Afghanistan: The Mirage of Peace: Preface

The idea for this book first emerged in August 2001 when we realized that between us we had lived in Afghanistan and witnessed the history of international engagement here since 1989-an experience that seemed worth reflecting upon. Events since September 2001 have served to make the subject matter even more important, and of more global relevance.

During the fifteen years that we have known the country, Afghanistan has gone from being an occupied state to one ripped apart by factional fighting, and variously seen by the outside world as ‘fragmented’ or ‘failed’. Then, under the Taliban, it was characterized as a ‘rogue’ state, a country beyond the pale. Finally, it became the state that the outside world wished to recast as the first success of American interventionism and the ‘war on terror’.

The way in which both diplomacy was conducted and assistance given shifted with each stage of these changing characterizations of the country. The lives of Afghans changed dramatically during this period. Those who had always been poor, war pushed them to the edge of survival. Many of the urban middle classes were reduced to poverty, while others went into exile. There were also, of course, those who got rich on the spoils of war. This book tries to track some of these changes and what they have meant to people.

The West has often seen Afghans as a warlike and exotic people, sifting their perceptions through the lens of its own worldview. At times this bears little relation to how Afghans see themselves and their country. Historically this has always been so, but over the last quarter of a century global politics has further shaped the way in which Afghanistan has been seen, and how in turn assistance has been given and people’s rights defended, or not. This book does not, however, set out to provide a detailed social and political history of the country, for others have already done that very ably. Instead, we have sketched enough of the historical outlines for the reader to make sense of the story, and provided references in the text and a select bibliography at the end for those who wish to explore further.

The book is not the result of any research project. Some of the ideas are certainly informed by research one or the other of us has done for other purposes, but mainly these come out of a reflection on our experience of living here as managers of aid projects, sometimes as analysts and policy advisers, but most of all as direct observers of history; of working with and watching the UN, donors and other agencies struggle with issues. Our ideas also come from having many Afghan friends, from endless journeys and of evenings discussing, debating and sharing the experience of war and the struggle for peace. We’ve tried to deepen that understanding by reading; about Afghanistan but also about other parts of the world with experiences different, and yet similar. If the book raises for the reader more questions than answers we will not be unhappy.

This book is the result of a shared process of writing in the course of which it has become impossible in many places to say which of us wrote what. Yet latterly there were periods when we worked together, most of our earlier experiences were separate, in time and place. Most of our firsthand experiences recounted, therefore, are those of one or the other of us, not both. Often it will be obvious to the reader which of us it was; for the rest we decided it didn’t much matter.
The book would never have come into being without the many Afghan friends who have so generously shared their lives and their wisdom with us. Too many of them are no longer alive. We shall not even try to name them, not only because the list would be too long-and even then we would fear missing someone out-but also because the future of the country is still far from certain, and we do not wish to endanger anyone as a result of confidences and opinions that they have shared. For the same reason we have changed some names in the text. We will, however, remain for ever grateful for the way in which they have continues to enrich our lives. The failures of understanding, the omissions and the mistakes are, of course, entirely ours.

Kabul, 2004

(Source: Chris Johnson & Jolyon Leslie, “AFGHANISTAN: The Mirage Of Peace,” Zed Books, London – New York, 2004)

Republished by Kajian Internasional Strategis


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