Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Pashtun Refugees and America's Future

Yesterday I wrote a bit about the American culture of self-centeredness and excess. (Again, in re our culture of excess, I highly recommend Andrew Bacevich's recent book, The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism. In re the American culture of self-centeredness, you need simply have a look around you next time you're on the road, and see how many drivers are yapping into their cell-phones - or even texting - while at high speed.) If you'd like to see an almost heart-rending piece about a very different culture, check out this WaPo report about the Pashtuns of Pakistan, who are accepting impoverishment rather than allow fellow Pashtuns who are refugees from the ongoing fighting go without food and shelter.

But this report also documents the sowing of the seeds of a catastrophe that is largely flying under the American people's radar. More than a million Pakistanis - most of them Pashtun - have been uprooted, made homeless, impoverished by the war that the Pakistani army is now waging with the Taliban, at the US's insistence. Many of the refugees are fed up with the Taliban, whose extremism they often saw firsthand as the Taliban moved into their villages and towns; but many are angry with the Pakistani forces (most of whom are not Pashtuns, but Punjabis - an altogether different ethnic group that has no special affection for Pashtuns) as well as with the US, and see the Pakistani army as fighting the US's war. Such people can be fairly easy pickings for recruitment into the Taliban ranks - and, as the WaPo report makes clear, a situation of thousands displaced and on the move also provides the Taliban a golden opportunity to infiltrate more villages and regions.

My point?

There is no quick fix on the horizon. The US is going to be enmeshed in Pakistan's affairs - and in war in neighboring Afghanistan - for years to come, at great expense in both treasure (of which the US has much less than it did before Mr. Bush launched his Iraq adventure), human lives (American, Pakistani, and Afghan), and human misery. We here in the US have long been pre-occupied with "the troops" - and with "victory." But over the long haul, our futures may hinge much more on what happens to those millions of Afghans and Pakistanis.

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