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From a conversation about Afghanistan between the Iranian writers Salar Abdoh and Mohammad Hossein Jafarian, which was published in September by Guernica.

salar abdoh: Do you think that America was engaged in nation building in Afghanistan?

mohammad hossein jafarian: Someone engages in building a nation who understands that nation. Instead you go and pluck some guy, Ashraf Ghani, whose Pashtun tribalism precludes any chance that a nation might be able to “build” itself. People talk of Afghanistan as if it is one homogeneous entity, but this isn’t so. Yet this never appears to enter the calculations of an occupying power.

abdoh: Why not?

jafarian: Afghans risked their lives for democracy. The Taliban said that whoever voted would have their finger cut off. Yet people went to vote. But how did democracy play out for Ashraf Ghani and his American backers? In a country where twenty million people are eligible to vote, Ghani received just nine hundred thousand in 2019—a third probably the result of fraud. Ashraf Ghani has now been replaced with the Taliban leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada—also dedicated to the Pashtun agenda.

abdoh: You are saying this is an ethnic issue?

jafarian: More like an ethnic cleansing and displacement issue that may be on our horizon.

abdoh: What was this war all about then?

jafarian: The West wants to reduce notions of freedom and democracy to platitudes. In the case of women, it would go something like, “As long as women don’t have to wear veils, are allowed to skateboard and play football, then all is well and good.” Americans suppose that examples like these show their presence is validated. Now, say this freed woman happens to be a Hazara and wishes to attend university. Under Ghani, a Pashtun scoring only 30 percent on the entrance exams still gets preference over a Hazara or Tajik who scores 80 percent. This is progress? To put the American experience in Afghanistan in a nutshell: “We don’t care if you engage in ethnic cleansing and have an unjust quota system, and if every key position in government is occupied by one ethnic group—but we assure you that we’ll always make it possible for everyone, man and woman, to go skateboarding.”

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December 2021

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