The Root of the Matter:
Afghans’ View of the Deeper Causes of the War in Afghanistan, 2001-Present
 

 

 

Hilary Smith
George Mason University School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution
 

 

 

 

CONF 601 Methods

Dr. Idil Izmirli

12 May 2014
Abstract

This research emphasizes that understanding the roots of a conflict is just as important as understanding the manifestations of one. Grasping the way a conflict came about leads to good analysis and good resolution programs. This research strives to understand the root causes of the current conflict in Afghanistan from Afghan eyes by asking the question, what do Afghans think the root causes are of the current conflict in Afghanistan, 2001-present? The literature on this topic came from three perspectives, Taliban and Al Qaeda, US and other NATO perspectives, and anthropologists. All gave their own viewpoints on the manifestations of the war, but none asked what the root causes of it are while very few touched on the Afghan viewpoint of any part of the war. A grounded theory, qualitative research approach was adopted to understand what Afghans think the root causes of the war in their country are. Survey questionnaires and interviews were the main tools of this research. A pilot study involving Afghan residents in the northern Virginia area was conducted. Results of this study concluded that many Afghans surveyed felt that the main root causes of the war in Afghanistan are the Taliban being in power, foreign interference, particularly from Pakistan, and lack of education. The study concludes with an emphasis that understanding and addressing the roots of conflict can help prevent future conflict and gives suggestions for how Afghanistan can address the roots found in the pilot study.

 

Introduction

A common question asked during analysis of any problem or conflict is simply, “What is going on?” This question is elementary and foundational for identifying what the conflict is. An equally elementary and foundational question for understanding a problem that, unfortunately, is seldom asked is, “Why is this going on?” Questions like the former what question identify the manifestations of a problem or conflict. The latter why question seeks to identify the roots of a conflict. Both types of questions are important for effective problem solving and effective conflict resolution. They give a more complete, clarified picture of what is happening and why. When both questions are asked, more comprehensive resolution strategies can be developed that have the potential to lead to better resolution.

This principle of understanding the roots of a conflict, as well as the manifestations, can be applied to the current conflict in Afghanistan. In the events following September 11th, a shocked and disoriented United States found Al Qaeda responsible for unprecedented attacks on American soil and laid siege to its headquarters with the Taliban Government in Afghanistan. Over the ensuing dozen years or so, it became clear that the conflict commencing in 2001 was more complex and deeply rooted than anticipated and would require better analysis to understand and treat it. To answer the why question and understand one of the most involved perspectives on the Afghan conflict, the focus of this paper is the question, what do Afghans think the root causes are of the war in Afghanistan, 2001-present?

Literature Review

In the war in Afghanistan, several questions were asked to determine what went on. What just happened? Who are the Taliban? What are their capabilities? A few shallowly rooted questions were addressed in public discourse, but the depth of their answers did not signify quality analysis. Why is the Taliban attacking? Why are they giving refuge to Al Qaeda? What do they believe? What leads them to believe and act in the ways that they do? Questions like these will lead to greater understanding of the causes of the conflict and an increased ability to address and resolve conflict at their tenacious roots. In an attempt to answer some of these questions, this research explores the gap of what Afghans think the root causes of the current war in their country are. Findings from this qualitative research can provide needed perspective and bring to light local perspectives about this conflict that could eventually lead to an emergence of a grounded theory.

An important perspective not commonly considered is native Afghans’ understanding of the roots of the conflict in their country. Since most conflict resolution strategies will strive to be administered by, or at least touch on the lives of, native Afghans, it is important to grasp their understanding of the roots of the conflict so these roots can be identified and addressed. For this purpose, this paper will focus on the question, what is the Afghan perspective on the causes of the current war in Afghanistan? It will encompass in its definition of Afghan as Afghans living in Afghanistan, as well as refugees and migrants from Afghanistan living abroad.

Taliban perspectives

The literature available on perspectives of the root causes of the war in Afghanistan is scarce. Briefly, official Al Qaeda communiques and announcements narrated their reasons for the war. In addition, the Taliban view has not been as widely published, but reports of their treatment of native Afghans, as well as in-country propaganda, show that the Taliban controlled the narrative of the war (“Taliban ‘controlling war,” 2011; Porter, 2011). Controlling the narrative means the Taliban had greater persuasive power over their audience, Afghans, and their thoughts on the outcome of the conflict. This narrative perspective is important because it influences Afghans’ belief in foreign or Afghan government forces’ ability to resolve the conflict and defeat the Taliban. If Afghans do not believe Afghan-NATO forces can control the Taliban, they may be more likely to side with the Taliban.

US and Foreign Perspectives

There is a wealth of information on the perspectives of foreign forces in Afghanistan, however, few of these include the perspective of native Afghans and almost none of them ask elusive why questions in a rigorous way that can lead to an understanding of the root causes of the war in Afghanistan.

Cordesman in the Center for Strategic and International Studies affirms that narrative is one of the most important tools for fighting and winning an insurgent war. He affirms that any metrics in the war should measure insurgency in a way that supports the narrative (Cordesman, 2010). This assessment, however, does not measure native Afghans’ narrative on the war nor their estimation of the root causes of it.

In a comprehensive survey of the perspectives in the top ten major US newspapers, Michael Ryan tracked editorials from the day after the September 11th attacks to 8 October, when the US began bombing Kabul. These editorialists drew from historic, government, and other sources to narrate and explain the US’s use of force. This assessment, while it begins scratching at the narrative explanation of the roots the conflict in American eyes, it does not delve into the Afghan viewpoint on the root causes of the war. (Ryan 2004)

Another document that tracks the US’s reasons for going to war in Afghanistan is War and Decision: What people in the Pentagon were talking about before the Afghan war (Feith, 2008). Though it explains the reasons for the US going to war, it does not dig deeply at the root causes. Additionally, it does not take into account the Afghan perspective for causes of the war.

Graveyard of Empires is another account of the US perspective on the manifestations of the war and gives reasons for why it was less successful. It tells how the US successfully toppled Taliban leadership but then took their eyes off the ball to plan and administer the Iraq War. It also suggests that the insurgency grew due to environmental and structural factors that the instability of an underfunded war caused. In short, this book does not pay attention to the causes of the war through Afghan eyes, but examined how the war persisted and what led to its getting out of control (Jones 2010).

A few works from soldiers’ perspectives begins to brush on Afghan perspectives of the root causes of the war, though still do not elucidate their viewpoints. Part of the VSO (Village Stability Operations) counter insurgency efforts included narrative control, which is where security in villages was better attained through telling a more compelling story that supports US goals. Spreading a positive, compelling narrative had to take into account some knowledge of how Afghans see the war. However, it does not explain it through their eyes (Mann 2011).

Through Veterans’ Eyes is another service members’ narrative of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. This, again, only brushes on the native Afghans’ perspective and mostly leaves us in the dark of how Afghans viewed their situation, the causes behind it, and the way through it (Minear 2010).

Anthropological and Afghan Perspectives

There is, however, some literature written either by anthropologists or Afghan civic groups talking about the perspective of Afghans in the face of the adversity brought on by war. On the whole, these are writings about how Afghans are coping with their situation and largely do not ask the question of why they think this conflict erupted or manifested.

The first of these works is Eggerman and Panter-Brick’s article entitled Suffering, hope, and entrapment: Resilience and cultural values in Afghanistan (2010).These anthropologists research the question of what is happening now that the war is happening, but does not delve into Afghan perspectives of why this war began.

Another anthropological viewpoint, When bamboo bloom: An anthropologist in Taliban’s Afghanistan reports on the experiences and coping mechanisms of native Afghans during Taliban rule (Omidian 2011). Again, this work touches more closely on Afghan viewpoints for the causes of the conflict around them, but most attention is devoted to what Afghans are doing now that they are in a conflict zone rather than what their narrative is for how the conflict began.

Television and popular media may provide an insightful glimpse into the Afghan narrative for the roots of conflict in their country. ToloTV has grown in Afghanistan, mostly putting out entertainment media. However, it does not reach everyone. Radio reaches more but only 37% in 2003. Newspapers have an even lower readership with the country only having a 28% literacy rate (Media in Afghanistan, 2013). Afghan popular media, unfortunately, does not provide enough insight into the root causes of the current conflict through Afghan eyes.

Another primary source is the civic group, RAWA, Revolutionary Association of Women in Afghanistan. This group studies how women of Afghanistan cope with their situation. This is mostly a study in resilience, which may reveal something about the narrative of native Afghans, however, there is still much to be desired in terms of understanding root causes (Brodsky, Welsh, Carrillo, Talwar, Scheibler & Butler, 2011).

