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Rethinking Afghanistan: Have We Listened to the Wrong People?



The recent events in Afghanistan, mainly the death of Farkhunda, women’s protests and the current incursion of ISIL into the country, show that the book I Is for Infi-del: From Holy War to Holy Terror; 18 Years inside Afgha-nistan is still a “must-read” in these times of turmoil.
Afghanistans tragedy is that to the worlds powers, it has never really
maered – or has not maered for long. It has never been valued for itself. In
the chronology of its history, Afghanistan has repeatedly played the role of
pawn in a larger power game […]”
-Kathy Gannon (2005, p. 165)
The recent events in Afghanistan, mainly the death of
Farkhunda, womens protests and the current incursion
of ISIL into the country, show that the book I Is for In-
del: From Holy War to Holy Terror; 18 Years inside Afgha-
nistan is sll a must-readin these mes of turmoil. It is
always good to remember why men and women are now
ghng for rule of law, democracy and womens rights:
more than three decades of atrocies have steered Af-
ghanistan towards a normalizaon of violence. The
Farkhunda case has demonstrated clearly two facts: the
NATO invasion of Afghanistan has completely ravaged
the country, provoking a general diculty to disnguish
between right and wrong and favoring a long-standing
culture of impunity. But secondly, it has also proven that
Afghan people are becoming empowered, especially wo-
men that have demonstrated all their strength with the
latest demonstraons, showing that the stereotype of
the burka-vicm was completely wrong (Malikyar,
2015). So, did we listen to the wrong people during this
whole unjused war?
I chose this moment to publish a book review on Afgha-
nistan because I think that we, as a whole society, tend
to forget the conicts when they are not
hypervisualizedin the media. The Afghan tragedy is not
over: it is not because now ISIL is monopolizing all the
aenon of the media that leads us to forget again what
is happening out there’. Gannons book reminds us that
everything is not black/whiteand/or good/bad in the
Afghan war story: actually, we have adopted the tenden-
cy to dichotomize the conict between the evil Taliban
(forgeng that other sources of terror were comming
war crimes in the country) and the savior represented
by the Western democracies (forgeng that NATO
troops also ravaged the country and perpetrated heinous
violaons of human rights).
In this book, Gannon oers a crical point of view of the
various foreign invasions that have been devastang Af-
ghanistan since the Soviet intervenon during the 80s:
she dynamically quesons the double standards that
Rethinking Afghanistan: Have We Listened to
the Wrong People?
Book Review: Kathy Gannon I Is for Indel: From Holy War to Holy Terror; 18 Years
inside Afghanistan
Author: Priscyll Ancl Avoine1
1Priscyll Ancl Avoine is a researcher for Corporación Descontamina, and researcher and profesor at Universidad Santo Tomás and Universi-
dad Industrial de Santander, Bucaramanga, Colombia. She has a MA in Peace, Conict and Development Studies (Jaume I University, Spain).
Email: priscyll.anc
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have characterized the decisions made by the interna-
onal community, including the UN, in this strategic
region of the globe. She arms that the internaonal
community always adopted the quick exit (2005, p.
9), beneng more their own interests to the detri-
ment of the whole populaon. She also strongly crici-
zes the mujahedeen’, those ghters that led the coun-
try to a civil war during the 1990s, aer the retreat of
the Soviet troops: she argues that these mujahedeen
are the newly electedpeople that nowadays, Ameri-
can and other Western countries are supporng in
order to supposedly restore democracy in Afghanis-
tan. She states that today, she looks around Kabul,
and unfortunately, she sees many of the same faces
that have been pushing Afghanistan into the horrible
tragedy and mass murders (2005, p. 18).
