April 16th, 2010
07:09 AM ET

Can lessons from other nations show way forward in Afghanistan?

Zieba Shorish-Shamley offers a history lesson to people who say a peace settlement with the Taliban in Afghanistan is possible.

She asks them to remember how the Taliban massacred thousands of Afghans, beat women who walked alone in public, stoned to death women accused of adultery and tried to bend everyone to their fanatical form of Islam.

That is how she remembers life under the Taliban. Only force can stop the leaders of such a brutal movement, says Shorish-Shamley, a native of Afghanistan.

In early May, Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the Afghan government will invite a group of people, including tribal elders and parliament members, to discuss ways to reconcile with the Taliban.

“The leaders of the Taliban are not going to come around,” says Shorish-Shamley, founder and director of the Women's Alliance for Peace and Human Rights in Afghanistan.

“Do you think Hitler and the rest of the Nazis would have come to the table to negotiate not killing innocent Jews and invading everyone else’s country?”

Shorish-Shamley takes her cues on dealing with the Taliban from World War II. But some look to other examples from history and get another message: peace is possible in Afghanistan if leaders learn from other countries that found a way forward after years of internal warfare.

In countries as diverse as El Salvador, Bosnia and the United States, warring sides have fought civil wars that claimed thousands of victims. But leaders in each country took specific steps to reconcile warring sides, scholars say.

Afghans can do the same if they don’t just think of making peace with the Taliban. They must also make peace with their victims, says Ernesto Verdeja, author of “Unchopping a Tree,” a book that looks at reconciliation in the aftermath of war and genocide.

He says countries that take the symbolic route to reconciliation - issuing public apologies, holding days of remembrances - won’t be able to move forward.

“Apologies are not enough,” he says. “Reconciliation efforts can sometimes emphasize the reconciliation part instead of the justice part.”

He says that pursuing justice means naming specific crimes; allowing victims to publicly confront those that hurt them; providing medical and material support to victims and their families, he says.

“That’s tricky stuff because some victims will demand some form of punishment,” he says.

A lesson from El Salvador
Sometimes the desire for peace outweighs people’s need for retribution. That’s what happened in El Salvador, says Thomas R. Mockaitis, a professor of history at DePaul University and author of “The ‘New’ Terrorism: Myths and Reality.”

The Central American country was ravaged by a 12-year civil war that started in 1980 when leftist guerrillas fought against a U.S.-backed military dictatorship. An estimated 75,000 Salvadorans died and thousands disappeared, Mockaitis says.

Yet the guerrillas and the government signed a peace pact in 1992. The group that once represented the leftist guerrillas now works within the political system; it governs El Salvador.

The Arena Party, which represents the country’s former military rulers, also remains a player in the country’s politics, he says.

There are still simmering resentments in El Salvador over the murdered and missing from the civil war, but people were exhausted by the violence, Mockaitis says.

“There’s a consensus that, for the sake of peace and stability, it’s probably better to at least leave retribution to heaven and move on,’’ Mockaitis says.

Those individuals that preach this message, however, can discover that their harshest critics are members of their own community, says Fatmire Feka, an Albanian Muslim from Kosovo, a former region in Serbia that declared its independence in 2008.

Feka says her family was attacked by Serbians during the war in Kosovo. She says she lost her older brother and sister to Serbian paramilitary forces. But she decided to become a peace activist and bring together Muslim and Serbian youth who wanted a better future.

Some Muslims, though, couldn’t let go of the past, Feka says.

Her former Muslim neighbors asked her why she wanted to bring back people who had killed their family and friends. Feka says her mother slapped her in anger one day when she heard that her daughter had led a peace march.

“When you start to work for peace in an area where people have died and are still grieving, it’s difficult,” Feka says. “Everyone perceived me as being deviant.” (Read more about Fatmire Feka's journey from hate to peace)

Why reconciliation couldn’t work in Vietnam
Reconciliation is impossible, though, in other countries, no matter how courageous some people are, another historian says.

Andrew Wiest, a military historian, says reconciliation is impossible when one side in a civil war is driven by an ideology that doesn’t accept compromises.

North Vietnam’s communist rulers were governed by such a philosophy during the Vietnam War, says Wiest, author of “Vietnam’s Forgotten Army: Heroism and Betrayal in the ARVN.”

