Professor Was Part of Fact-Finding Delegation in Afghanistan
Snarr: Insecurity and Instability Run Rampant
August 26, 2011
(ABOVE) Matt Southworth (left) and Michael Snarr pose in front of the Darul Aman Palace in Kabul. Built in the 1920s and then a symbol of the nation's emerging modernization, the palace's demise has paralleled the devastating conflicts Afghanistan has endured. Following a fire in 1969, it sustained another fire during the Soviet's occupation while being shelled during the country's civil war in the early 1990s.
On the heels of the upcoming 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks is another ominous milestone. This October will be the 10-year anniversary of the United States’ longest war: Afghanistan.
Wilmington College’s Michael Snarr got a first-hand look at the ravages of war complemented by testimonials from Afghans representing many walks of life during a weeklong visit to Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, earlier this month.
Snarr, professor of social and political studies, and 2009 WC alumnus Matt Southworth were part of a delegation that also included Capitol Hill staffers, journalists and international policy experts. They spent the week meeting with some 20 entities representing “people on the ground” in this global flashpoint.
Southworth organized the trip “under the radar” of the U.S. Department of State, which, Snarr noted, tends to pick and choose with whom American officials meet on fact-finding missions. Without the State Department’s endorsement, the delegation lacked U.S. military protection and was forced to rely on their Afghan hosts.
Southworth, a veteran of the Iraq War, is a legislative associate for foreign policy with the Friends Committee on National Legislation, a Quaker organization that lobbies Washington policymakers.
He believes the United States should cease military action in Afghanistan yet continue aiding the nation, lest it fall into civil war.
“The overwhelming consensus of people we talked to was that President Obama’s ‘surge’ has failed to deliver stability or security to Afghanistan — it is an even more dangerous place than it was two years ago,” he said.
Indeed, Snarr and Southworth were awakened at 5:30 a.m. by the blast of a car bomb in Kabul.
“Also, we could hear gunfire and saw Blackhawk and Apache helicopters flying in concentric patterns around the city,” Snarr said, noting a journalist from their delegation wandered off from the group only to find AK-47 rounds whizzing over his head.
“Even in Kabul, where security is as good as anywhere else in the country, safety is little more than an illusion,” Southworth said.
They were placed in a secured section of their hotel until the hostilities that threatened the area temporarily ceased.
“It was tense for us the whole time,” Snarr said, adding that several suicide bombers attacked the British Cultural Center in Kabul on the anniversary of Afghanistan’s independence from Great Britain in 1919.
(LEFT) Michael Snarr photo-graphed from his bus seat this scene from everyday Kabul.
Not only was the firing of live munitions a reminder that they weren’t in Kansas anymore, their delegation represented the only critical mass of Westerners they saw in Kabul.
Yet, they were impressed by the hospitality of their Afghan hosts. Also, they were repeatedly offered food during the daylight hours when Muslims were prohibited from eating, drinking and even chewing gum during the month-long observance of Ramadan.
They met with the very animated mayor of Kabul, Afghan president Hamid Karsai’s Western-educated cousin and a high-ranking Taliban member that was imprisoned by the United States at Guantanamo.
The Taliban “thanked us for working for peace,” Snarr said, and suggested the United States and Afghanistan work to become trading partners.
Snarr said 90 percent of the Taliban is comprised of “non-ideological Taliban members” who are frustrated because they don’t have jobs or a fair system of justice. The Taliban offers them some stability in their lives.
Also, the delegation had dialogue with representatives from a local elections committee and the ministries of Refugees and Women’s Affairs, as well as the nongovernmental organizations CARE, Integrity Watch, Oxfam and the Asia Foundation.
Snarr said they asked each entity what the United States can do to help ensure there’s not intensified violence when the U.S. military leaves in 2014. The Obama Administration’s plan calls for the current 100,000 U.S. troops to be decreased over the next three years until the military has essentially pulled out.
“Most people we spoke with believe the United States will not leave,” he said. “In fact, some didn’t want the U.S. to leave because, the last time the U.S. left, the Taliban gained power. There is a fear of something tantamount to civil war.”
Most Americans were unaware of the Taliban before 10 years ago, but images of the radical Islamic group’s celebrations in the wake of Sept. 11 made them instant enemies of the United States’ government when their close connection with al-Qaeda was revealed.
(RIGHT) Snarr described the Kabul marketplace as "Indiana Jones-ish."
The United States and NATO military forces initially dispersed al-Qaeda and significantly loosened the Taliban’s grip on power from Oct. 2001 through 2003. However, Snarr said, the Bush Administration’s refocus of attention to Iraq in 2003 quickly negated the significant gains made in Afghanistan.
He noted that Afghans remembered 2002 and 2003 as the “best” of recent times, as the country briefly experienced a sense of “security and stability.”
The present, he added, represents the worst time since the nation’s civil war in the 1990s. It’s a far cry from the 1950s and 60s when Afghanistan embraced the modern world.
“Afghanistan is a place that’s gone through a lot of transition,” Snarr said.
The region’s geopolitics are both intricate and murky to say the least.
Afghanistan is surrounded by Pakistan and Iran, which have aided the Taliban. The United States has poured money into buying the influence of Afghan warlords and drug lords against the Taliban and supporting Pakistan’s civilian government in order to maintain a semblance of stability in a country whose military often acts against the interests of the U.S.
On top of that, Afghans are frustrated by the corruption that exists in their government and throughout much of society.
“It’s an incredibly difficult situation for the U.S.,” Snarr said.
He said the Afghanis with whom he spoke impressed upon him that many of Afghanistan’s problems will be assuaged should the United States’ problems with Pakistan and Iran ever be resolved.
“After learning some of these intricacies, we have to try but can’t expect change anytime soon,” Snarr said. “But there was hope too. If there were more people like those we met, I have to believe they could solve their problems.
“I hope the United States won’t turn its back on Afghanistan,” he said. “Helping Afghanistan is not only the right thing to do, it’s in our self-interest.”
Southworth added, “The picture is bleak, but not lost.”
Quaker Lecture Series: Prof to Present 'Lessons from Afghanistan, Lessons for Friends'
|Time:||7:00 PM until 8:30 PM|
|Date:||Monday, October 10, 2011|
|Location:||Kelly Center McCoy Room|
Michael Snarr, professor of social and political studies, will present the 2011 Quaker Lecture titled "Lessons from Afghanistan, Lessons for Friends."