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Monsters, Inc: The Taliban as Empire’s bogeyman

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The 20th anniversary of the so-called “war on terror”, which began with the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, is marked by the withdrawal of United States troops and the “return” of the Taliban to Kabul. In some ways, we are back in 2001, and in others – there is no going back, given that the US war on terror has killed over 800,000 people, and displaced 37 million more.

The events of the past few days have forced on us a number of urgent questions. How should we interpret what happened in Afghanistan? How does one express solidarity with Afghans, and what forms of support should be abandoned? (Perhaps, white liberal feminist tears/fears for Afghan women and girls that still yet justify US imperial violence would be a good start.)

Do Afghan social media campaigns to #SanctionPakistan obscure the role of US empire and unintentionally foster white innocence? The #SanctionPakistan campaign justifiably organises against decades of Pakistani policies of providing material support to the Taliban, viciously racialising Afghan refugees, and leaving its Pashtun and Baloch populations to bear the brunt of state-sponsored Taliban violence, but does this exonerate US empire?

Of course, the coverage of Afghanistan, by the time it arrives on our screens, is churned through narratives that make it familiar to people – in other words, it has been read for us. Violence appears organic to its landscape and the character of its people and is presented as merely another phase, one of many violent chapters.

But the public confusion over what is going on also points to a growing desire for the analysis of events and not a mere telling of events, which requires asking some difficult questions and interrogating the presuppositions that underpin prevailing paradigms on Afghanistan.

We offer ways to understand Afghanistan differently knowing very well how fleeting this desire to know is. As we write with Afghans, what we write now is not for Afghans. Not only is it not what they need right now, it is nothing that non-elite Afghans do not already know, while those in the elite are too preoccupied with their investments and war-profiteering now being threatened to pay attention.

As scholars committed to uncompromising anti-imperial analysis, and who study the “war on terror”, we stand with others in facing the daunting task of offering critical theorising of Afghanistan today that does not add another layer of betrayal of the Afghan population. The dominance of the geopolitics of statecraft and development approaches coupled with the overwhelming whiteness of Afghanistan Studies, however, contributes to what we consider and experience as a longstanding deep crisis of knowledge production on Afghanistan.

What could we say in this moment of “emergency” that could recalibrate sensibilities and understandings for those open to........

© Al Jazeera

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