by Eli McCarthy
Waging Nonviolence

As we reflect on what has transpired in Afghanistan with the Taliban returning to power, we have a vital opportunity for a more authentic, coherent humanitarian response. Toward this end, we must engage some critical analysis and questions.  

We might ask why the Afghanistan government didn’t adequately have the support of its people? How can the conditions and momentum be generated for such trust, consideration and inclusion? Why has this been an ongoing issue long before the drawdown of U.S. troops? 

President Biden has done a very courageous act by significantly reducing the role of the U.S. military and committing to military withdrawal in a large-scale international conflict, even after 20 years of U.S. military efforts in Afghanistan. He should be applauded for shifting away from U.S. arms industry interests, mainstream media and foreign policy thinkers as well as other government voices.

Some in the establishment media and their experts have argued that we should have kept or that we need to send the U.S. military back to Afghanistan and continue to utilize bombing support from the Air Force. They did send about 6,000 troops back to help U.S. diplomats and civilians and others to evacuate. Others have called for a “humanitarian intervention” of other military soldiers — from Muslim nations perhaps — in the form of a U.N. armed peacekeeping force. Strangely, Libya in 2011 and the Dayton Accords in the mid-90s are referenced as examples of the success of such a strategy. 

When nonviolent resistance was predominant in Libya, key people were defecting such as cabinet members, ambassadors and military pilots. As the armed “humanitarian intervention” ignited, however, Ghaddafi’s killing only generated predictable habits of domination, destruction and violence in its wake — with war crimes, torture, violence spreading to Mali, ISIS entering the conflict, an ongoing civil war, militias taking over, two government structures and continued instability. 

With the Dayton Accords, the plan agreed to was quite similar to the Vance-Owen plan the U.S. blocked three years earlier. More importantly, much of the hostility still lingered after the Dayton Accords and soon after Serbia was engaged in more horrendous violence with Kosovo. Ultimately, a student-led nonviolent movement called Otpor led the campaign that removed Milosevic from power in Serbia.

Another significant concern with armed intervention, even by “peacekeepers,” is that there are alarming rates of sexual abuse and rape of civilians whom these U.N. armed peacekeepers are intended to protect. There also has been documented sex trafficking, pedophile rings and the increasing of local prostitution by U.N. peacekeepers. Such sexual assault allegations have been brought forward in Central African Republic, Haiti, Mali, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ivory Coast, Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Bosnia, Cambodia, East Timor, Bosnia and Kosovo. The additional problem of inadequate accountability for U.N. peacekeepers only exacerbates this habit and functions as another example of normalizing the power of domination and the threat and use of violence.

In turn, what would an authentic, coherent “humanitarian” response look like? On the one hand, this is complex and there are no guarantees of significant short-term shifts in a positive direction. On the other hand, there are some straightforward steps that President Biden and others have already taken or could try to better re-humanize this situation…

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