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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Afghanistan : comment sortir de l’impasse ?

by Laurent Etre

Afghanistan: How to get out of the deadlock.

Translated Thursday 4 September 2008, by Gene Zbikowski

The reasons for France’s engagement in Afghanistan and the overall purpose of the war both need to be discussed.

A reminder of the situation. The deaths of ten French soldiers on August 17 in an operation whose very conduct is the subject of polemics has not dented the hardheadedness of president Sarkozy, who is determined to keep French troops in Afghanistan. Nevertheless, the French are attempting to conduct a necessary discussion of the reasons for France’s engagement, a discussion which cannot be separated from a general discussion of the purposes of the war.

On April 26 2007, Nicolas Sarkozy promised that the progressive withdrawal of the French army from Afghanistan would be on the agenda if he was elected president. But since his election, Sarkozy has adopted the theory of chaos and its butterfly effect (the well-known beating of a butterfly’s wing, in the sky over Kabul for example, which results in storms in Paris). The same thing goes for human rights. Respecting human rights in France implies redoubling the involvement of French troops in hunting down the Talibans, shoulder to shoulder with Uncle Sam’s GIs. And in the Atlanticist (1) version of human rights, one doesn’t allow fine distinctions to get in the way; one shoots blindly and then one writes a communiqué. Thus, on August 22, 90 Afghan civilians were not killed by U.S. aircraft, as an investigation by the UN mission in Afghanistan revealed, instead, there was “a legitimate strike against the Talibans.” When confronted with this horror, when confronted also with certain realities which one can attempt to express with a few figures (for example, 80% of the Afghan people still do not have access to potable water), the hackneyed clichés about “the international fight against terrorism” – to quote French defense minister Hervé Morin – are all it takes to sicken those who remain attached to the concrete universality of human rights. The fact that the so-called “fight against terrorism” is really international, and not a purely French concern, as Morin keeps saying, does not change the fundamental questions, which are tragically simple: What is France doing in Afghanistan? If peace, or at least a certain pacification is the goal, what then is the strategy with regard to the Talibans in all their diversity, who in fact are rooted in the population in the Pashtun regions (40% of the Afghan population)? Does France have its own road map, independent of the United States? Can the training of an Afghan army be the priority when one considers the people’s material poverty? Can one also pass over, in silence, the fact that the Afghan authorities recently recognized the sharia as a constitutional principle?

(1) Atlanticism is a philosophy of cooperation among Western European and North American nations regarding political, economic, and defense issues.

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