As Afghans and Americans struggle to make sense of the recent events in Afghanistan, Kirkwood Community College’s Dr. Peter Jauhiainen, professor of religion, offers his thoughts and insight into the situation.
What is your perspective on the current situation in Afghanistan?
I think it is deeply tragic, a product of twenty years of poor U.S. policy and misguided assumptions about what we could accomplish in Afghanistan, as well as a corrupt Afghan government and an Afghan military that lost the will to fight. But my heart aches for the Afghan people who are seeking better lives for themselves.
What were the causes of the current situation in Afghanistan? Was it avoidable?
At some point, after twenty years of war, an American president would have to make the tough decision to leave Afghanistan. More immediately, the Trump administration gave the Biden administration a bad hand to play. In February of 2020 it negotiated directly with the Taliban, undercutting the authority of the Afghan government, and pressured the government to release around 5000 Taliban prisoners in exchange for the Taliban not shooting at our troops. Trump also drew down U.S. troops from about 13,000 to 2500 in his last year of office, and said he wanted all the troops out by spring of 2021. Meanwhile the Taliban kept gathering strength and conquering territory in rural areas. So, Biden had a choice. Either inject huge numbers of American troops back into Afghanistan (which I’m sure most Americans wouldn’t want) to fight the Taliban or continue the exodus.
How will the Taliban takeover affect religious minorities in Afghanistan and in neighboring countries?
I fear for religious minorities in Afghanistan, as well as for women. The Taliban represents an extremist, intolerant wing of Islam that is rejected by the vast majority of worldwide Muslims, including many Afghans. The leaders say they have changed. I’m not holding my breath. These are dark days for the people of Afghanistan.
The Taliban has stated they will reinstitute Sharia Law. What will this mean for Afghanistan? Does the Taliban promote a harsh form of Sharia?
Sharia is subject to many interpretations. The Taliban has promoted a harsh, ultra-conservative form of Sharia, similar to what is found in Saudi Arabia. From what I have read, most of the Taliban are relatively uneducated, and have little knowledge of the richness of Islamic tradition. In the past, the Taliban has trampled on the rights of women, denied them opportunities for educational advancement and has generally placed them under the control of males.
What does the future hold for Afghanistan?
I really don’t know. Afghanistan is very much a tribal society, with a long history of inter-tribal warfare. I suspect the warfare will continue. Its warriors repelled the British three times in the 19th century, the Soviets in the 1980s, and the Americans in 2021. You would think the great empires of this world would finally learn a lesson.
How do various religious systems instruct people of faith to respond to crises like this?
People of all religious faiths are urged to show compassion, to help those in need. We should welcome Afghan refugees into the United States and resist the fear-mongering of right-wing politicians and tv pundits who demonize immigrants and warn of terrorists entering the country. These refugees have been through hell. We have the moral responsibility to aid them in their pursuit of a better life.