With the recent killing of Taliban leader Baitullah Massoud, some might be tempted to think that a military victory in Afghanistan is just around the corner. Mark Juergensmeyer, a leading scholar of terrorism, religion, and global politics at the University of California, Santa Barbara, insists in Religion Dispatches today that we shouldn’t get our hopes up. (Years ago, before rising to prominence, Juergensmeyer wrote a lovely book called Gandhi’s Way: A Handbook of Conflict Resolution.) He offers, first, the familiar reminder that the U.S. is not seen as a liberating force by the locals:
Like the North Vietnamese, many Afghan activists—and an increasing number of Pakistanis—are motivated to fight against the American presence because of their love of freedom. They see the US military, like the Soviet forces before them, as a foreign occupying power. The Taliban, as draconian as they may be, are seen as enemies of the enemy: us. It is the US military presence, paradoxically, that is uniting the Taliban and marshalling wide public support behind it.
Most usefully, Juergensmeyer reports on a recent meeting of experts on South Asia. They agreed to five necessary steps that need to be taken to ensure stability in the region. None of them, the U.S. leadership may be surprised to learn, involves sending in more troops.
1. Support self-determination.
3. Recognize the religious and organizational diversity.
4. Respect the legitimacy of religious politics.
5. Be open to regional solutions.
For details on each of these, see Juergensmeyer’s article. What he emphasizes above all is the need to stop trying to impose a Western-style society as if that were the only hope for stability. He reminds us of Badshah Khan, a leader who crafted a nonviolent political movement in the tribal regions out of local values and traditions. In large part, the ruthless violence we often think of as being endemic to that region is a reflection of our own behavior there.