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Afghanistan – The Way to Win

Hello and salaam to all,

Please read the attached information below regarding our newly announced campaign, “The Way to Win,” related to improved diplomacy and constructive engagement between the United States and Afghanistan. Afterwards, please email us ASAP at mpjp@mpjp.org if you are interested in joining the project, either as a participant or as a volunteer. We need your support in any way possible. Also, please forward this link to ten of your closest colleagues, and please feel free to email us with any feedback, comments, or suggestions.

Peace be to you,

Executive Board
Muslims for Peace, Justice, and Progress
www.mpjp.org
mpjp@mpjp.org

Afghanistan remains a critically important place for the Muslim world today as well as the West. If war, death, and destruction continue, victimization will continue to increase on both sides of the conflict. A change of course in Afghanistan remains imperative. Nuclear-armed areas of this region are drifting quickly into chaos and conflict. This is a concern for Western nations, and potentially an excuse for powerful Western elites to continue to escalate military involvements. Escalation of military conflict, however, will ultimately lead to the destabilization of the wider region due to more violent confrontations, more polarization, and the disintegration of cooperation.

The good news is that greater opportunities exist today to bring about a countervailing movement for constructive engagement, accountability, and a more equitable balance of power in human affairs. This movement could have powerful and transformative results. The mindset and modus operandi of humanity has changed in our increasingly more open, interconnected, and interdependent world.

This emerging backdrop is conducive towards the mobilization of transnational civil societies to create a paradigm shift in international affairs. Powerful catalysts are needed. American Muslims are in a critical place and time in history to become one such catalyst of change. We need leadership and vision in order for the “sleeping agent” of our time to see our compelling need, enormous opportunity, and monumental responsibility right in front of us. Past and present American Muslim organizations have performed commendable jobs, albeit often in limited and issue-specific areas. It is long overdue that our leadership needs to be taken to a new frontier.

In Afghanistan and the rest of the Muslim world, American Muslims can help to spearhead a transnational movement of change through dialogue and diplomacy. They are citizens of the West, which generally offers a more conducive and open environment to engage with the due process and create dialogue. They also live in a society whose government is confrontationally involved with many Muslim-majority societies. They are at the center of very important events in world history, and due to their knowledge of both worlds, they have incredible potential to become agents of positive change.

In order for American Muslims to carry out this work effectively, a united front is a must. We all know that the Muslim communities in the West and in rest of the world are diverse, at times divided. This diversity is no reason to become divided, especially when pursuing a goal that will uplift the human condition for hundreds of millions of people in the Muslim world. Cynicism, insecurity, and reactionary stances have not worked for us. The Muslim world desperately needs a visionary leadership to overcome the staggering problems that exist today.

To build such a transnational movement for constructive engagement, we need to begin with a keystone area that can mobilize Western Muslims to participate in a movement for peaceful change. President Obama has announced an increase in 30,000 troops within the region. Many Western Muslims are concerned about the prospect of further military engagement in Afghanistan, believing instead that diplomatic and humanitarian assistance can serve as a more ideal alternative to military interventions in order to stop extremist and terrorist movements. Many American Muslims are highly educated, possessing skills in high-level professions. The Pew report exposed that 65% of American Muslims were born in foreign lands, with deep connections in those societies. Many of them are the ‘cream of the crop’ from the well over 50 countries that they come from. We can utilize these human resources in order to build economic and social bridges between the war-torn and socioeconomically deprived regions of the Muslim world and the affluent and technologically advanced industries in the West. Western Muslims are the common denominator between these two vital but polarized camps of humanity. Enormous responsibility rests on their shoulders to bridge the gap.

Our existing system of international powerbrokers and mediators often involve numerous conflicts of interest, which can ruin even well-intentioned engagements. These conflicts of interest can spoil peace efforts. We must remember that corruption and mismanagement does not only take place within foreign countries. Elites and vested interests among both occupier countries and occupied countries collude in order to maintain their own joint interests, regardless of the victimization that occurs to lay citizens on both sides. Cynicism, extremism, terrorism, non-cooperation, corruption, and other counterproductive behaviors take place when indigenous peoples lose trust and confidence in foreign powers that intervene in their affairs and make their condition worse rather than uplifting them.

Afghanistan is a glaring example of that failure. Please see Table 1 below for more information related to the country. After eight years of occupation and hundreds of billions spent in Western taxpayers’ money, the Karzai government is still extremely ineffective and corrupt. In many of the 34 provinces, it is almost dysfunctional. Half of Kabul lacks electricity, 40% of Afghans are unemployed, and 53% remain below the poverty level. There is extreme insecurity among the general public as military confrontations and violence continue, and narcotics cultivation threatens to overtake subsistence crops in a country where 80% of the population depends on agriculture and related trade. After eight years, the Taliban is still strong and well-organized, and their vicious guerilla warfare is polarizing and destabilizing the society. Unless and until this grim reality changes, there is no hope for Afghanistan. And the West will remain in the quagmire for a long time.