Finally in, National Reconciliation in Afghanistan: Conflict History and the Search for an Afghan Approach, NGOs found that even in approaching Afghans for input on how to build an authentically Afghan process for justice and retribution in the post war stages, most Afghans did not want to talk about the past and decided to focus on their economic futures. Unwillingness to speak could make it difficult to access Afghan narratives about the causes for war in their country (Maass, 2006).

Purpose of Study

The purpose of this study is finding out what native Afghans feel the root causes of the current conflict in their country are. This purpose is important because better analysis leads to better resolution. It is important to address the roots as well as the manifestations of conflict so that a more holistic resolution plan can be adopted. Additionally, it is imperative to get Afghan perspectives on this question because Afghans will likely be administering resolution efforts, so their viewpoints must be understood and influence these efforts. Further, this conflict has been primarily experienced by Afghans. Their experiences and thoughts bear great impact on how the conflict is viewed and how it resolves or continues.

 

 

Research Question

The question this research addresses is what do Afghans think are the root causes of the war in Afghanistan (2001-present)? Afghans include individuals who live or have lived in Afghanistan and are or were considered Afghani. It will dig deeply at the root causes by asking why questions. This research will not specifically consider what the root causes of past conflicts in Afghanistan were, however, past conflicts may figure into understanding the root causes of the current conflict.

Methodology

Statement of Problem

This research strives to add to the analysis already conducted on the war in Afghanistan addressing what questions (such as what is going on?) by adding analysis answering why questions (i.e. why is this going on?). Again, good conflict resolution comes from good conflict analysis. It is imperative to understand both the manifestations and the root causes of conflict so that a comprehensive conflict resolution strategy may be adopted. This research takes this question one step further and seeks to fill in the gap of knowledge of what Afghans think are the root causes of the war in their country. It is important to understand views on the roots of the conflict from Afghan eyes because they will be the administrators and recipients of most resolution efforts. Accordingly, this research will focus on the question, what is the Afghan perspective on the root causes of the war in Afghanistan, 2001-present?

Overview of Research Design and Methods

This project will explore the research question using a mixed methods, grounded theory research design. It will utilize survey questionnaires to quantify results, as well as interviews to obtain qualitative data. A thorough search for primary sourced interviews and news articles that explain the Afghan perspective on the root causes of the War will also be undertaken, but as shown in the literature review, not many sources, especially English language sources, exist in this category.

This is a grounded theory method because the research approaches data sources without a theory and seeks to create a theory through collection, analysis, and re-collection of data. Though grounded theories are largely quantitative, a portion of this research will also be qualitative.

This design presents some administrative hurdles that will need to be overcome. First, survey questionnaires will need to be designed and then translated into Pashto and Dari primarily. Additionally, the dissemination of survey questionnaires will vary widely across different populations. These groups are discussed in greater detail below, but survey questionnaires will be distributed on a basis of what is easiest to administer while encouraging the respondents to complete them. For example, in regions where email or Facebook are used, survey questionnaires will be sent through those means. If contacting subjects through electronic media is impossible or ill-advised, survey questionnaires will be collected in the same settings they are distributed in. Some survey questionnaires will also be distributed through key contacts who will give them to friends, family, and acquaintances and return the questionnaires to the researcher. For interviews, many will be conducted in person, with or without a translator. Where personal interviews are not possible due to time, expense, or security concerns, some interviews will be conducted over Skype.

The actual survey questionnaire questions will be divided into two parts. The first part will collect demographical and biographical data without collecting personal identification information. The second section will consist of multiple choice and some open response questions that assess the root causes of the present war in Afghanistan according to the viewpoint of the subject.

Interviews will follow a similar format in establishing demographical and biographical data points. Following the establishment of these data points, several open ended questions will be asked that probe the interviewee’s opinion on the causes of the war.

Sampling Scheme

My sampling scheme endeavors to make up for sampling errors. Because of the difficulty traversing Afghanistan, security concerns, and local politics, obtaining a completely random, representative sample would be extremely difficult. Reaching people outside city centers will be difficult. Many survey questionnaires or recommendations for interviews will be determined by family or tribal connections and will likely overlook some groups that fall outside the connections of the group assisting with the research. This is likely to create a patchwork of representation, where the opinions of the root causes of the war are well understood from some Afghans’ perspectives, but remains unknown in other quarters. This research is also likely to underrepresent women unless certain sampling precautions are taken.

Despite these difficulties, this research will overcome sampling errors by taking a wide sampling from varied locations in and outside Afghanistan, by engaging local governments and Jirgas to reach rural populations, and by leveraging female groups and researchers to access the female population in Afghanistan. The sampling will be taken from varied locations, including city centers like Kabul, Herat, and Kandahar, rural areas along the Pakistan border and the central and southern regions of Afghanistan, the semi-autonomous north of the country, as well as ex-patriot or displaced populations in Pakistan and the U.S. The responses from this varied sample will be averaged together to provide as representative a picture as possible. However, data from individual data sets will also be coded and analyzed in order to give a more nuanced view. For example, responses from minority groups in Afghanistan, like the Hazara, Balochs, and Tajikis, will be coded and analyzed together to discover if views of the root causes of the war in Afghanistan are related to locality or tribe. In addition, local governments will be useful in disseminating survey questionnaires to local populations. Finally, female surveyors partnered with Afghan females through informal and formal connections, such as with the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) which has built a network since 1977, will help reach the sometimes secluded female population in Afghanistan.

Strengths and Weaknesses of Design and Data

The strengths of this design project is that it is simple in only employing and administering two main research tools, survey questionnaires and interviews, however the administration of these research tools is complicated. Survey questionnaires must be translated, disseminated, and collected in a variety of regions using several distribution methods, all while working in a conflict environment. For ex-patriot populations and some city centers in Afghanistan, online survey questionnaires may be used, while rural regions may require paper copies of survey questionnaires. In places where subjects are illiterate, interpreters may need to accompany research teams to different locations. Security personnel may also be needed for many of these areas.

Contingency plans for incomplete research will also be devised in case certain sampling groups are not able to be surveyed or interviewed. This may require changing the research question to reflect a specific population group that was surveyed. For example, if this is the case, the research question might change to, “What does [particular Afghan group] think the root causes of the 2001-present war in Afghanistan are?”

Ethical Issues

Some ethical issues involved in this research include that, in asking people to contemplate the causes of a war, it might bring up harmful memories and experiences and possibly lead subjects to reliving those memories. There is also a security concern for those still living in hotbeds of active conflict. If enemy groups see that the local population is working with an outside group, reprisals may occur. To overcome these issues, special care will be taken to prevent subjects who may be less stable from discussing the war. Warnings will be given up front, the nature of the survey questionnaire or interview will be explained, and researchers will be trained to watch for signs of undue distress. Eliminating test subjects who have a difficult time remembering their experiences with war will decrease the sample quality, but it is a worthwhile decrease. Also, an in depth situational awareness assessment will be conducted prior to venturing into live conflict zones. With these precautions, it is hoped that any reprisals or reliving of painful memories will be avoided.

Pilot Description

A pilot was conducted by distributing survey questionnaires to the Afghan ex-patriot and refugee population in northern Virginia. In addition to this, a few interviews were conducted. I have access to a large, Afghan population, many of whom came to the US on special visas after working as translators for the US and NATO governments. I used snowballing distribution to disseminate survey questionnaires through this largely male population, and gave them extra survey questionnaires and asked them to distribute them to their family and friends, especially females in their circles. I also conducted face to face interviews with a few of these participants and held one informal interview.

The strengths of this pilot are that I surveyed native Afghans, many of whom were directly affected by the war in Afghanistan. Many of them are in the U.S, so reaching them and asking them to fill out a survey questionnaire was simple administratively. The drawbacks to this pilot are the narrow sample size. These are all educated Afghans who were not in favor of the Taliban or insurgents, so we will not have as varied a view on the root causes of the Afghan War according to Afghans’ perspectives.

Results

In this pilot, there were eight respondents to the survey questionnaire, three interviews, and one informal interview conducted with two respondents.

  1. Survey Questionnaire Respondents

Demographical information for the survey questionnaire respondents follows. There were five males, three females, all highly educated, inside a narrow range of religiosity and age.