When the North Vietnamese finally defeated South Vietnam in 1975, they had no interest in reintegrating former ARVN members (South Vietnamese soldiers) and civil servants who worked for the U.S.-backed South Vietnamese government, according to Wiest. The North Vietnamese killed tens of thousands of former ARVN soldiers and other supporters of the former U.S.-backed government.

“Hundreds of thousands were put into re-education camps,” Wiest says. “Some of them were in there for months and some were in there for decades.”

The North Vietnamese felt that all former supporters of the U.S.-backed regime were so corrupt that they had to be purged from society, Wiest says.

“If you go to Vietnam today, there’s going to be an underclass of people who are begging on the street and just getting by,” says Wiest. “A lot of those people are leftovers from ARVN.”

Those leaders who see themselves as revolutionaries overthrowing a corrupt political system think change must be paid for in blood, according to Wiest.

“Revolutions usually have to purge somebody,” he says. “They have a real hard time admitting that their enemies were their brothers.”

In the United States
One country that was able to avoid this was the United States during its Civil War, another historian says.

The war between the North and the South featured some of the bloodiest battles in U.S. military history. Many people on both sides hated the other with a passionate intensity, says Jay Winik, author of “April 1865” and “The Great Upheaval.”

Yet it could have been worse if the North and South didn’t have such leaders as President Lincoln and Gen. Robert E. Lee, commander of the Southern armies, Winik says.

Winik says that Southern soldiers could have prolonged the war by retreating to the woods and becoming guerrilla fighters. Northern leaders could have prolonged the bitterness by unleashing a wave of retribution that would have featured the mass hangings of Southern leaders.

“We would have lived in a far different country,” says Winik.

But Winik says that Lincoln insisted on lenient surrender terms. He urged Northerners to accept Southerners as their fellow countrymen again. And Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, the Northern commander, extended gracious surrender terms to Lee’s armies.

“Lincoln was not a hater,” Winik says. “Make no mistake - he waged total war against the South. But as the war was nearing to a close, he said that we must become countrymen again. He said sternly that there would be no hanging, no retribution.”

Lee delivered the same message to Southerners, Winik says.

“He was a fierce warrior but also man of his word and a man of great honor,” Winik says. “He never allowed people to speak ill of Lincoln. He told the South it’s time to rebuild. He was looking ahead not backward.”

Could such leaders emerge in Afghanistan from the Taliban and other groups in Afghanistan? Maybe.

But Winik says the ability of leaders like Lee and Lincoln to envision a future without warfare is crucial. Those types of magnanimous leaders could make the difference between peace and endless bloodshed, Winik says.

“Lee once said that I surrendered as much to Lincoln’s goodness,” Winik says, “as I did to Grant’s armies.”

Photo: Around 30 Taliban militant fighters, standing with their weapons, surrender to Afghan troops in Herat last month.

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Filed under: Karzai • Taliban • Understanding Afghanistan
soundoff (30 Responses)
  1. chui

    The author of this article fails to grasp the simple fact that the Taliban are Afghans and bona-fide citizens of that country, regardless of what any foreign Govt like the US or UK may think or advertise. They may be insurgents or the enemy nevertheless part of that country that has been at war now over two decade, and the meddling outsiders being the British, Soviets and the US. The country has been mass destroyed three times over and the plight of the local people remains the same as one set of leaders or masters are replaced with foreign intervention. What the west does not understand is the centuries old traditions, customs, modus operandi, life style, religion all based on the extreme isolation, terrain, climatic conditions and indifference of the people themselves. Who are very leery, suspicious and down right hostile to people, who have screwed them over with lies, broken promises. Despite all the set back, these people of an ancient race have never surrendered to the outsiders. The west has no comprehension about the lives of these people. Poor, ignorant, corrupt they may be but stupid they are not. What binds them and separate them at the same time is the cursed religion, and the clerics, mullahs and ayatollahs use, abuse and exploit them all the same as is status quo in all Islamic and Muslim countries that include Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and others in the Middle East, Africa and Asia. It is not Islam per say, but rather the hierarchy of the blasted religion, as manipulated as it is in Catholicism, Hinduism, different sects of Christianity, Judaism and other religions.

