Friday, December 1, 2023

Afghanistan: Cultural dilemma and need for change


Afghanistan is a land where many different cultures have been growing for ages. There are dilemmas and rigidity which should be changed. Why and how?

The cultural and social aspects

Institutional or group culture can be defined as the shared beliefs, norms, and behaviours that define its members. Political culture entails a set of shared assumptions about organizing institutions and social groups to maximize the prospects for productive cooperation. Women in the past placed a higher value on the family unit, but modern women place equal value on this institution.

This shift in priorities reflects a societal shift toward a greater emphasis on material wealth. Cultural stereotypes have been repositioning in modern societies, and people’s attitudes, values, and beliefs have shifted over time. Still, the emphasis on making money has not altered the underlying structure of families or the importance people place on family relationships.

A society’s cultural norms and values will inevitably evolve, but they must do so for progress. By adapting to new circumstances, individuals can learn to appreciate and benefit from modern developments. In addition, other nations and communities will make strides to bring about the transformation and cultural shifts based on societal norms and values. For instance, a country’s economy may expand if its citizens are encouraged to think of ways to improve it, such as by working or going to school. This is because people in such a culture are more likely to pick up on and benefit from the lessons of those around them.

In contrast, a society may wish to alter its culture for various reasons. While it is true that adjusting to a new culture can be challenging, it is also true that all cultures are always developing and changing. Increasing demand for a cultural shift may be one cause of cultural evolution. One day, society’s culture, values, and practices gradually deteriorated.

The rigidity of the culture

People have many different rituals, ceremonies, etiquette rules, manners, traditions, and ways of acting that they must adhere to, depending on the situation. Human nature is such that traditions become deeply ingrained and resistant to change. Due to its unchanging nature, this custom aspect has been dubbed the “hard cake of customs” by Dawson and Gettys. These practices are not unrelated to or separate from the cultural institutions of our society; rather, they are embedded within the normative order of those institutions. Thus, helping them adapt is a Cultural Anthropology issue.

Societies and cultures are intertwined; therefore, it is fair to conclude that any shift in cultural norms would also need a shift in social norms.

Cultural variables influence social shifts. Societies and cultures are intertwined; therefore, it is fair to conclude that any shift in cultural norms would also need a shift in social norms. Ideologies, values, attitudes, and the ideas of great men all play a part in influencing social change as a result of their cultural context. What follows are explanations of how culture plays a part in societal transformation. Some cultural norms foster an environment where people are less willing to adapt. Their traditional lifestyle and values are so ingrained in who they are that nothing from the outside can permeate them and become accepted as part of their culture.

Cultural inertia means people living this way refuse to adapt to new societal norms. The cultural practices of nomads who travel from one section of the territory to another and have contact with individuals from different regions remain consistent across locations. The reason is that they have not moved past their cultural habits. There are some examples of cultural differences in all societies, as people welcome changing values and perceptions. For instance, when the new regime came to power in Afghanistan, they stopped girls from high school, and the changes which came with the post-regime allowed people to change their minds.

Now, most families know about the importance of knowledge, and they do not agree with the lockdown of schools for girls and also a job for women, and those with a family that does not allow the women of the home to go out for jobs. Because of the shift in social norms, she was relieved when her parents let her pursue her chosen career path after seeing how other women in the family fared financially. People are adapting to new cultural norms and values, and everyone is teaching and learning from one another.

People’s values and views are affected by cultural shifts, and this is a topic that the essay can address. However, the culture of getting money is affecting people’s minds, and even children desire to get rich quickly without altering their outlook on life. My friend’s story exemplifies how people’s thoughts evolve alongside shifting social mores and cultural norms. Attributes of modern American culture are being adopted by or learned by people of other civilizations.

There are practical justifications for expanding our explanations of social phenomena to incorporate cultural and academic elements. In contrast to popular belief, armed conflicts do not spontaneously erupt but rather are path-dependent and evolve as a result of a variety of factors. Issues like recruiting, radicalization, etc., are crucial to understanding organizational processes and structures, which can be shown by taking an endogenous analytical stance on the emergent.