Survey Questionnaire Respondents’ Demographical Information

Gender Age Range Education Marital Status From Living elsewhere Afg. Political Affiliation Religion Religiosity
M 31-40 Some University M Kabul, AF VA none Islam Neutral
M 31-40 University M Kabul, AF VA 2007-2014 none Islam Somewhat
M 31-40 University M Kabul, AF VA 2005-2014 none Islam Neutral
M 31-40 University M Kabul, AF USA none Islam Neutral
M 25-30 Some University S Nangarhar, AF USA none Islam Neutral
F 56-70 Masters M Kabul, AF TX, OH, VA 34 years none Islam Somewhat
F 31-40 University S Kabul, AF VA 2007-2014 none Islam Somewhat
F 41-55 University S Kandahar, AF VA   Islam Somewhat

Key:

Gender: M=male, F=female

Marital Status: M=married, S=single

 

Of these respondents, the following resulted when asked how much each agreed that the following were among the root causes of the current conflict in Afghanistan. Numbers in the cells indicate how many people marked that column.

 

Participant Strongly Disagree Disagree Neutral Agree Strongly Agree no response
1. September 11th attacks on US   3 1 2 2  
2. American-NATO attack on Afghanistan   4   2 1  
3. Taliban government   1   5 1  
4. Taliban government harboring Al Qaeda   1   5 2  
5. Social reasons 1 2 3 1 1  
6. Economic reasons   1 4 1 2  
7. Cultural reasons 1 2 3 1    
8. Foreign interference   1 1 1 4  
9. Extremism   1 3 2 1  
10. History of conflict in Afghanistan   2 3 1 1  
11 Education levels   1 2 3 1  
12. Other (specify):___________________________         1 (bad neighbor-hood) 6

 

The top five responses are shown the graph below. Of these, many agreed the root causes of the current conflict are the Taliban government, the Taliban harboring Al Qaeda, and foreign interference.

The following graph shows response to the question, “What of the following, if they had been better functioning prior to 2001, would have been most helpful in preventing the outbreak of the war?” Though answers varied somewhat the factors that had the highest mode are highlighted and include universal higher education, no or little government corruption, stronger local communities, and a stronger military. From this question, we also see that this sampling of Afghans do not believe factors like universal healthcare, legitimate elections, and better adherence to Islamic teachings would have been as useful in preventing the war.

What would have been helpful in preventing the war?

Factor Selected
a universal healthcare  
b universal primary education  
c universal secondary education 1
d universal higher education 3
e legitimate elections  
f little or no government corruption 3
g severely limited narcotics trafficking 1
h severely limited human trafficking  
i stronger local communities 3
j better local governance 2
k better adherence to Islamic teachings  
l full integration of minorities into society  
m stronger military 3
n more robust economy 2
o better border control with Pakistan 2
p better border control with all neighbors 2
q Other (specify) 1 (Taliban having illegitimate gov)

 

  1. Interview Respondents

The following are demographical data for respondents to the formal interview. All three were refugee males, with similar ages, religiosity, and various education levels.

Interviewee Respondents’ Demographical Information

Gender Age Range Education Marital Status From Living elsewhere Afg. Political Affiliation Religion Religiosity
M 1 Some University S Kabul, AF Pakistan; VA, USA None Islam Neutral
M 2 University M Kabul, AF Pakistan; VA, USA none Islam Somewhat
M 2 Masters M Kabul, AF KS, VA, USA none Islam Somewhat

Key:

Gender: M=male, F=female

Marital Status: M=married, S=single

 

Interview responses were analyzed using open coding. Ideas or topics communicated in the interview were identified, organized into groups, and then tabulated in the responses. The following shows these groups and terms and the frequency with which they were discussed.

Coding Groups and Terms 1st Order 2nd Order 3rd Order Most Important Total
Group I: Taliban and Related Issues          
Taliban in Power (TiP) 2 2 1 1 6
Taliban ignored by Int’nat’l Community (TIIC) 1       1
Taliban allied with Al Qaeda (TAQ) 1       1
Terrorism (T)     1 1 2
Power Seeking (Po)   2 1 1 4
Narcotics Production (NP)       1 1
Group II: International Relations          
Foreign Interference (FI) 1       1
Foreign Interference – Pakistan (FI-P) 2 3   2 7
Foreign Interference – Iran (FI-I) 1 1   1 3
Aid Corruption (AC)   1     1
No Relationship with other Countries (NRC)   1     1
Group III: Socio-Economic Issues          
Poverty (P) 1       1
Lack of Education (LE) 1 1 1 2 5
Poor Economy (PE) 1 2   1 4
Brain Drain (BD) 1 1     2

 

Group IV: Afghan Infrastructure          
Need for Strong Military (SM)       1 1
Poor Governance (PG)   1     1
Civil War (CW)   2     2
Lack of Security/Stability (LSS)   1 3 2 6

 

The responses that came up the most are highlighted above. According to these respondents, the root causes of the current war in Afghanistan are the Taliban being in power, foreign interference from Pakistan, lack of education, and a lack of security and stability.

When responses from both the interviews and survey questionnaires were cross tabulated, common agreement was found that respondents believed that root causes of current war in Afghanistan include the Taliban being in power, foreign interference from Pakistan, and lack of education. These findings add to the anthropological studies mentioned in the literature review. Afghan practices in coping with the conflict, evident in Eggerman and Panter-Brick’s and Omidian’s works, complement thoughtful Afghan considerations as to the causes of the war in their country (2010, 2011). This two-pronged approach helps us understand the Afghan perspective on the manifestations and roots of conflict in their country. From this dual perspective, conflict resolution strategies may be developed which address both needs in taking care of the immediate necessities of the conflict evident in its manifestations, as well as treating the conflict’s roots to prevent future conflict outbreak due to the same root conditions of the current conflict.

This grounded theory is rooted in narrative and realism theories. Narrative theory states that the way parties understand the story of their conflict affects both how they view the conflict and how they interact with other disputants in the conflict (Cobb 2003). Most respondents told a similar narrative for why Pakistan’s interference acted as a root cause of the current conflict. Because they understand that Pakistan wants Afghanistan to be a week neighbor, they view involvement from Pakistan with distrust. The importance of narrative to this conflict is shown in how the Taliban and US were fighting for control of it in earlier stages of the war (Cordesman 2010; Porter 2011). If you can control what Afghans believe about how their country became a conflict zone, you can leverage your influence for how Afghans will view and interact in the conflict.

Realism builds on narrative’s theories. Political Realism postulates that a nation’s interest is measured in terms of power, and what is morally right for a nation may not be morally right objectively-speaking. It claims that the key interest for any nation is to maximize its power and influence and that morality for a nation should be judged based on the circumstances and responsibilities that nation has to its citizens (Morgenthau 1978). The narrative told for Pakistan’s involvement in the Taliban coming to power is rooted in a realism perspective. Respondents commented that Pakistan and Iran want a weak neighbor in Afghanistan in order to maintain their own dominance in the region. Additionally, respondents also commented that Afghanistan is in a prime geo-political position in South Asia. They asserted that this position has led to Pakistan and Iran’s interference in Afghan affairs and conflicts. These comments show that Afghans take realism’s viewpoint in explaining international politics and conflict in their country in terms of power grabs from both the Taliban and their neighbors to the east and west.

Conclusions

In conclusion, understanding the Afghans’ narrative about the causes of the current war in Afghanistan will better inform conflict analysis and resolution practitioners about the root causes of war from one of the most essential stakeholders in the conflict, Afghans. It will also better inform a resolution process. There is extremely limited literature on this topic, making it essential to investigate the question of what are Afghan perspectives on the causes of the war in Afghanistan? Initial findings in the pilot study revealed that that Taliban government, foreign interference, particularly from Pakistan, and lack of education, were all root causes for the current conflict in Afghan eyes.

The final product of this study is a more complete analysis of the conflict. From the issues discovered through this research, conflict resolution methods may be adopted that can be designed to help resolve not only the manifestations of conflict, but its roots as well. Resolving conflict at its roots has the potential to prevent future conflict and prevent a post conflict zone slipping back into an old, unresolved conflict. From the results of the pilot study, conflict resolution plans may include a heavy emphasis on education, strong foreign policy and tighter border security with Pakistan, and continuing to deconstruct Taliban infrastructure the Afghanistan and possibly Pakistan.

This research may be disseminated through publishing its findings in a reputable journal. Following that, great efforts will be made to distribute this report and its major findings with ministry heads in the Afghan government, NGO organizations, aid groups, and local leadership. The more the findings of this research are respected and known, the greater chance it will have to create a positive impact for the future of Afghanistan.

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Informed Consent Form

The Root of the Matter: What do Afghans think the root cause of the war in Afghanistan is, 2001-present?

Hilary Smith

 

 

I am aware and understand the details and purposes of this research project.

I have had the opportunity to understand from the researcher any additional details of this project, and I understand my role in it.

I understand that my participation in this interview is completely voluntary and that I may withdraw at any time without providing an explanation.

I know the data gathered from this research may be used in presentations, reports, publications or be the basis for such.