We listened to the war propaganda of George Bush,
believing that the Taliban were the most horrifying
people on earth, and by this, we thought we should
eliminate them”. Gannon tries to expose, in this
book, the series of mistakes that have been made by
the US and UN in this regard. Without legimizing the
Taliban, she argues that we should have listened to
the moderate Taliban when there was sll me: while
not denying the brutality of the Taliban, she ackno-
wledges that their inial purpose was to put an end to
the human rights violaons and murders caused by
the civil war and mulplicaon of war lords in the
country, insisng on the fact that the foreign ghters
have been highly inuencing the original goal of the
Taliban (2005, p. 25):
Sixty men founded the Taliban, according to
Khaksar. In the nal years of the Taliban, more
than half of the founding fathers, had either
died or returned to their mosques, disillusio-
ned with the Taliban they had helped to crea-
te. (2005, p. 27)
By 1994, the Taliban were nothing more than a bunch
of resenul men with distorted ideals and increasing
death ideology. The anger and frustraon that accom-
panied them nally won over their moral dues. We
did not listen to the good people: most of the extreme
inuences received by the Taliban (Wahhabi Islam,
harsh prohibion on music and photography, discrimi-
naons and violence against women, etc.) came from
foreign combatants (although there is a huge problem
with regards to some damaging customs and tradi-
ons) and clearly, the internaonal community did not
react in me and never gave a holisc answer to the
problems of human rights violaons and the overall
disregard for the rule of law (Gannon, 2005, p. 47).
The mujahedeen, and above all Sayyaf (a well-known
Afghan criminal that is enjoying the support of NATO
and the US), were the rst people to welcome Bin La-
den on the Afghan soil: if the internaonal community
would have reacted and reached out to support the
moderate Taliban, the links between the Saudi man
and the extremist groups of the Taliban might have
just aborted (Brown, 2005). It was only in 2001, when
it was convenient for the US-led coalion that the in-
ternaonal community started to be interested again
in the tragic desny of the Afghan people, with all the
discourses on womens right to legimize the armed
Gannon relies on various stories and tesmonies of
key leaders in Afghanistan to construct a narraon
that strongly criques the ocial version spread out
by the mass media. She also represents an uncommon
type of journalism nowadays; a truly in-depth analysis
of the situaon, being highly crical of the Afghan lea-
ders, warlords and ill-intenoned mullahs (the former
and the present ones), the involvement of Pakistani
intelligence (2005, p. 38), the Western war propagan-
da (despite the inherent contradicon; the mujahe-
deen were concretely nanced by the West during the
Soviet invasion) and the abominable number of vic-
ms caused by the NATO invasion. She therefore de-
nounces the high implicaons of these war forces on
determining the course of events. This is why she
named her book I Is for Indel”:
The United States also pumped out inspirao-
nal literature of its own for the Afghan refugee
camps, where U.S.-printed school books
taught the alphabet by using such example as:
J is for Jihad, and K is for Kalashnikov, and I is
for indel. (Gannon, 2005, p. 141)
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Gannon unveiled the fact that the normali-
zed pracces today are not coming only/
strictly from the Afghan culture”, but
surely, from the mulple foreign interven-
ons and years of war: Afghans had never
before outlawed women from working or
girls from aending school (2005, p. 48).
The internaonal community clearly has
missed the point or, worse, carefully orga-
nized a strategy with regards to opium trade
and securizing/militarizing the region.
However, for her, there are no heroes or
war saviors; she assumes that from every
point of view, the vicms are always civi-
Aer so many years covering Afgha-
nistan, I now understand what Af-
ghan leaders really mean when they
talk about shedding the last drop of
blood. They certainly dont mean
their own. It is usually the blood of
innocent civilians caught in the cross
re. When leaderslives are threate-
ned, their rst inclinaon is to beat
a hasty retreat. (Gannon, 2005, p.
The fact is that we listened to the wrong
people: as Butler says, the frames of war are
powerfully having the control of what we
understand as grievable lives (2009). Afghan
lives do not count in the balance of humani-
ty, or they count less’. We failed in respon-
ding to terror in Afghanistan; we did not
listen to our humanity.
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