A confrontation between traditionalist or conservative values and progressive or liberal values may be implied by the term “culture war” used in the United States. This expression first appeared in the 1920s, when tensions rose between city dwellers and those in rural areas. After decades of immigration from people that early European settlers viewed as “foreign,” this occurred. It was also the end effect of the Roaring Twenties’ modernizing cultural movements and the 1928 presidential campaign of Al Smith. Later in the century, the word occasionally appeared in 20th-century American newspapers.

One way to look at it, and by far the most common, is as a political struggle between competing visions of handling cultural issues such as abortion, family values, etc. In this sense, the mobilization of political resources, such as people, votes around particular cultural positions is what the “culture war” is about. A “culture war” is essentially a political conflict. As a result, there was a dramatic shift in cultural norms.

The cultural dilemma of Afghanistan

The Afghan war issue, which has lasted for three decades, is a complex phenomenon. However, several recurrent issues prevent a complete description of the situation and its subsequent resolution. Without pretending to be tired, the rest of this article will focus on these crucial elements. Afghan society has remained culturally and organizationally traditional, a different but not exclusive point of view. Afghans use the Arabic word qawm to characterize these shifting solidarity groupings; qawm has deep roots in Afghan politics and provides a window into people’s attitudes and justifications regarding the use of authority.

The word qawm has several meanings, including “occupational group” and “people who mutually aid one other.”

The word qawm has several meanings, including “occupational group” and “people who mutually aid one other.” Qawm, in its most basic sense, refers to intricate personal networks that span the political, social, economic, military, and cultural spheres. Since these interpretations are not mutually exclusive, qawm neither exhibits nor constitutes delineated groups.

From a behavioural perspective of the cultural and political foundations of poor society’s core forms of cooperation and conflict, examination affords related concerns like qawm. When introducing socio-cultural context via agents, it is most “natural” to do it at the agent level through the agent’s behaviour and cognition. Behaviours and cognition are thought to influence one another, and vice versa, but this is believed in the absence of contradicting data. The guerrilla war system model is embedded in a theoretical framework that describes the development of social networks driven by the accumulation and redistribution of material and social resources.

This model is an emulation of the power structures in Afghanistan. Qawm boundaries cannot be fixed because of the structural mobility of the qawm, both in reality and in our model. By borrowing a concept from the study of social networks to imagine a society in which everyone has strong ties to everyone else in their clique but no connections between cliques. This “ideal type” of society is unrealistic, but it serves as a useful reference point for determining how “factionalized” a given population is. The political and social climate is a significant contributor to understanding the root causes of conflict.

Cultural war phenomena in Afghanistan

A culture war is a contest for hegemony over shared norms of thought and behavior between distinct social groups. It is a term that describes issues where people’s values are sharply divided. In modern American politics, “hot button” topics are often referred to by this phrase. The original German phrase for this conflict was Kulturkampf, and the English term “culture war” is a calque (borrowed meaning) of that term. Rudolf Virchow developed the word “Kulturkampf” to describe the struggle between different cultural and religious factions in the German Empire between 1871 and 1878 when Chancellor Otto von Bismarck led an effort to counteract the Catholic Church’s hold on the country.

Our politics are more than just a reflection of our attitudes and ideals; they are also a reflection of deeper cultural tendencies beyond the scope of our rational understanding.  Culture, in one sense, is concerned with the distinction between the pristine and the tainted, with the porous and the permeable, with the crossing of lines and the measures we take to prevent more breaches. One could argue that cultural conflict stems from different groups having different standards for what constitutes a violation.

One may argue that this idea is the root of our problems. The invasion of Iraq in 2003, which diverted attention away from Afghanistan and was based on many of the same fundamentally flawed assumptions that doomed that campaign, is often cited as the first major strategic failure in that country. It appears that no meaningful preparation was made for the aftermath of the involvement in Iraq, for all the social and political elements must be taken into account to limit turmoil and avert prolonged conflict. Plan stunning air and ground operations of shock and awe, and then use our models to re-engineer the society’s infrastructure and institutions.