I understand that my confidentiality will be protected, that my name or any other identifying information will not be shared with others in any way, including in said presentations, reports, or publications.

 

 

Participant Signature   Date
     
Researcher Signature   Date

 

 

What are Afghan perspectives on the root causes of the 2001-present War in Afghanistan?

Thank you for taking this survey questionnaire! Your viewpoints are greatly valued. After completing, please return to Hilary Smith or the Front Desk. Thank you. (hilaryflier@gmail.com)

Section A: A Bit about You

  1. Gender             M         F          Other
  2. Age Range:

18-24               25-30               31-40               41-55               56-70               70+

  1. What is your education level?

 

Primary school

Secondary school

Some University

University

Trade School

Masters

Doctorate

Other: ___________________________

 

  1. Are you: Single               Married            Divorced          Widowed         Other________
  2. Where are you from originally? City/Region __________________ Country________________
  3. Did you spend significant time living in another place or places? If so, where and what years (i.e. 2005-2009)?

City/Region ________________________ Country_________________________________Years______

City/Region ________________________ Country_________________________________Years______

City/Region ________________________ Country_________________________________Years______

  1. What is your ethnicity? __________________________________________________________
  2. What’s your first language? ______________________________________________________
  3. Do you speak other languages? If so, which ones? _____________________________________

_____________________________________________________________________________________

  1. What is your political affiliation in Afghan politics? ___________________________________
  2. Do you have a religion? YES                 NO
  3. If YES, what religion are you? ____________________________________________________
  4. How religious do you consider yourself?

Very                Somewhat                   Neutral                        Not Very                      Not

 

Section B: Your views on the 2001-present Afghanistan War

Tell us what you think.

  1. Check mark how much you agree each item is a root cause of the war in Afghanistan, 2001-present.
  Possible Root Causes Strongly Disagree Disagree Neutral Agree Strongly Agree
1 September 11th attacks on US          
2 American-NATO attack on Afghanistan          
3 Taliban government          
4 Taliban government harboring Al Qaeda          
5 Social reasons          
6 Economic reasons          
7 Cultural reasons          
8 Foreign interference          
9 Extremism          
10 History of conflict in Afghanistan          
11 Education levels          
12 Other (specify):________________________________          

 

 

  1. Do you think some of the above root causes have root causes of their own?

YES                 NO

  1. If you answered YES above, choose 3 root causes from Question 1 you think are the main causes of the war. Put their number in the box on the left. Then write a few, brief thoughts on what are some of the factors leading to those causes.
Number Reasons why
  ·
·
  ·
·
  ·
·

 

  1. What of the following, if they had been better functioning prior to 2001, would have been most helpful in preventing the outbreak of the war? Circle 4.

 

  1. universal healthcare
  2. universal primary education
  3. universal secondary education
  4. universal higher education
  5. legitimate elections
  6. little or no government corruption
  7. severely limited narcotics trafficking
  8. severely limited human trafficking
  9. stronger local communities
  10. better local governance
  11. better adherence to Islamic teachings
  12. full integration of minorities into society
  13. stronger military
  14. more robust economy
  15. better border control with Pakistan
  16. better border control with all neighbors
  17. Other: (specify) _______________

 

  1. What do you think is the most important root cause or root factor to the Afghanistan War? Why did you choose this?
Root Cause or Factor
 
Why you chose this cause or factor
 
 
 

 

 

 

 

  1. Would you like to add anything else?

 

 

 

What are Afghan perspectives on the root causes of the 2001-present War in Afghanistan?

Thank you for agreeing to this interview! Your viewpoints are greatly valued. After completing, please return to Hilary Smith or the Front Desk. Thank you. (hilaryflier@gmail.com)

Section A: A Bit about You

  1. Gender             M         F          Other
  2. Age Range:

18-24               25-30               31-40               41-55               56-70               70+

  1. What is your education level?

 

Primary school

Secondary school

Some University

University

Trade School

Masters

Doctorate

Other: ___________________________

 

  1. Are you: Single               Married            Divorced          Widowed         Other________
  2. Where are you from originally? City/Region __________________ Country________________
  3. Did you spend significant time living in another place or places? If so, where and what years (i.e. 2005-2009)?

City/Region ________________________ Country_________________________________Years______

City/Region ________________________ Country_________________________________Years______

City/Region ________________________ Country_________________________________Years______

  1. What is your ethnicity? __________________________________________________________
  2. What’s your first language? ______________________________________________________
  3. Do you speak other languages? If so, which ones? _____________________________________

_____________________________________________________________________________________

  1. What is your political affiliation in Afghan politics? ___________________________________
  2. Do you have a religion? YES                      NO
  3. If YES, what religion are you? ____________________________________________________
  4. How religious do you consider yourself?

Very                Somewhat                   Neutral                        Not Very                      Not

 

Section B: Your views on the 2001-present Afghanistan War (please use the back of the survey questionnaire to answer any questions for which there is not enough space below. Please number your responses if writing on the back.)

  1. 1st Order: In considering what led up to the war in Afghanistan, 2001-present, what do you think are the 2-3 main causes of it?
 
 
 

 

 

  1. 2nd Order: Briefly, what led to those causes?
 
 
 
  1. 3rd Order: What do you feel is at the root of the causes in Question 2?
 
 
 

 

 

  1. What do you think is the most important root cause of the Afghanistan War?
 

 

 

 

  1. Why did you choose this root cause?
 

 

 

Works Cited

Brodsky, A. E., Welsh, E., Carrillo, A., Talwar, G., Scheibler, J., & Butler, T. (2011). Between synergy and conflict: Balancing the processes of organizational and individual resilience in an afghan women’s community. Society for Community Research and Action, Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.mutex.gmu.edu/pqdtft/docview/855909138/F9790AF1539F4B33PQ/15?accountid=14541

Cobb, S. (2003). Fostering coexistence in identity-based conflicts: Toward a narrative

approach. Imagine Coexistence: Restoring Humanity After Violent Ethnic Conflict.

Cordesman, A. H. (2010). The afghan war: Metrics, narratives, and winning the war. Center for Strategic and International Studies, Retrieved from http://csis.org/publication/afghan-war-metrics

Eggerman, M., &Panter-Brick, C. (2010). Suffering, hope, and entrapment: Resilience and cultural values in afghanistan. Social Science and Medicine, 71(1), 71-83. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2010.03.023

Feith , D. J. (2008). War and decision inside the pentagon at the dawn of the war on terrorism . New York: HarperCollins Publishers.

Jones, S. G. (2010). In the graveyard of empires : America’s war in afghanistan. New York: W. W. Norton. Retrieved from http://www.worldcat.org/title/in-the-graveyard-of-empires-americas-war-in-afghanistan/oclc/449866445

Maass, C. D. (2006). National reconciliation in afghanistan. conflict history and the search for an afghan approach. Internationales Asien Forum. International Quarterly for Asian Studies, 37, 5-37. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.mutex.gmu.edu/pqdtft/docview/212187736/F9790AF1539F4B33PQ/19?accountid=14541

Mann, S. (2011). Shaping coalition forces’ strategic narrative in support of village stability operations.Small Wars Journal, Retrieved from http://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/shaping-coalition-forces-strategic-narrative-in-support-of-village-stability-operations

Media of Afghanistan. (2013, September 14). Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Media_of_Afghanistan

Minear, L. (2010). Through veterans’ eyes: The iraq and afghanistan experience. Dulles: Potomac Books, Inc. Retrieved from http://eds.b.ebscohost.com.mutex.gmu.edu/ehost/ebookviewer/ebook/bmxlYmtfXzM4ODc4OF9fQU41?sid=0d4a6fe4-9c2d-487a-847e-c2549ec4b78e@sessionmgr114&vid=2&format=EB&rid=2

Morgenthau, Hans J. Politics Among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace, Fifth Edition, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1978.

