According to media reports e.g. like this – http://gu.com/p/35dhf/tw – Afghanistan unites behind cricket team in defeat to Pakistan.
1. Do you find this story at least a bit significant for Afghanistan in terms of unity of the country?
2. What are the factors, if any, they can help to unify Afg. which is probably important for the future of the country?
Sanjoy Banerjee, Chair, International Relations Department, San Francisco State University
1. Yes I think this is significant. Participation in international sports, especially in a sport commanding a major following in the country, projects an image of national normalcy back to the home country. This makes a significant difference in Afghanistan, whose status as a sovereign state is highly contested. The willingness of Pakistan to play this match is also significant since it is mainly Pakistan that has been contesting Afghan sovereignty. Pakistani diplomacy has taken some modest steps in acknowledging the sovereignty of Afghanistan in recent months.
2. Unifying Afghanistan is of course a tricky proposition. The Taliban, led by Mullah Omar, are somewhat weary of Pakistani domination and may be open to some accommodation with the current Afghan government. Still, the theological-political divisions remain deep and any arrangement may quickly fall apart. The Haqqani Network is more closely aligned with the Pakistani army and its intelligence agency, ISI. There is little prospect for uniting the Haqqani Network with the government.
The most promising course to unite all non-Pashtun and a substantial share of Pushtun Afghans is simply to build up the Afghan Army. The US is trying to do that and one does see more ambitious operations by the Afghan Army recently. If the Afghan Army is able to press hard along the border with Pakistan, rather than waiting for the Taliban and Haqqani forces to penetrate deep within, a more real sense of national territory might be restored.
Thomas Ruttig, Co-director, Afghanistan Analysts Network
1. Sports play an important role in many nations to unite them. This is true for Afghanistan, as it is when the or the Slovak (like in 2010) team play at the world cup. And beating Pakistan in cricket is probably like Slovakia beating the Czech in football…
I just think that the euphoria goes by quickly, too, and more important issues come to the forefront again. In Afghanistan, this is the war, killing of civilians, social problems, lack of jobs, dissatisfaction with the western engagement in the country etc. So, I am happy that Afghans find some temporary distraction from this, through successes in sport, but all in all it is secondary to many things.
2. I am not sure whether Afghanistan needs to be unified. It is a country that exists – in the mind of Afghans at least – since 1747, and joint historic experience, like the fight against the soviet invasion in the 1970/80s created a sense of nationhood. On the other hand, many Afghans have fought on different sides in different periods of the recent 30 years of wars. These wounds still need to heal. Apart from this, of course, Afghans are as diverse as Germans or Slovaks: we vote for different parties, have different opinions on different issues, and only when our team plays we are more or less united. I often have the feeling that calls for ‘national unity’ are designed to paper over real problems that need to be discussed. There is an interesting discussion currently in Afghanistan: the ministry of education has issued new textbooks about afghan history that stop in 1973, leaving out all the wars. The ministry says this is to ‘protect national unity’. But of course everyone is aware of these wars, the divisions and the wounds that came with them. And the media has entered a vibrant debate about this issue now – a reflexion of the fact that this issue is also debated amongst afghans. Maybe, such a debate can create ‘national unity’, in recognising, not ignoring, one’s history with all its facets.
(Sounds almost like our German debate after reunification…)
Mark Sedra, Research Scholar, Department of Political Science, University of Waterloo, Senior Fellow, Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI)
1. It is surely a nice story and reflects the growth of civil society in Afghanistan since the ouster of the Taliban in 2001. There is, despite the perceptions of many outside of Afghanistan, a distinct sense of Afghan national identity, even if it is often superseded by other forms of identity (ethnicity, tribe, kin etc…). Unfortunately, the security and political situation in Afghanistan belie such rosy stories. Insecurity and instability is rising and with NATO states set to pull out the bulk of the forces by 2014, the future is not bright.
2. History has shown that the only thing that has consistently unified Afghans is invasion by outsiders, whether Alexander the Great, the Soviets, or the British. In the absence of another invasion, transformational leadership is needed, which President Karzai has not provided. The problem is, however, that there is no clear candidate on the Afghan political stage at present that can provide that type of leadership. In the short-term, Afghanistan needs basic accommodation and cooperation among its various factions and groups before it can think about broad based national unity.