We should consider an apparent trend or way of thinking so ingrained it could be called cultural. Understanding and respect for the underlying values, beliefs, and customs that shape and define specific communities is what is meant by “cultural awareness.” Whatsoever T.E. Lawrence defines as “tribal structure, religion, social conventions, language, tastes and standards” may be more relevant to Afghanistan. An essential goal of counterinsurgency is to earn legitimacy and “the hearts and minds of the people,” and doing so requires an understanding of this “human landscape.

Cultural knowledge is a crucial “force multiplier” in counterinsurgency warfare, along with comprehension, political sensitivity, and tribal engagement.

Cultural knowledge is a crucial “force multiplier” in counterinsurgency warfare, along with comprehension, political sensitivity, and tribal engagement. In Afghanistan, where the local aspect of the culture is paramount, Western troops trained on the macro level must face an opponent that can only be described as essential, a creature insuperable, invisible, without front, drifting about as a gas.

Afghanistan is a very traditional country with strong tribal customs, robust Islamic customs, and a deep-rooted distrust of foreigners. A foreign power will not be able to counter an insurgency in such a setting successfully, and gaining the populace’s support will require acting in a way that is perceived to be sympathetic to the insurgency. Looking at the Afghanistan case, we can find that ISAF efforts have contributed to a perception of alienation from the community rather than fostering cultural awareness and local involvement. This is primarily the result of unnecessary technological use, which promotes a culture of fear and isolation from the community.

A counterinsurgency must “operate by, though, and with indigenous forces and populations” rather than against them to achieve success. To find a workable solution for Afghan citizens, one must first understand the nature of the Taliban and Afghan society that is based on Pashtun principles of wholesale (district) and alaqadari (subdistrict). In this setting, cultural understanding serves a twofold purpose: tactically, in all counterinsurgency efforts, strategically, developing a solution acceptable to Afghan culture.

The OEF was essentially an ad-hoc military operation led by U.S. and British special troops, with assistance from the Afghan Northern Alliance. Though the invasion was generally successful, conventional forces were eventually needed to wipe out the remnants of the Taliban. ISAF’s inability to fully comprehend counterinsurgency concepts, especially since it is fundamentally a fight between two or more actors for legitimacy in the eyes of the host community, was a crucial element in allowing this Taliban regeneration. In this section, I will try to back up the thesis of this article, which is that ISAF’s failure to earn the legitimacy necessary to discredit the Taliban as a viable political actor is attributable primarily to the coalition’s failure to demonstrate adequate cultural understanding in its strategy and tactics.

ISAF appears to view the tribes of Afghanistan as a serious obstacle to victory and an unreliable source of political authority. In contrast, the Taliban focus much of their effort on twisting traditional tribal Pashtunwali norms like nang (honour) and haya (shame) to undermine support for ISAF. The Pashtuns, who make up the bulk of the Taliban, have a strong feeling of devotion due to the strong connections of blood and obligation that define their tribal identity. ISAF should welcome tribes to safeguard their communities from Taliban infiltration rather than alienating them and leaving them vulnerable to Taliban intimidation.

Afghanistan has a long tradition of successfully “pluralizing” its security, dating back to Abdul Rahman Khan’s tribal levy forces in 1880. The benefits of reinforcing tribal security include arbakai, lahars, tsalweshtai, and chalweshtai while endorsing tribal bodies like the jirga and shura embodying many democratic values with jurisdiction over them are manifold. These measures would ‘disincentives’ ‘accidental guerrilla’ recruitment; provide ISAF with crucial local-level.

The following section will use three case studies to show that the United States and the United Kingdom, the leading ISAF contributors, have a long track record of successfully incorporating cultural awareness into counterinsurgency conflicts.

Values and culture as they relate to an intervention’s intended outcomes

After the initial Taliban loss in 2001, it served as the unspoken basis for our efforts to get the country back on its feet. However, given the vast differences between the Western countries engaged and the target country, as well as the short durations involved, there was inevitable to be disappointment and recalibration. Western policy toward Afghanistan was predicated on the idea that the country could not achieve stability without a legitimately elected government in Kabul that was responsive to its citizens’ needs and provided for them.