Omidian, P. A. (2011). When bamboo bloom: An anthropologist in taliban’safghanistan. Long Grove: Waveland Press, Inc. Retrieved from http://anth.alexanderstreet.com.mutex.gmu.edu/View/1678050

Porter, G. (2011, September 14). Taliban narrative in afghan war. consortiumnews.com. Retrieved from http://consortiumnews.com/2011/09/14/taliban-narrative-in-afghan-war/

Ryan, M. (2004). Framing the war against terrorism us newspaper editorials and military action in Afghanistan. International Communication Gazette, Retrieved from http://gaz.sagepub.com/content/66/5/363.short

Taliban ‘controlling war narrative’ in Afghanistan?. (2011, September 13). rt.com. Retrieved from http://rt.com/news/taliban-war-tax-usa-499/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Root of the Matter:
Afghans’ View of the Deeper Causes of the War in Afghanistan, 2001-Present
 

 

 

Hilary Smith
George Mason University School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution
 

 

 

 

CONF 601 Methods

Dr. Idil Izmirli

12 May 2014
Abstract

This research emphasizes that understanding the roots of a conflict is just as important as understanding the manifestations of one. Grasping the way a conflict came about leads to good analysis and good resolution programs. This research strives to understand the root causes of the current conflict in Afghanistan from Afghan eyes by asking the question, what do Afghans think the root causes are of the current conflict in Afghanistan, 2001-present? The literature on this topic came from three perspectives, Taliban and Al Qaeda, US and other NATO perspectives, and anthropologists. All gave their own viewpoints on the manifestations of the war, but none asked what the root causes of it are while very few touched on the Afghan viewpoint of any part of the war. A grounded theory, qualitative research approach was adopted to understand what Afghans think the root causes of the war in their country are. Survey questionnaires and interviews were the main tools of this research. A pilot study involving Afghan residents in the northern Virginia area was conducted. Results of this study concluded that many Afghans surveyed felt that the main root causes of the war in Afghanistan are the Taliban being in power, foreign interference, particularly from Pakistan, and lack of education. The study concludes with an emphasis that understanding and addressing the roots of conflict can help prevent future conflict and gives suggestions for how Afghanistan can address the roots found in the pilot study.

 

Introduction

A common question asked during analysis of any problem or conflict is simply, “What is going on?” This question is elementary and foundational for identifying what the conflict is. An equally elementary and foundational question for understanding a problem that, unfortunately, is seldom asked is, “Why is this going on?” Questions like the former what question identify the manifestations of a problem or conflict. The latter why question seeks to identify the roots of a conflict. Both types of questions are important for effective problem solving and effective conflict resolution. They give a more complete, clarified picture of what is happening and why. When both questions are asked, more comprehensive resolution strategies can be developed that have the potential to lead to better resolution.

This principle of understanding the roots of a conflict, as well as the manifestations, can be applied to the current conflict in Afghanistan. In the events following September 11th, a shocked and disoriented United States found Al Qaeda responsible for unprecedented attacks on American soil and laid siege to its headquarters with the Taliban Government in Afghanistan. Over the ensuing dozen years or so, it became clear that the conflict commencing in 2001 was more complex and deeply rooted than anticipated and would require better analysis to understand and treat it. To answer the why question and understand one of the most involved perspectives on the Afghan conflict, the focus of this paper is the question, what do Afghans think the root causes are of the war in Afghanistan, 2001-present?

Literature Review

In the war in Afghanistan, several questions were asked to determine what went on. What just happened? Who are the Taliban? What are their capabilities? A few shallowly rooted questions were addressed in public discourse, but the depth of their answers did not signify quality analysis. Why is the Taliban attacking? Why are they giving refuge to Al Qaeda? What do they believe? What leads them to believe and act in the ways that they do? Questions like these will lead to greater understanding of the causes of the conflict and an increased ability to address and resolve conflict at their tenacious roots. In an attempt to answer some of these questions, this research explores the gap of what Afghans think the root causes of the current war in their country are. Findings from this qualitative research can provide needed perspective and bring to light local perspectives about this conflict that could eventually lead to an emergence of a grounded theory.

An important perspective not commonly considered is native Afghans’ understanding of the roots of the conflict in their country. Since most conflict resolution strategies will strive to be administered by, or at least touch on the lives of, native Afghans, it is important to grasp their understanding of the roots of the conflict so these roots can be identified and addressed. For this purpose, this paper will focus on the question, what is the Afghan perspective on the causes of the current war in Afghanistan? It will encompass in its definition of Afghan as Afghans living in Afghanistan, as well as refugees and migrants from Afghanistan living abroad.

Taliban perspectives

The literature available on perspectives of the root causes of the war in Afghanistan is scarce. Briefly, official Al Qaeda communiques and announcements narrated their reasons for the war. In addition, the Taliban view has not been as widely published, but reports of their treatment of native Afghans, as well as in-country propaganda, show that the Taliban controlled the narrative of the war (“Taliban ‘controlling war,” 2011; Porter, 2011). Controlling the narrative means the Taliban had greater persuasive power over their audience, Afghans, and their thoughts on the outcome of the conflict. This narrative perspective is important because it influences Afghans’ belief in foreign or Afghan government forces’ ability to resolve the conflict and defeat the Taliban. If Afghans do not believe Afghan-NATO forces can control the Taliban, they may be more likely to side with the Taliban.

US and Foreign Perspectives

There is a wealth of information on the perspectives of foreign forces in Afghanistan, however, few of these include the perspective of native Afghans and almost none of them ask elusive why questions in a rigorous way that can lead to an understanding of the root causes of the war in Afghanistan.

Cordesman in the Center for Strategic and International Studies affirms that narrative is one of the most important tools for fighting and winning an insurgent war. He affirms that any metrics in the war should measure insurgency in a way that supports the narrative (Cordesman, 2010). This assessment, however, does not measure native Afghans’ narrative on the war nor their estimation of the root causes of it.

In a comprehensive survey of the perspectives in the top ten major US newspapers, Michael Ryan tracked editorials from the day after the September 11th attacks to 8 October, when the US began bombing Kabul. These editorialists drew from historic, government, and other sources to narrate and explain the US’s use of force. This assessment, while it begins scratching at the narrative explanation of the roots the conflict in American eyes, it does not delve into the Afghan viewpoint on the root causes of the war. (Ryan 2004)

Another document that tracks the US’s reasons for going to war in Afghanistan is War and Decision: What people in the Pentagon were talking about before the Afghan war (Feith, 2008). Though it explains the reasons for the US going to war, it does not dig deeply at the root causes. Additionally, it does not take into account the Afghan perspective for causes of the war.

Graveyard of Empires is another account of the US perspective on the manifestations of the war and gives reasons for why it was less successful. It tells how the US successfully toppled Taliban leadership but then took their eyes off the ball to plan and administer the Iraq War. It also suggests that the insurgency grew due to environmental and structural factors that the instability of an underfunded war caused. In short, this book does not pay attention to the causes of the war through Afghan eyes, but examined how the war persisted and what led to its getting out of control (Jones 2010).

A few works from soldiers’ perspectives begins to brush on Afghan perspectives of the root causes of the war, though still do not elucidate their viewpoints. Part of the VSO (Village Stability Operations) counter insurgency efforts included narrative control, which is where security in villages was better attained through telling a more compelling story that supports US goals. Spreading a positive, compelling narrative had to take into account some knowledge of how Afghans see the war. However, it does not explain it through their eyes (Mann 2011).

Through Veterans’ Eyes is another service members’ narrative of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. This, again, only brushes on the native Afghans’ perspective and mostly leaves us in the dark of how Afghans viewed their situation, the causes behind it, and the way through it (Minear 2010).

Anthropological and Afghan Perspectives

There is, however, some literature written either by anthropologists or Afghan civic groups talking about the perspective of Afghans in the face of the adversity brought on by war. On the whole, these are writings about how Afghans are coping with their situation and largely do not ask the question of why they think this conflict erupted or manifested.

The first of these works is Eggerman and Panter-Brick’s article entitled Suffering, hope, and entrapment: Resilience and cultural values in Afghanistan (2010).These anthropologists research the question of what is happening now that the war is happening, but does not delve into Afghan perspectives of why this war began.

Another anthropological viewpoint, When bamboo bloom: An anthropologist in Taliban’s Afghanistan reports on the experiences and coping mechanisms of native Afghans during Taliban rule (Omidian 2011). Again, this work touches more closely on Afghan viewpoints for the causes of the conflict around them, but most attention is devoted to what Afghans are doing now that they are in a conflict zone rather than what their narrative is for how the conflict began.

Television and popular media may provide an insightful glimpse into the Afghan narrative for the roots of conflict in their country. ToloTV has grown in Afghanistan, mostly putting out entertainment media. However, it does not reach everyone. Radio reaches more but only 37% in 2003. Newspapers have an even lower readership with the country only having a 28% literacy rate (Media in Afghanistan, 2013). Afghan popular media, unfortunately, does not provide enough insight into the root causes of the current conflict through Afghan eyes.

Another primary source is the civic group, RAWA, Revolutionary Association of Women in Afghanistan. This group studies how women of Afghanistan cope with their situation. This is mostly a study in resilience, which may reveal something about the narrative of native Afghans, however, there is still much to be desired in terms of understanding root causes (Brodsky, Welsh, Carrillo, Talwar, Scheibler & Butler, 2011).