Our way out is through an aggressive and visionary agenda that supports constructive engagements through dialogue and mediation among all conflicting parties, including the insurgents. Even prominent military leaders advocate dialogue with resistance forces. No long-term solution is possible without bringing majorities of less extreme factions to the negotiating table and winning them over to constructive social processes.

Throughout the conflict, we have heard a common trend voiced by numerous governmental, military, and NGO leaders — constructive engagement with Afghanistan must occur in order for peace and progress to be viable. However, in spite of all the rhetoric, only an insignificant percentage of military expenditures go towards social developments.

Many international organizations such as Oxfam state that “there is no purely military solution to Afghanistan.” and that it is imperative now to bring about strategic changes regarding the handling of Afghan affairs. Prominent generals on both sides of the Atlantic state that war maintains little capacity to ensure long-term solutions, even though it may be necessary sometimes to prevent injustice. When interviewed after a strategic summit in Berlin, General Petraeus stated that our top priority in Afghanistan should be “to drink more tea with the locals.”

However, we largely disagree with his assertion that it is possible to resolve conflicts simply by maintaining a good relationship between the military and indigenous civilians. The whole setup and engagement style needs to be changed, and the human condition must be uplifted in order for viable solutions to take place. New agents such as MPJP have been advocating for these changes for a long time. In conjunction with other groups, American Muslims must play a vital role by offering services as watchdogs, mediators, and informal diplomats in order to help bring about trust and confidence among the indigenous people.

At the same time, this activism by the Western Muslims can serve as a direct link between the people of the region and Western people. The Western Muslims can become trusted informants and advisers.

All of these reasons serve as a profound rationale for American Muslim leaders to participate in this activism in order to promote conflict resolution and an expeditious military exit strategy in Afghanistan. If this groundbreaking work can be achieved with some degree of success, in shaa Allah, we will gain incredible amounts of leverage, legitimacy, and recognition.

Neither America nor its government is monolithic. There are opposing forces on any issue at any given time. We may face difficult challenges from some groups while pioneering this work. However, we may also receive support and cooperation from many others. We will reach out and establish a dynamic and large network of civil society organizations conducive to our work.

Even if we began this process as an ant, we will emerge as an elephant, God willing. This initiative in Afghanistan will empower the Western Muslim community and help to uplift our image and position as peace brokers. This leverage will also enable us to forge ahead on other endeavors of international importance with newfound political capital. These thoughts are a tall order indeed, but our initiative in Afghanistan is certainly achievable today under a consolidated leadership from American Muslims.

The following are some humble suggestions for prerequisites in order to ensure success in this visionary endeavor:

1) A core cadre composed of a cohesive group of leaders and thinkers that can formulate a visionary agenda, including multiple leaders that possess national and international importance. We need support and guidance from visionary American Muslim leaders. We also need to meet face-to-face in order to brainstorm such an agenda. This requires a degree of commitment, but not so much commitment that these leaders have to disengage themselves from the rest of their present work. A group such as MPJP can provide the legwork necessary to carry out this agenda, under the leadership of visionary American Muslims.

2) A dynamic structure within the coalition, with by-laws that incorporate diversity among the body of participants yet maintain intimate cohesion at the top levels due to the need for agility and adaptability during decision-making processes. Without proper top-level management — necessary to adapt to a changing environment and to respond quickly — our work could potentially become compromised. Diversity will provide us with legitimacy and strength, while cohesive decision-making will increase our effectiveness.

3) Form an ad-hoc committee that will arrange a diplomatic delegation to Afghanistan, making sure to include meetings with citizens, activists, and leaders of all sides including opposing forces such as the Taliban. Our involvement and dialogue will gear towards convincing all parties to participate in negotiations and peacefully settle conflicts. Many prominent generals concur that sustainable conflict resolution can occur through negotiation with the insurgents. They are indigenous people with a difficult terrain and an open border with Pakistan, and their guerilla strategy will be extremely difficult to defeat. Through a creative path that utilizes constructive engagement, it is possible that they can be brought back to the negotiating table.

4) We must strive to keep a broad agenda throughout this initiative, an agenda that comprehensively takes into account social, political, and economic dimensions in order to foster sustainable long-term solutions. Many international organizations perform commendable jobs in issue-specific areas such as human rights and women’s rights, but as a result more holistic issues such as good governance and economic sustainability get neglected by NGOs. We need to avoid compartmentalizing our goals in order to assist the Afghan people towards a win-win situation.

5) In order to create a transnational presence, we need to engage with civil society organizations throughout America, the rest of the Western nations, and the Muslim world.

6) Our true leverage will come from grassroots support among mainstream people in the West and in Muslim societies.

