Jesus asks us to love our enemies, to do good to those who harm us, and to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. What does this mean for U.S. policy in Afghanistan?
It means we should imagine what it would be like to be an Afghan civilian, with legitimate grievances about the corruption of the current Afghan government, along with a continuing sense of repression and humiliation by both external forces and the Taliban. What if a foreign government dropped bombs on our towns in its effort to kill terrorists among us? How would we want to be treated if Afghanistan were our own country?
The Taliban are rightly condemned for their intolerance to pluralism, as well as for their discrimination and violence against women and others who don’t follow their interpretation of Islam. To love our enemies means that it is also right to imagine ourselves in the shoes of even the Taliban—or, at least, in the environment where they took root: the cold and windy refugee camps where, over decades, poor, landless children of a nation ravaged by imperial powers grew up angry, defiant, humiliated, and ready to fight for revenge.
Jesus also tells us to pay more attention to the log in our eye rather than the speck of dust in our neighbor’s. There is no doubt Afghanistan is full of dust. But what are the logs in our own eyes? Elements of U.S. policy in Afghanistan simply don’t make sense.
First, there is widespread evidence that the presence of U.S. troops and bomb-dropping drone aircraft ends up fueling the insurgency and helping the Taliban and al Qaeda recruit new members. We need to question the strategic, as well as the moral, rationale for the U.S.’s militaristic approach.
We also need to ask who is profiting from the war. Too many no-bid contracts are awarded to U.S. companies for reconstruction and development. Instead, more funds should be going to local contractors and nonprofit, nongovernmental organizations. In addition, the U.S. has virtually ignored international drug traffickers, who garner most of the poppy profits, and has declined to address its own subsidies to U.S. cotton farmers, which make it impossible for Afghans to switch from growing poppy to cotton.
Jesus’ teachings are not just moral advice about how to do what is right; God’s security strategy is actually far more effective than the alternative in building a sustainable peace. So what would real security in Afghanistan look like? Instead of military engagement, it would focus on:
Development. Unemployment and poverty fuel support for insurgent groups; small-scale efforts aimed at economic development and job creation are the bricks and mortar that can help build peace. Too few U.S. dollars go toward supporting local people’s priorities and efforts.
Diplomacy. Since there are local, national, and regional issues fueling violence and conflict at all levels, a comprehensive peace process needs to stand on four legs: village-level reconciliation dialogues between tribal groups, a demonstrated commitment to end corruption, an inclusive national political process, and a regional diplomatic approach. Careful diplomacy needs to identify and address core grievances while not legitimizing violent tactics or intolerant attitudes.
Democracy. The Afghan people want real dialogue in determining the aims, missions, and rules of engagement of foreigners in their country. The U.S. should model democracy in Afghanistan by listening more closely to civil society leaders, members of the traditional decision-making shura and jirga structures, and elders of the community assembly of leaders.
Christians must raise the hard questions about this war—compelled not only by God’s command to love but by our commitment to build genuine security and sustainable peace.
Lisa Schirch is professor of peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding and director of the university’s 3D Security Initiative.