Finally in, National Reconciliation in Afghanistan: Conflict History and the Search for an Afghan Approach, NGOs found that even in approaching Afghans for input on how to build an authentically Afghan process for justice and retribution in the post war stages, most Afghans did not want to talk about the past and decided to focus on their economic futures. Unwillingness to speak could make it difficult to access Afghan narratives about the causes for war in their country (Maass, 2006).

Purpose of Study

The purpose of this study is finding out what native Afghans feel the root causes of the current conflict in their country are. This purpose is important because better analysis leads to better resolution. It is important to address the roots as well as the manifestations of conflict so that a more holistic resolution plan can be adopted. Additionally, it is imperative to get Afghan perspectives on this question because Afghans will likely be administering resolution efforts, so their viewpoints must be understood and influence these efforts. Further, this conflict has been primarily experienced by Afghans. Their experiences and thoughts bear great impact on how the conflict is viewed and how it resolves or continues.

 

 

Research Question

The question this research addresses is what do Afghans think are the root causes of the war in Afghanistan (2001-present)? Afghans include individuals who live or have lived in Afghanistan and are or were considered Afghani. It will dig deeply at the root causes by asking why questions. This research will not specifically consider what the root causes of past conflicts in Afghanistan were, however, past conflicts may figure into understanding the root causes of the current conflict.

Methodology

Statement of Problem

This research strives to add to the analysis already conducted on the war in Afghanistan addressing what questions (such as what is going on?) by adding analysis answering why questions (i.e. why is this going on?). Again, good conflict resolution comes from good conflict analysis. It is imperative to understand both the manifestations and the root causes of conflict so that a comprehensive conflict resolution strategy may be adopted. This research takes this question one step further and seeks to fill in the gap of knowledge of what Afghans think are the root causes of the war in their country. It is important to understand views on the roots of the conflict from Afghan eyes because they will be the administrators and recipients of most resolution efforts. Accordingly, this research will focus on the question, what is the Afghan perspective on the root causes of the war in Afghanistan, 2001-present?

Overview of Research Design and Methods

This project will explore the research question using a mixed methods, grounded theory research design. It will utilize survey questionnaires to quantify results, as well as interviews to obtain qualitative data. A thorough search for primary sourced interviews and news articles that explain the Afghan perspective on the root causes of the War will also be undertaken, but as shown in the literature review, not many sources, especially English language sources, exist in this category.

This is a grounded theory method because the research approaches data sources without a theory and seeks to create a theory through collection, analysis, and re-collection of data. Though grounded theories are largely quantitative, a portion of this research will also be qualitative.

This design presents some administrative hurdles that will need to be overcome. First, survey questionnaires will need to be designed and then translated into Pashto and Dari primarily. Additionally, the dissemination of survey questionnaires will vary widely across different populations. These groups are discussed in greater detail below, but survey questionnaires will be distributed on a basis of what is easiest to administer while encouraging the respondents to complete them. For example, in regions where email or Facebook are used, survey questionnaires will be sent through those means. If contacting subjects through electronic media is impossible or ill-advised, survey questionnaires will be collected in the same settings they are distributed in. Some survey questionnaires will also be distributed through key contacts who will give them to friends, family, and acquaintances and return the questionnaires to the researcher. For interviews, many will be conducted in person, with or without a translator. Where personal interviews are not possible due to time, expense, or security concerns, some interviews will be conducted over Skype.

The actual survey questionnaire questions will be divided into two parts. The first part will collect demographical and biographical data without collecting personal identification information. The second section will consist of multiple choice and some open response questions that assess the root causes of the present war in Afghanistan according to the viewpoint of the subject.

Interviews will follow a similar format in establishing demographical and biographical data points. Following the establishment of these data points, several open ended questions will be asked that probe the interviewee’s opinion on the causes of the war.

Sampling Scheme

My sampling scheme endeavors to make up for sampling errors. Because of the difficulty traversing Afghanistan, security concerns, and local politics, obtaining a completely random, representative sample would be extremely difficult. Reaching people outside city centers will be difficult. Many survey questionnaires or recommendations for interviews will be determined by family or tribal connections and will likely overlook some groups that fall outside the connections of the group assisting with the research. This is likely to create a patchwork of representation, where the opinions of the root causes of the war are well understood from some Afghans’ perspectives, but remains unknown in other quarters. This research is also likely to underrepresent women unless certain sampling precautions are taken.

Despite these difficulties, this research will overcome sampling errors by taking a wide sampling from varied locations in and outside Afghanistan, by engaging local governments and Jirgas to reach rural populations, and by leveraging female groups and researchers to access the female population in Afghanistan. The sampling will be taken from varied locations, including city centers like Kabul, Herat, and Kandahar, rural areas along the Pakistan border and the central and southern regions of Afghanistan, the semi-autonomous north of the country, as well as ex-patriot or displaced populations in Pakistan and the U.S. The responses from this varied sample will be averaged together to provide as representative a picture as possible. However, data from individual data sets will also be coded and analyzed in order to give a more nuanced view. For example, responses from minority groups in Afghanistan, like the Hazara, Balochs, and Tajikis, will be coded and analyzed together to discover if views of the root causes of the war in Afghanistan are related to locality or tribe. In addition, local governments will be useful in disseminating survey questionnaires to local populations. Finally, female surveyors partnered with Afghan females through informal and formal connections, such as with the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) which has built a network since 1977, will help reach the sometimes secluded female population in Afghanistan.

Strengths and Weaknesses of Design and Data

The strengths of this design project is that it is simple in only employing and administering two main research tools, survey questionnaires and interviews, however the administration of these research tools is complicated. Survey questionnaires must be translated, disseminated, and collected in a variety of regions using several distribution methods, all while working in a conflict environment. For ex-patriot populations and some city centers in Afghanistan, online survey questionnaires may be used, while rural regions may require paper copies of survey questionnaires. In places where subjects are illiterate, interpreters may need to accompany research teams to different locations. Security personnel may also be needed for many of these areas.

Contingency plans for incomplete research will also be devised in case certain sampling groups are not able to be surveyed or interviewed. This may require changing the research question to reflect a specific population group that was surveyed. For example, if this is the case, the research question might change to, “What does [particular Afghan group] think the root causes of the 2001-present war in Afghanistan are?”

Ethical Issues

Some ethical issues involved in this research include that, in asking people to contemplate the causes of a war, it might bring up harmful memories and experiences and possibly lead subjects to reliving those memories. There is also a security concern for those still living in hotbeds of active conflict. If enemy groups see that the local population is working with an outside group, reprisals may occur. To overcome these issues, special care will be taken to prevent subjects who may be less stable from discussing the war. Warnings will be given up front, the nature of the survey questionnaire or interview will be explained, and researchers will be trained to watch for signs of undue distress. Eliminating test subjects who have a difficult time remembering their experiences with war will decrease the sample quality, but it is a worthwhile decrease. Also, an in depth situational awareness assessment will be conducted prior to venturing into live conflict zones. With these precautions, it is hoped that any reprisals or reliving of painful memories will be avoided.

Pilot Description

A pilot was conducted by distributing survey questionnaires to the Afghan ex-patriot and refugee population in northern Virginia. In addition to this, a few interviews were conducted. I have access to a large, Afghan population, many of whom came to the US on special visas after working as translators for the US and NATO governments. I used snowballing distribution to disseminate survey questionnaires through this largely male population, and gave them extra survey questionnaires and asked them to distribute them to their family and friends, especially females in their circles. I also conducted face to face interviews with a few of these participants and held one informal interview.

The strengths of this pilot are that I surveyed native Afghans, many of whom were directly affected by the war in Afghanistan. Many of them are in the U.S, so reaching them and asking them to fill out a survey questionnaire was simple administratively. The drawbacks to this pilot are the narrow sample size. These are all educated Afghans who were not in favor of the Taliban or insurgents, so we will not have as varied a view on the root causes of the Afghan War according to Afghans’ perspectives.

Results

In this pilot, there were eight respondents to the survey questionnaire, three interviews, and one informal interview conducted with two respondents.

  1. Survey Questionnaire Respondents

Demographical information for the survey questionnaire respondents follows. There were five males, three females, all highly educated, inside a narrow range of religiosity and age.