The Afghans did not operate this way. Traditional, family, local, and tribal systems, as well as patronage, had previously been how governance had been given. There was no long-established norm of contributing to a central government or expecting efficient service delivery from that government.

This question has been at the centre of the discussion among coalition members as to whether or not the campaign’s goal was just the defeat of al-Qaeda and the denial of safe havens or whether or not the goal was to construct a stable Afghanistan that could withstand the return of such an organization. In the early stages of the campaign, expectations were sky-high. For instance, reducing poverty; upholding human rights” were all part of the official end-state for the U.K.’s commitment to Afghanistan as established in 2003.

This will be accomplished by focusing on the following objectives within Afghanistan. We need to make sure al-Qaeda has nowhere to hide. To prevent the Taliban from toppling the government, we must stop their current momentum. Afghanistan’s security forces and government need to have their capabilities bolstered to assume primary responsibility for the country’s future. Security forces and then the government are mentioned in the speech in that order for a reason.

Requests for assistance are more likely to be granted when they come from people with whom you have strong familial, tribal, or geographical ties. I believe it is possible that making it function in the manner the West understands it is likely to take years and thorough cultural awareness of the community with which we are engaging and of what it means to alter values in that society is essential if we are to be successful in our efforts to do so as part of that engagement. It must articulate where we are willing to make sacrifices to our beliefs to facilitate advancement and when this is just not an option.

Initially, during the Bonn peace process, the international world became increasingly reluctant to engage them, preferring to deal with government and provincial officials, who frequently lacked real influence. Problems arise for many reasons, as evidenced by a brief quote from 2008 by President Karzai expressing his displeasure with the removal of Shir Muhammad Akhundzada: they removed Akhundzada on the allegation of drug-running and delivered the province to drug runners, the Taliban, to terrorists, to a threefold increase in drugs and poppy cultivation.

The timescales required to achieve cultural change will often be at odds with the comparatively short tenures of western administrations, adding another layer of difficulty to the effort.

The West risks retreating into isolationism and letting problems like population growth, poverty, and youth unemployment fester until they become insurmountable. Shortly put, there is a compelling argument for more minor, earlier, and longer-term interactions if we attempt to prevent such eventualities; in this regard, contemporary policy discussion of “upstream capacity building” is not surprising.

Last but not least, Interventions like the one in Afghanistan are one of a kind and a mix of art and science with infinite variables; there will always be exceptions to the rules. Nevertheless, for such interventions to succeed, it is essential to have a thorough familiarity with the country.

Winning the hearts and minds of the people is crucial, and combating the misuse of government authority for personal benefit is an important part of that fight. Underinvesting in personnel at the outset of a campaign might have serious consequences.

At the end

Using Afghanistan as an example, this study aims to prove that understanding cultural norms and values are crucial to conducting an effective counterinsurgency campaign. Military counterinsurgency strategy and innovative means of integrating 21-century armament and force structures have recently received much attention. Still, the most fundamental foundation of this type of warfare, cultural understanding, has often been dismissed as unimportant. the war in Afghanistan and Iraq has borne out the thesis of this study, and significant changes have been achieved in doctrine and strategy, but little constructive change has been revealed at the tactical level.

In addition to its appalling human rights record, Afghanistan, under the Taliban’s reign, provided a haven for the development of al-Qaeda and sanctioning the potentially world-dilemma 9/11 attacks. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to ensure that Afghanistan never becomes such a state again. Because of its intensely local nature, Afghanistan requires a bottom-up, culturally informed focus in counterinsurgency efforts, as has been noted. Another common thread is the rise of a global rentier and criminal economy.

In addition to tearing communities apart and placing a tremendous strain on Afghanistan’s neighbours, especially Iran and Pakistan, the conflict-driven migration of several million people also gave rise to commercial, labour, and information networks that significantly impact social life in Afghanistan.

Also Read: Taliban 2.0: A political void leading Afghanistan to uncertain future

(Heela Hakimi specialises in international relations majoring in Peace and Diplomacy. She worked in the Parliament of Afghanistan and the consulate department of the Chinese embassy in Kabul.)

(Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the author’s and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.)


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