    April 18, 2010 at 12:59 am | Report abuse |
  2. Ralph in Orange Park, FL

    When US forces went into Afghanistan in 2001, they should have secured an operations area from which to hunt Osama bin Laden and left the rest of the country alone. They never should have promised to do anything for Afghanistan.

    April 17, 2010 at 7:16 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Steve

    Hey WLS... ever heard of Hitler?

    April 17, 2010 at 4:52 pm | Report abuse |
  4. ana, not the first Ana to comment

    I wish to add to my comment above that I agree with previous comments that once back, the Taliban will probably take over again; am sure that's their agenda. There can be no peace until we, as a collective majority, focus on envisioning freedom for all in principle. We are all connected.

    April 17, 2010 at 4:00 pm | Report abuse |
  5. ana

    The question is if the Taliban CAN reintegrate and become productive members of a free society. Hitler did agree to peaceable relations with certain countries; he lied. Central America is mostly Catholic in belief, not Islamic nor fundamentally indoctrinated to kill others over religious differences (any longer). The comparisons are invalid. I wish Afghanistan peace, and I hope the world helps them plant more trees which I think would soothe Souls and aid prosperity.

    April 17, 2010 at 3:30 pm | Report abuse |
  6. JKF

    The closest model to Afghanistan is the Balkans, hatreds and religious fanaticism divied the people for centuries, partiton of the different tribes is rapidly healing wounds (except for Bosnia/Herzegovina). Much like in many new European states, partition and independence will heal wounds and eventually all will come to a peaceful association and economic integration. In Afgh, the Pashtun have refused to share power, even amongst different Pashtun regional tribes. The way ahead is to support the break up of Afghanistan into smaller states. Potentially these smaller states could join their ancestral tribes, or out of free will, reconstitute a federal Afghanistan. It is currently utopian to think that the Pashtun and their Taliban extremist will ever go for a secular democratic state and the rule of common law! We see this type of disintegration in Iraq, on very similar pathways as it was in the Balkans-the hatreds in Iraq continue, and so it will be in Afghanistan. The ancestral tribes accross the Southern borrers of Afghanistan, are in fact the main supporters of the terrorists destroying Afghanistan. The Northern and central tribes of Afgh would have a far better future by separating from the existing and ever failing Afgh state. Smalller states coul be easier to manage into development and stability....

    April 17, 2010 at 12:34 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Davec

    Not our problem. Get it? It's too bad about the Afghan women but it is THEIR problem. We – the US – need to focus on the 21 st century and untangle ourselves from this disfunctional 8th century society.

    April 17, 2010 at 12:25 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Bilal Wardak

    This article does not answer anything. It seems that comparing the Afghans to the rest of the world just might solve the problems in Afghanistan. No. Alexander the Great invaded with ease but just like the russians could not maintain the country and people. The Taliban was and is the only solution to a country that cannot be controlled. A country with a corrupt government that does not reach out to its people, which leaves its people "reach" into there own form of government which involves theft, murder, and human trafficing. You cannot tell a mass group of people that just came out of a war and is struggling day to day to bring good back to their villages to stop everything they are doing and wait for the government to show them what a "democracy" could do for a country that has been following a unwritten code since the time of Alexander the Great?...I am not saying that there is no hope for peace but I am simply saying that Taliban needed to enforce there form of government inorder to restrain everyone as a whole and then take the next step and give more rights as the country gets less and less corrupt.

    If you can tame a hungry lion, teach it to be patient and eat off a plate then just maybe I will change my views on how the Taliban handled their situation.

    April 17, 2010 at 10:37 am | Report abuse |
  9. Horace

    The fruit of the Wahibi garden cultivated by the Saudi royal family is ripe in Al Quaeda and the Taliban. There can be no reconcilliation with religous extremists anywhere in the world. They have drank the kool-aid, like the special Jonestown recipe.