Survey Questionnaire Respondents’ Demographical Information

Gender Age Range Education Marital Status From Living elsewhere Afg. Political Affiliation Religion Religiosity
M 31-40 Some University M Kabul, AF VA none Islam Neutral
M 31-40 University M Kabul, AF VA 2007-2014 none Islam Somewhat
M 31-40 University M Kabul, AF VA 2005-2014 none Islam Neutral
M 31-40 University M Kabul, AF USA none Islam Neutral
M 25-30 Some University S Nangarhar, AF USA none Islam Neutral
F 56-70 Masters M Kabul, AF TX, OH, VA 34 years none Islam Somewhat
F 31-40 University S Kabul, AF VA 2007-2014 none Islam Somewhat
F 41-55 University S Kandahar, AF VA   Islam Somewhat

Key:

Gender: M=male, F=female

Marital Status: M=married, S=single

 

Of these respondents, the following resulted when asked how much each agreed that the following were among the root causes of the current conflict in Afghanistan. Numbers in the cells indicate how many people marked that column.

 

Participant Strongly Disagree Disagree Neutral Agree Strongly Agree no response
1. September 11th attacks on US   3 1 2 2  
2. American-NATO attack on Afghanistan   4   2 1  
3. Taliban government   1   5 1  
4. Taliban government harboring Al Qaeda   1   5 2  
5. Social reasons 1 2 3 1 1  
6. Economic reasons   1 4 1 2  
7. Cultural reasons 1 2 3 1    
8. Foreign interference   1 1 1 4  
9. Extremism   1 3 2 1  
10. History of conflict in Afghanistan   2 3 1 1  
11 Education levels   1 2 3 1  
12. Other (specify):___________________________         1 (bad neighbor-hood) 6

 

The top five responses are shown the graph below. Of these, many agreed the root causes of the current conflict are the Taliban government, the Taliban harboring Al Qaeda, and foreign interference.

The following graph shows response to the question, “What of the following, if they had been better functioning prior to 2001, would have been most helpful in preventing the outbreak of the war?” Though answers varied somewhat the factors that had the highest mode are highlighted and include universal higher education, no or little government corruption, stronger local communities, and a stronger military. From this question, we also see that this sampling of Afghans do not believe factors like universal healthcare, legitimate elections, and better adherence to Islamic teachings would have been as useful in preventing the war.

What would have been helpful in preventing the war?

Factor Selected
a universal healthcare  
b universal primary education  
c universal secondary education 1
d universal higher education 3
e legitimate elections  
f little or no government corruption 3
g severely limited narcotics trafficking 1
h severely limited human trafficking  
i stronger local communities 3
j better local governance 2
k better adherence to Islamic teachings  
l full integration of minorities into society  
m stronger military 3
n more robust economy 2
o better border control with Pakistan 2
p better border control with all neighbors 2
q Other (specify) 1 (Taliban having illegitimate gov)

 

  1. Interview Respondents

The following are demographical data for respondents to the formal interview. All three were refugee males, with similar ages, religiosity, and various education levels.

Interviewee Respondents’ Demographical Information

Gender Age Range Education Marital Status From Living elsewhere Afg. Political Affiliation Religion Religiosity
M 1 Some University S Kabul, AF Pakistan; VA, USA None Islam Neutral
M 2 University M Kabul, AF Pakistan; VA, USA none Islam Somewhat
M 2 Masters M Kabul, AF KS, VA, USA none Islam Somewhat

Key:

Gender: M=male, F=female

Marital Status: M=married, S=single

 

Interview responses were analyzed using open coding. Ideas or topics communicated in the interview were identified, organized into groups, and then tabulated in the responses. The following shows these groups and terms and the frequency with which they were discussed.

Coding Groups and Terms 1st Order 2nd Order 3rd Order Most Important Total
Group I: Taliban and Related Issues          
Taliban in Power (TiP) 2 2 1 1 6
Taliban ignored by Int’nat’l Community (TIIC) 1       1
Taliban allied with Al Qaeda (TAQ) 1       1
Terrorism (T)     1 1 2
Power Seeking (Po)   2 1 1 4
Narcotics Production (NP)       1 1
Group II: International Relations          
Foreign Interference (FI) 1       1
Foreign Interference – Pakistan (FI-P) 2 3   2 7
Foreign Interference – Iran (FI-I) 1 1   1 3
Aid Corruption (AC)   1     1
No Relationship with other Countries (NRC)   1     1
Group III: Socio-Economic Issues          
Poverty (P) 1       1
Lack of Education (LE) 1 1 1 2 5
Poor Economy (PE) 1 2   1 4
Brain Drain (BD) 1 1     2

 

Group IV: Afghan Infrastructure          
Need for Strong Military (SM)       1 1
Poor Governance (PG)   1     1
Civil War (CW)   2     2
Lack of Security/Stability (LSS)   1 3 2 6

 

The responses that came up the most are highlighted above. According to these respondents, the root causes of the current war in Afghanistan are the Taliban being in power, foreign interference from Pakistan, lack of education, and a lack of security and stability.

When responses from both the interviews and survey questionnaires were cross tabulated, common agreement was found that respondents believed that root causes of current war in Afghanistan include the Taliban being in power, foreign interference from Pakistan, and lack of education. These findings add to the anthropological studies mentioned in the literature review. Afghan practices in coping with the conflict, evident in Eggerman and Panter-Brick’s and Omidian’s works, complement thoughtful Afghan considerations as to the causes of the war in their country (2010, 2011). This two-pronged approach helps us understand the Afghan perspective on the manifestations and roots of conflict in their country. From this dual perspective, conflict resolution strategies may be developed which address both needs in taking care of the immediate necessities of the conflict evident in its manifestations, as well as treating the conflict’s roots to prevent future conflict outbreak due to the same root conditions of the current conflict.

This grounded theory is rooted in narrative and realism theories. Narrative theory states that the way parties understand the story of their conflict affects both how they view the conflict and how they interact with other disputants in the conflict (Cobb 2003). Most respondents told a similar narrative for why Pakistan’s interference acted as a root cause of the current conflict. Because they understand that Pakistan wants Afghanistan to be a week neighbor, they view involvement from Pakistan with distrust. The importance of narrative to this conflict is shown in how the Taliban and US were fighting for control of it in earlier stages of the war (Cordesman 2010; Porter 2011). If you can control what Afghans believe about how their country became a conflict zone, you can leverage your influence for how Afghans will view and interact in the conflict.

Realism builds on narrative’s theories. Political Realism postulates that a nation’s interest is measured in terms of power, and what is morally right for a nation may not be morally right objectively-speaking. It claims that the key interest for any nation is to maximize its power and influence and that morality for a nation should be judged based on the circumstances and responsibilities that nation has to its citizens (Morgenthau 1978). The narrative told for Pakistan’s involvement in the Taliban coming to power is rooted in a realism perspective. Respondents commented that Pakistan and Iran want a weak neighbor in Afghanistan in order to maintain their own dominance in the region. Additionally, respondents also commented that Afghanistan is in a prime geo-political position in South Asia. They asserted that this position has led to Pakistan and Iran’s interference in Afghan affairs and conflicts. These comments show that Afghans take realism’s viewpoint in explaining international politics and conflict in their country in terms of power grabs from both the Taliban and their neighbors to the east and west.

Conclusions

In conclusion, understanding the Afghans’ narrative about the causes of the current war in Afghanistan will better inform conflict analysis and resolution practitioners about the root causes of war from one of the most essential stakeholders in the conflict, Afghans. It will also better inform a resolution process. There is extremely limited literature on this topic, making it essential to investigate the question of what are Afghan perspectives on the causes of the war in Afghanistan? Initial findings in the pilot study revealed that that Taliban government, foreign interference, particularly from Pakistan, and lack of education, were all root causes for the current conflict in Afghan eyes.

The final product of this study is a more complete analysis of the conflict. From the issues discovered through this research, conflict resolution methods may be adopted that can be designed to help resolve not only the manifestations of conflict, but its roots as well. Resolving conflict at its roots has the potential to prevent future conflict and prevent a post conflict zone slipping back into an old, unresolved conflict. From the results of the pilot study, conflict resolution plans may include a heavy emphasis on education, strong foreign policy and tighter border security with Pakistan, and continuing to deconstruct Taliban infrastructure the Afghanistan and possibly Pakistan.

This research may be disseminated through publishing its findings in a reputable journal. Following that, great efforts will be made to distribute this report and its major findings with ministry heads in the Afghan government, NGO organizations, aid groups, and local leadership. The more the findings of this research are respected and known, the greater chance it will have to create a positive impact for the future of Afghanistan.

School of Conflict Analysis and Resolution

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Informed Consent Form

The Root of the Matter: What do Afghans think the root cause of the war in Afghanistan is, 2001-present?

Hilary Smith

 

 

I am aware and understand the details and purposes of this research project.

I have had the opportunity to understand from the researcher any additional details of this project, and I understand my role in it.

I understand that my participation in this interview is completely voluntary and that I may withdraw at any time without providing an explanation.

I know the data gathered from this research may be used in presentations, reports, publications or be the basis for such.

