on justice and equality among all people, without any ethnic or linguistic discrimination."
In order to achieve this sovereignty, the WAUF has called for the "immediate" preparing of an interim government, which would serve for a two-year transition period. Whether this government would include ex-king Zahir Shah (or involve a return to the traditional tribal council), was not discussed. The pressing need to ameliorate the situation in Afghanistan apparently precluded more specific solutions.
Sovereignty could only be safeguarded, the proposal added, by stopping the interventionism that has devastated Afghanistan for over 20 years: "a peaceful relationship with our neighboring countries must be maintained, and foreign interference in Afghanistans political affairs must no longer be allowed." Several of the speakers were more direct, singling out Pakistan for its role in creating the Taliban. Afghanis are adamant in their hatred of the Taliban; they see it as a barbaric, non-Afghan regime that was imposed on them by Pakistani force and Saudi cash.
The disdain for foreign intervention was reiterated by another speaker, Mr. Abdullah Nasarah, who said, "its evident that foreign intervention has been a problem in Afghanistan in the past and (because of it) Afghanistan is today in a very difficult position we need to take action. It's the national interest of Afghanistan: we must defend that."
Speaker after speaker returned to this idea. WAUF member Sohaila Hashemi spoke out against the "interference" of Afghanistans neighbors:
"...Even today, theyre able to influence the US and UN as to who can and who cant play political roles. The Afghan community needs to be recognized (foreign) intervention has failed miserably its time to give Afghani people a chance to work out their own problems!"
Statements such as these received thunderous applause from the crowd. Exactly how intervention could be stopped, given the complexities of international diplomacy, was not addressed, however.
Rebuilding, and new responsibilities
After ending foreign intervention in Afghanistan, the next step would be to rebuild the countrys devastated infrastructure. One activist, Tigeyeb Jawad, gave a stirring speech that questioned the role and responsibilities of his community in these efforts:
"What should we do? This symbolizes for us once again in Afghanistan that we need a new national government and political leadership to save us from this historical catastrophe ten years ago we had this opportunity (but) we were not able to create a productive government and reconstruct. Regret, remorse, are not enough now. Now we need to understand. The situation has changed. Pakistan is under pressure from the US for supporting terrorism. But the question is, have we changed? We need to be new Afghans, and build a new Afghanistan. Now we need a new opportunity, and for that we need you and especially the students."
Unity and the impact of the young
On that point, at least, there was a lot to be thankful for. The students, indeed, were there, and several gave ardent and spirited presentations.
The common focus of the night was unity, and this topic was perhaps most eloquently addressed by Yalda Asmatey, a 20 year-old junior at UC Berkeley and a representative of the Afghan Student Association. In an impassioned plea for a unified Afghan movement, Asmatey called on her peers to stop "lingering on politics" and unite. "How many more years of suffering, of fighting, of destruction? How many more years of hatred, how many more years of pain?" she asked. "At what point will we wake up, and unite?"
Achieving unity means more than just setting aside political differences, though, according to NYU graduate student Halima Kazim. Having witnessed the World Trade Center catastrophe from her home in New York, Kazim was especially overwrought by the scope of the tragedy and the abuse innocent Afghanis were suffering for it.
"These (terrorists) are not Afghanis. These are not Muslims it breaks my heart," lamented Kazim, "that in most people's minds, Afghanistan is to blame." Citing the importance of education in preserving culture, she called it "a crime" that many parents speak to their children in English and not in Farsi. She urged parents to read books to their children about their homeland, and called on the Afghan-American community to increase the stature of their country in an essential place the library. Kazim bemoaned the fact that "there are only four childrens books" on Afghanistan, compared to " 60, 70, maybe 100" about Israel.
But will the movement last?
During the evening, some suppressed tensions seemed to appear now and then. While speaker after speaker drove home the need for "unity," there was very little offered in the way of specific solutions, and there was no mention of a unified position on current events. The relative worth of the Northern Alliance, for example, was not mentioned; perhaps this would have provoked the kind of "political arguments" that promote discord and disunity. Another sign of a cautious approach was the tendency to avoid mentioning any kind of "Islamic" movement. Throughout the night, only the term "Afghana" (Afghanis) was used, and the only ideal invoked was that of national unity.
I could tell that this cautious approach was provoking some unrest when I overheard two fiery young women from an "Islamic" group complaining to a WAUF organizer. In soothing and sympathetic tones, she apologized for not being able to grant them the podium. Although she agreed that they were fighting the good fight, she mollified, it just wasnt the appropriate venue for that particular message. This seemed to suggest that the Afghan-Americans wish to play down their religion to gain sympathy for their cause in America. Ironically, now that bin Laden is hijacking Islam and Islamic causes for his own purposes, right now would seem to be the best time to reclaim Islam for the Afghani people. But as people who have come under constant intimidation and abuse since September 11th, it is understandable why Afghan-Americans are taking the low-key approach.
Yet no matter what face they present, once it comes down to the hard work of dealing with specific problems and approaches, the fractious Afghans who may be the fiercest democrats in the world will have to strive very hard to maintain the unified front.
For example, on the sensitive topic of American bombing of Afghanistan, the WAUF was rather silent. "We do condemn the bombings," said Yalda Asmatey, who then conceded that strong differences of opinion regarding the bombing campaign made it too touchy of a subject on a night devoted to the first tentative steps towards rebuilding the shattered nation of Afghanistan. Whether or not the WAUF can achieve its stated objective, it deserves applause for bringing the plight of the Afghani people to our attention, and causing us to reconsider the efficacy and outcome of our military interventions past, present, and future.
Proposal by the All-Afghan Unity Foundation for Peace and Stability in Afghanistan
The need for sovereign national policy requires:
The interim government's responsibilities ... to:
In addition, all political parties and organizations must understand that during such critical time, peace and security must prevail first. Therefore, political rivalries and campaigns shall wait 'til law and order is enforced. Opposition to this process is deemed as a crime against the Afghan nation.
In regards to foreign policy:
Our request from the world community is to help us bring peace, stability, and justice to our country. We call for the United Nations to assist us in restructuring a legitimate government, to continue its humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, and also to play an active role in helping us rebuild our country.
Christopher Deliso is a journalist and travel writer with special interest in current events in the areas of the former Byzantine Empire the Balkans, Greece, Turkey, and Caucasus. Mr. Deliso holds a master's degree with honors in Byzantine Studies (from Oxford University), and has traveled widely in the region. His current long-term research projects include the Macedonia issue, the Cyprus problem, and ethnography of Byzantine Georgia.
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