    April 17, 2010 at 7:19 am | Report abuse |
  10. Iraq Paramedic

    Well truth be told the NVC did not win, the American liberal political machine gave into the war protesters & let our forces be humiliated when all they had to do was sray out of the way & we could have walked from south to north in a couple of months & saved Vietnam from communism. The same thing is going on here. If the politicals would turn the millitary loose this engagement would have been over long ago. As for peace with the Taliban, oh they will agree to it & cellibrate all the way up untill all foriegn soldiers are gone & then they will start their whole sale slaughter all over again. Again I say & yes I know it is very unpopular but, if the world really wants a true peacefull, educated & human rights protecting society out of all this we are going to have to occupy Afghanistan for 20+ years & raise a generation of peacefull people. The other option is to totaly destroy the Taliban & drug lords, get rid of Kharzi & find a good educated man or woman who truely cares about the people & not power & profits. Tough task!
    May GOD Bless & keep us all !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    April 17, 2010 at 4:38 am | Report abuse |
  11. Aamir


    US is fighting useless war in Afghanistan.

    Let's the people live according to their own beliefs and religions, please dont' enforce people to live according to your proposed system whether it is democracy or communisim or Islamic way of life.

    US came in Afghanistan for capturing Osama and no-body know about the fate of Osama. Is he alive or dead but every day counting death of US and NATO solider has been gradually increasing.

    April 17, 2010 at 2:03 am | Report abuse |
  12. Dan Lafayette,IN

    So WLS you are agnostic but you believe in this Son God, was he some kind of Greek god? There is one thing I would like to ask you, if you ever read the New Testament of the Holy Bible? If not(or even if you have before and thought it was nonsense)read what Jesus had said about the end times and how we seem to be in those times today, as he said there will be wars and floods and earthquakes and on and on until His second coming, then you'll be left behind in the great tribulation either for Christ or for the anti-Christ but then again science will find some way to say that it was not the second coming that left all the lifeless bodies around.

    April 16, 2010 at 11:51 pm | Report abuse |
  13. paul for canada

    in afganistan you have a religious crazed taliban/alquaida that demands religious revenge in blood, they can settle the conflict between goverment and taliban, but when the western forces leave the taliban will be re-elected, some change no doubt will remain but it will return to the religious blood demand, muslims might be a peacefull people if they rule over all people or thier numbers are a minority, but include all other religions ,muslims become a bad mix, they are driven by war lords and religious leaders, western country,s will find that out when muslim numbers out number whites, they will have afganistan in thier own countrys,

    April 16, 2010 at 10:02 pm | Report abuse |
  14. WLS

    More religous nuts. There have been more people mudered over religion than any other single cause in the history of the world. Did you ever see or hear of an agnostic murdering anyone? How can you know what is not knowable or prove a negative. Where is the logic and the common sense? Wake up people! Believe in mankind..............and the Sun God.Akhenaten was right.

    April 16, 2010 at 7:21 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Smith in Oregon

    US Military and NATO troops have had 8 years to educate, train and issue personal side-arms to the Muslim Afghanistan Women. They regretfully have not done so.

    When the Taliban return to Afghanistan in numbers and in power, the Muslim women in Afghanistan will once again be under the steel toed boots of the Taliban fanatics.

    April 16, 2010 at 6:01 pm | Report abuse |
  16. Ana

    God bless the people who has to make these choices...

    April 16, 2010 at 4:37 pm | Report abuse |
  17. william

    if the afghan gov. and the taliban come together the afghan people loose,, at some point it will be like vietnam, the north vietnamese lied all the way thu the peace talks and the south and u.s bought. then the commies took over, well the taliban will do likewise,
    then the gooverment will be like americas, restrictive, overbearing and almost intolerable,

    you seen where they arrested some militia member who will spend the rest of their live is prison, another term for re-education facility............think we put all kinds of people in them to rehabilitate them, some with more time than others for having anti-social behavior.

    isn't that hat the north vietnamese did to the south?

    April 16, 2010 at 3:33 pm | Report abuse |
  18. Eric

    The problem with Afghanistan is that there are serious players behind the scenes that do not want peace to happen.

    April 16, 2010 at 2:25 pm | Report abuse |
  19. Paul Indrome

    The problem is that polarization of the Afghan conflict and expansion of that polarization into a regional conflict is just so darn profitable! The $180 billion a year GWOT franchise is one of the largest corporations on earth right now.