I understand that my confidentiality will be protected, that my name or any other identifying information will not be shared with others in any way, including in said presentations, reports, or publications.

 

 

Participant Signature   Date
     
Researcher Signature   Date

 

 

What are Afghan perspectives on the root causes of the 2001-present War in Afghanistan?

Thank you for taking this survey questionnaire! Your viewpoints are greatly valued. After completing, please return to Hilary Smith or the Front Desk. Thank you. (hilaryflier@gmail.com)

Section A: A Bit about You

  1. Gender             M         F          Other
  2. Age Range:

18-24               25-30               31-40               41-55               56-70               70+

  1. What is your education level?

 

Primary school

Secondary school

Some University

University

Trade School

Masters

Doctorate

Other: ___________________________

 

  1. Are you: Single               Married            Divorced          Widowed         Other________
  2. Where are you from originally? City/Region __________________ Country________________
  3. Did you spend significant time living in another place or places? If so, where and what years (i.e. 2005-2009)?

City/Region ________________________ Country_________________________________Years______

City/Region ________________________ Country_________________________________Years______

City/Region ________________________ Country_________________________________Years______

  1. What is your ethnicity? __________________________________________________________
  2. What’s your first language? ______________________________________________________
  3. Do you speak other languages? If so, which ones? _____________________________________

_____________________________________________________________________________________

  1. What is your political affiliation in Afghan politics? ___________________________________
  2. Do you have a religion? YES                 NO
  3. If YES, what religion are you? ____________________________________________________
  4. How religious do you consider yourself?

Very                Somewhat                   Neutral                        Not Very                      Not

 

Section B: Your views on the 2001-present Afghanistan War

Tell us what you think.

  1. Check mark how much you agree each item is a root cause of the war in Afghanistan, 2001-present.
  Possible Root Causes Strongly Disagree Disagree Neutral Agree Strongly Agree
1 September 11th attacks on US          
2 American-NATO attack on Afghanistan          
3 Taliban government          
4 Taliban government harboring Al Qaeda          
5 Social reasons          
6 Economic reasons          
7 Cultural reasons          
8 Foreign interference          
9 Extremism          
10 History of conflict in Afghanistan          
11 Education levels          
12 Other (specify):________________________________          

 

 

  1. Do you think some of the above root causes have root causes of their own?

YES                 NO

  1. If you answered YES above, choose 3 root causes from Question 1 you think are the main causes of the war. Put their number in the box on the left. Then write a few, brief thoughts on what are some of the factors leading to those causes.
Number Reasons why
  ·
·
  ·
·
  ·
·

 

  1. What of the following, if they had been better functioning prior to 2001, would have been most helpful in preventing the outbreak of the war? Circle 4.

 

  1. universal healthcare
  2. universal primary education
  3. universal secondary education
  4. universal higher education
  5. legitimate elections
  6. little or no government corruption
  7. severely limited narcotics trafficking
  8. severely limited human trafficking
  9. stronger local communities
  10. better local governance
  11. better adherence to Islamic teachings
  12. full integration of minorities into society
  13. stronger military
  14. more robust economy
  15. better border control with Pakistan
  16. better border control with all neighbors
  17. Other: (specify) _______________

 

  1. What do you think is the most important root cause or root factor to the Afghanistan War? Why did you choose this?
Root Cause or Factor
 
Why you chose this cause or factor
 
 
 

 

 

 

 

  1. Would you like to add anything else?

 

 

 

What are Afghan perspectives on the root causes of the 2001-present War in Afghanistan?

Thank you for agreeing to this interview! Your viewpoints are greatly valued. After completing, please return to Hilary Smith or the Front Desk. Thank you. (hilaryflier@gmail.com)

Section A: A Bit about You

  1. Gender             M         F          Other
  2. Age Range:

18-24               25-30               31-40               41-55               56-70               70+

  1. What is your education level?

 

Primary school

Secondary school

Some University

University

Trade School

Masters

Doctorate

Other: ___________________________

 

  1. Are you: Single               Married            Divorced          Widowed         Other________
  2. Where are you from originally? City/Region __________________ Country________________
  3. Did you spend significant time living in another place or places? If so, where and what years (i.e. 2005-2009)?

City/Region ________________________ Country_________________________________Years______

City/Region ________________________ Country_________________________________Years______

City/Region ________________________ Country_________________________________Years______

  1. What is your ethnicity? __________________________________________________________
  2. What’s your first language? ______________________________________________________
  3. Do you speak other languages? If so, which ones? _____________________________________

_____________________________________________________________________________________

  1. What is your political affiliation in Afghan politics? ___________________________________
  2. Do you have a religion? YES                      NO
  3. If YES, what religion are you? ____________________________________________________
  4. How religious do you consider yourself?

Very                Somewhat                   Neutral                        Not Very                      Not

 

Section B: Your views on the 2001-present Afghanistan War (please use the back of the survey questionnaire to answer any questions for which there is not enough space below. Please number your responses if writing on the back.)

  1. 1st Order: In considering what led up to the war in Afghanistan, 2001-present, what do you think are the 2-3 main causes of it?
 
 
 

 

 

  1. 2nd Order: Briefly, what led to those causes?
 
 
 
  1. 3rd Order: What do you feel is at the root of the causes in Question 2?
 
 
 

 

 

  1. What do you think is the most important root cause of the Afghanistan War?
 

 

 

 

  1. Why did you choose this root cause?
 

 

 

Works Cited

Brodsky, A. E., Welsh, E., Carrillo, A., Talwar, G., Scheibler, J., & Butler, T. (2011). Between synergy and conflict: Balancing the processes of organizational and individual resilience in an afghan women’s community. Society for Community Research and Action, Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.mutex.gmu.edu/pqdtft/docview/855909138/F9790AF1539F4B33PQ/15?accountid=14541

Cobb, S. (2003). Fostering coexistence in identity-based conflicts: Toward a narrative

approach. Imagine Coexistence: Restoring Humanity After Violent Ethnic Conflict.

Cordesman, A. H. (2010). The afghan war: Metrics, narratives, and winning the war. Center for Strategic and International Studies, Retrieved from http://csis.org/publication/afghan-war-metrics

Eggerman, M., &Panter-Brick, C. (2010). Suffering, hope, and entrapment: Resilience and cultural values in afghanistan. Social Science and Medicine, 71(1), 71-83. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2010.03.023

Feith , D. J. (2008). War and decision inside the pentagon at the dawn of the war on terrorism . New York: HarperCollins Publishers.

Jones, S. G. (2010). In the graveyard of empires : America’s war in afghanistan. New York: W. W. Norton. Retrieved from http://www.worldcat.org/title/in-the-graveyard-of-empires-americas-war-in-afghanistan/oclc/449866445

Maass, C. D. (2006). National reconciliation in afghanistan. conflict history and the search for an afghan approach. Internationales Asien Forum. International Quarterly for Asian Studies, 37, 5-37. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.mutex.gmu.edu/pqdtft/docview/212187736/F9790AF1539F4B33PQ/19?accountid=14541

Mann, S. (2011). Shaping coalition forces’ strategic narrative in support of village stability operations.Small Wars Journal, Retrieved from http://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/shaping-coalition-forces-strategic-narrative-in-support-of-village-stability-operations

Media of Afghanistan. (2013, September 14). Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Media_of_Afghanistan

Minear, L. (2010). Through veterans’ eyes: The iraq and afghanistan experience. Dulles: Potomac Books, Inc. Retrieved from http://eds.b.ebscohost.com.mutex.gmu.edu/ehost/ebookviewer/ebook/bmxlYmtfXzM4ODc4OF9fQU41?sid=0d4a6fe4-9c2d-487a-847e-c2549ec4b78e@sessionmgr114&vid=2&format=EB&rid=2

Morgenthau, Hans J. Politics Among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace, Fifth Edition, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1978.

Omidian, P. A. (2011). When bamboo bloom: An anthropologist in taliban’safghanistan. Long Grove: Waveland Press, Inc. Retrieved from http://anth.alexanderstreet.com.mutex.gmu.edu/View/1678050

Porter, G. (2011, September 14). Taliban narrative in afghan war. consortiumnews.com. Retrieved from http://consortiumnews.com/2011/09/14/taliban-narrative-in-afghan-war/

Ryan, M. (2004). Framing the war against terrorism us newspaper editorials and military action in Afghanistan. International Communication Gazette, Retrieved from http://gaz.sagepub.com/content/66/5/363.short

Taliban ‘controlling war narrative’ in Afghanistan?. (2011, September 13). rt.com. Retrieved from http://rt.com/news/taliban-war-tax-usa-499/

 

 

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