7) We must engage with different governmental institutions among the West and among Muslim-majority societies. In America, these governmental circles include the Senate, the House of Representatives, and the Obama administration including the State Department. We already have initial connections that can be utilized to the fullest, in shaa Allah.

8) We should fully utilize the Internet and media as conduits for our message and our ideas.

9) We must remain as independent, credible, and professional as possible. Therefore, our financing and support must not come from any source that could create a conflict of interest — governmental or non-governmental, home or abroad.

Initially, America had gained enormous trust and command in the region in the 1980s. The Taliban and al-Qaeda did not initially exist, and Mujahideen forces allied with America fought against the Soviet occupation and ousted them in 1989. Confidence and goodwill skyrocketed after the Iron Curtain and Berlin Wall fell. In the long history of Afghanistan, no foreign power received as much trust or goodwill as America received at that time. If this political capital had been invested into the transformation of this difficult region, our successes would have dwarfed the Marshall Plan and the face of this region would have been quite different today.

Instead, America faces a deep quagmire today, and the United States government devotes much more money to military operations than to foreign aid and reconstruction. As of June 2009, Congress had approved a total of $944 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but only 5% of these funds went to foreign aid and embassy operations, while 94% went directly to the Department of Defense.

However, both the West and the Muslim world desperately need the peaceful activism that MPJP offers today. The Muslim world needs the West in order to achieve rapid economic progress that can overcome the volatility caused by frustrations among a vast and fast-growing young generation in the Muslim world. In this globalized society, the West also needs stability and prosperity in the Muslim world in order to achieve its greater interests of national security. The Muslim world constitutes one-fifth of humanity spread over roughly fifty countries, and it controls 75% of the oil reserves in the world. Our mutual need for common welfare and long-term solutions remain more compelling than ever before.

Our challenge in our time is to search for political and social catalysts that can bring about the credibility, trust, and confidence needed to create win-win situations. With proper grooming, support, and leverage, we can raise a visionary and forceful leadership from among American Muslims to spearhead an international movement for peace, justice, and progress.

Ruby Amatulla
Executive Director
Muslims for Peace, Justice, and Progress
www.mpjp.org
mpjp@mpjp.org

TABLE 1: AFGHANISTAN AT A GLIMPSE

—Defense Secretary Robert Gates states that “the civilian component and the development component of our relationship with Afghanistan will become predominant.”
—Oxfam stated that “there is no purely military solution to Afghanistan.”
—Shura consultations in Afghanistan repeatedly reaffirm that brainpower is needed in Afghanistan rather than firepower in order to ensure a stable future.

—Although much has been achieved since the fall of the Taliban, many indicators for quality of life in Afghanistan remain low. Only 26% of the adult population is literate, along with only 34% of children. Many classrooms are overburdened and are conducted under trees or in tents, and gangs have attempted to attack schools as recently as 2008, when 15 girls were violently assaulted with battery acid outside of the Mirwais School in Kandahar. 46% of Afghans do not believe that they were better off than in 2001. The country has one of the highest child mortality rates in the world, along with an average adult life expectancy of 46 years.

—Currently, the United States government devotes much more money to military operations than to foreign aid and reconstruction. As of June 2009, Congress had approved a total of $944 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but only 5% of these funds went to foreign aid and embassy operations, while 94% went directly to the Department of Defense.

—The human cost of war is also high. Thousands of Afghan civilians have been killed, both directly due to both foreign military and insurgent action as well as indirectly as a result of displacement, poor living conditions, and crime. Almost 900 American servicemen have died in the war in Afghanistan, with an additional 4500 wounded including 2500 not returning to duty. This does not count additional casualties suffered by all the members of the international coalition forces.
—As stated in the mainstream press, Obama recently announced an increase in 30,000 troops to the region. However, Obama conducted nine closed-door meetings to assess recent deployment of troops to Afghanistan, lacking any public testimony on Capitol Hill or Congressional hearings to guide his decisions. No consultation was conducted with the shura elders in Afghanistan, and the Washington decision-making process lacked the openness and transparency that is imperative for such a serious endeavor.

—Prominent national and international leaders continually assert the need for civilian and nongovernmental organizations to assist in the path towards peace in Afghanistan. MPJP’s core idea is to work along that line. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has stated that civilian efforts are as “vital as military operations” in the region, as “we have begun to elevate diplomacy and development alongside defense in our national security strategy. When interviewed after a strategic summit in Berlin, Commander of the US Central Command David Petraeus stated that our top priority in Afghanistan should be “to drink more tea with the locals.” In other words, the US government and military should focus on building relationships in order to ensure long-term security. Chris Kolenda, one of General McChrystal’s own advisors, has said that the conflict will ultimately be won through education that promotes peace, tolerance, and prosperity rather than bombs and bullets. Civilian organizations such as Greg Mortenson’s Central Asia Institute and Pennies for Peace have already encountered fantastic success in humanitarian and diplomatic work throughout Afghanistan.

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