    April 16, 2010 at 12:48 pm | Report abuse |
  20. michael

    hopefully, but it depends on the taliban leaders and those die hard supporters who want to force their views onto others

    April 16, 2010 at 12:39 pm | Report abuse |
  21. ZAB


    April 16, 2010 at 12:26 pm | Report abuse |
  22. Mario Berardelli, Montreal Canada

    I think it just to also add one thing as to the resolution of the American Civil War. The cost to the victims of this war extends to this day. The promise of equality was never kept and what part did that have on reconciliation with pictures of KKK parades going down the streets of Washington.
    The Taliban are one of those groups that will not reconcile with the moderate members of Islam. As to the Afghan people; what they want most after 30 years of war is peace and stability. That is why they went along with the Taliban takeover, but if we can show them the best chance for security is with the present set up then the battle will be won.

    April 16, 2010 at 12:07 pm | Report abuse |
  23. Nathanael [desert voice]

    It is an interesting article. There is no gain in hating. And there is certainly no gain in hating for ever. I believe with Gen. Lee and President Lincoln "in lenient surrender terms." And I am optimistic that, among the Taliban, there may be found some decent human beings and leaders. Said this, why can't we just turn the page, as if the past didn't exist? We did this with respect to the Confederates. We did this again with the Germans, the Japanese, and the Vietnamese. Even some Russians are signaling that they no longer hate us. This ability "to envision a future without warfare and perennial hate is crucial to world peace! Will the Taliban mesure up to such magnanimity? So far. from what I hear, "they won't even come to the jirga." It's understandable. And it's not the end of the world. But I would like and strongly encourage high ranking Islamic religious leaders' participation in the future May meeting. There must be some people they trust! And, by the way, is Omar is listening, you should also try to attend!

    April 16, 2010 at 11:58 am | Report abuse |
  24. Abuya

    The Taliban extremist behaviour is a result of governments in Afganistan, Pakistan allowing and encoreging fanatic Islamic shools to teach hate against the west for so long insted of taking full controll of what they teach.
    We could see same patern in around the Arab world until these schools produced fanatic terrorist that attacked these countries. Only then they took action.

    April 16, 2010 at 11:50 am | Report abuse |
  25. Abdulameer

    This discussion ignores the most important fact about the Taliban, namely, that they are fanatically religious Moslems who have Islamic theology (Koran, Muhammad and Sharia law) on their side. In order for them to give up their goals of turning Afghanistan into a thoroughly Sharia theocracy, they would have to abandon their religion. They won't do it.

    April 16, 2010 at 10:44 am | Report abuse |
  26. Ardijan

    It must be stated for the record that the conflict in Kosova was not based on religious differences. Although Kosova's ethnic Albanian majority are muslims, Albanian Catholics and Christians were also massacred at the hands of the Serbian forces of former Yugoslavia. Mass genocide against the Albanian's of Kosova was committed by the Serbs because of their underlying agenda for territorial expansion for a 'Greater Serbia.'

    April 16, 2010 at 9:48 am | Report abuse |
  27. edyfarid

    The bloodshed that happened in Afghanistan were consequence of part of the cold war which in the end had ended years ago.However this continued till this day as issue of gaining strength between factions persists from idea of unified nation with the assistance of another nation which these faction sees as some sort of jihad war against an enemy.This Taliban had for years contributed to delays of intervention from the United States thru suicide attacks and others against the States and its allies and further creating fear and deaths among its own kind just to defeat the very intention of the States to bring about peace and stability in Afghanistan.What these Taliban are doing is bring the States to exhaust its resources and thus leave the land so the States and its allies has to work with its counterparts there and further expediate all necessary steps to bring Afghanistan out of its hardship.So all the best to the American troops and its allies over there.

    April 16, 2010 at 9:28 am | Report abuse |
  28. Dan Lafayette,IN

    Yes I do believe that Afghanistan can look at the history of other nations civil wars to make amends and reconcile with each other, but the religious extremists must become more moderate and tolerate of others! There is no God that would allow his children to kill or maim anyone that does not follow His laws or commandments!

    April 16, 2010 at 9:01 am | Report abuse |
  29. Daniel

    This Shambley is no more no less a tool for the West.Now we're going to hear some more bla-bla-bla over why we can't get out of Afghanistan.If one want's history lessons,one only needs to look to Vietnam where Vietnamese nationalism won out over vastly superior fire power.Nationalism is a powerful force that the right-wing thugs in won't acknowledge and are most anxious to ignore and much of Europe"s history has been molded by it.

    April 16, 2010 at 8:14 am | Report abuse |