Sheesha: Doctor. You are one of those thinkers who proposed the theory of nonviolence and civil struggle based on the nonviolence approach. Your behavior, both intellectually and in terms of dealing with Afghanistan’s issues, was inspired by your theory. Do you think that this theory has a place in the context of Afghan society? I want to seek your views on this approach as one of the means that will solve the urgent and immediate pains and sufferings of the people. For example, will it end poverty, oppression, tyranny, and pressure from the people? We are facing a system that has robbed people of their fundamental rights such as security, welfare, and happiness. Thus, it is necessary to get rid of this tyrannical rule. Where do you think your theory of nonviolence finds its concrete examples for adopting approaches in the context of Afghan society? What should we do? How does the idea of nonviolence save us from falling into the cycle of continuous violence? How can this theory save us from the evil of Talib as a regime that is absolute evil? Where is the starting point that can both end this situation and create hope for the people that they are finally moving forward?
Ahmadi: Well, I have to say one more Bismillah here. In the name of Allah, the compassionate, the merciful. I want to tell you that spirituality is the basis for the nonviolence struggle. Until spirituality flows in the soul of the society, the nonviolence struggle will not work either. We get our spirituality from Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim. We believe in this, and we have this opinion.
The struggle for nonviolence is based on a philosophical theory about peace, human nature, and the world’s reality. It is hard to believe in nonviolence until a person strengthens that view in himself. The theorists of peace and nonviolence claim that world politicians, including countries based on liberal democracy, do not believe in their opinions.
The theory of war governs the current world. You see the war in Ukraine. It is based on the war theory that they determine their mutual relationships. They say that their rival fights, so they have to preempt. They say that so and so countries have such an intention; We must do so. Hence, the world revolves based on the theory of war and violence, not the theory of peace. Peace is on the edge of the issues. The idea of peace is on the sidelines, not in the text.
Those who support the theory of peace and nonviolence believe that if we give importance to this theory and make it the basis of our national, regional, and international policies, there is no need for war. Nations can defend themselves without war. For example, maybe there is a wrong person like Putin for whom no value is significant except power and power-seeking. Someone like Hitler may exist. But the solution to Hitler, Putin, and the like is not war. You can defend yourself in the best way with nonviolent social resistance. For example, in World War II, because India was under British rule, there was a fear that Japan would attack and conquer India. Gandhi said he would not have fought with Japan if India had been free. If Japan would come and invade India, I would wipe them out within a few days with civil disobedience and insubordination. With civil disobedience, and with not cooperation. The words of the civil struggle without violence are these two words: civil disobedience and non-cooperation. This theory is based on the fact that political power arises from people’s obedience and cooperation, even if this obedience and cooperation are through force. Political power originates from cooperation and obedience. Although people do not accept this power in their minds and psyche, the obedience and cooperation that people are forced to do manifest the reality of political power in a physical form. Thus, in all the techniques and methods pursued by nonviolent civil struggle, the endeavor is to destroy public obedience and cooperation. There is no government when public obedience and cooperation are non-existent.
Many scholars have studied and investigated the techniques of nonviolent struggle. According to some researchers, these techniques reach more than two hundred, a holistic course of knowledge requiring comprehensive study.
The tools and techniques of nonviolence may vary from one society to another. Some techniques might work in a specific context, while in another context, some other. We understand only two items from all these techniques: one is the demonstration, and the other is the strike. That is all. The Taliban, who have been fighting for the past twenty years, did not fight with only military approaches. A large part of their struggle was forms of disobedience and non-cooperation. The Taliban considered the road built in an area as a secular phenomenon. In their view, roads were considered the spread of secularism in Afghanistan. That is why they tried to destroy the asphalted roads and ban using them by the public. For example, they say a Taliban supporter traveled with his tractor when he reached the asphalted road. He saw the road. Since the use of the road was considered a form of cooperation with the government, it was a form of government approval. He threw dirt on the road and crossed it with his tractor. That is, he crossed over the dirt, not over the paved road. We used to say that the Taliban were against the development. It might be correct, but the Taliban interpreted their opposition not to give legitimacy to the government. They did not want to cooperate. You see that these techniques can be both practical and effective.
Another crucial point in nonviolent struggle is that in this method, we never create hatred and do not seek to eliminate anyone, including the Taliban. This way, we do not humiliate, insult, or dehumanize anyone, which paves the way for a new social contract. When your opponent cannot force his will on you, he will come respectfully and stand by your side, and you will sign a new social contract together. You should always leave this field open in the nonviolent civil struggle. These are fundamental techniques that we do not produce hate and do not seek to eliminate others. This way, you respect everyone, maintain everyone’s dignity and dehumanize no one, which is an essential custom in this type of struggle. In a nonviolence struggle, your opposite party does not feel left out, suppressed, or marginalized. If such a feeling is produced in him, fear will arise, and with the emergence of fear, he will fight and resist you until the last point.
Toynbee, the famous English historian, is quoted as saying that Gandhi did two things that succeeded: first, he made impossible for Britain to ruling on India. How do you rule when you face disobedience and absolute non-cooperation? Government is no longer possible in that situation. Second, it paved the way for England’s respectful withdrawal from India. That is, England was able to leave India without feeling ashamed and defeated. These two deeds of Gandhi brought about the victory of India and the movement he led. Then we see that when England left India, they became two nations united and cooperating. This act requires art.
Sheesha: Your point is correct. As a combative approach, you show more of the negative side of the movement: nonviolence, don’ts, and that we shouldn’t do certain things and shouldn’t produce hate. That is good. But what to do on the positive side of the struggle? For example, what should we do?
Ahmadi: Its positive aspect is also evident. You use techniques that have two results: first, it destroys cooperation, and second, it destroys obedience. When obedience and cooperation are lost, political power collops.
Sheesha: We had an axis for the struggle of nonviolence and its success in India’s experience, which was Gandhi. Gandhi became the spiritual center for the people of India and the Congress party, and this spiritual center created social cohesion. Society tends towards this approach in a coherent way and makes it practical. If you want to create a model of nonviolent struggle in Afghanistan, would it be good to tell us where we should start so that the people admit it in the streets, alleys, villages, and homes of Afghanistan? I am pointing at the positive side of the struggle.
Ahmadi: Of course, we need to teach nonviolent civil struggle techniques and methods. That means, first of all, we should train special people in more limited and focused spaces. The second point is that the tools and techniques of civil resistance are free from violence, and we should not be limited to specific examples. Right now, the people of Afghanistan need to preserve education for girls under any circumstances. Continuing education for girls is one of the methods and tools of nonviolent civil resistance.
Another point is that you should always have an alternative option in a nonviolent civil struggle. Destruction alone is not enough. When you tell people to do this and not to do that, you ask them not to give legitimacy to the government. However, it would be best if you also had a constructive plan to propose. You should have a program that will improve people’s economy, people’s education, and people’s daily life. We must have clear plans in these fields.
There are international resources for constructive programs in Afghanistan. The Civil Society of Afghanistan should be the platform for using these resources.
In short, constructive programs are very important and must exist at different levels: programs must be undertaken in the health, education, and economy sectors to empower people. When you want to paralyze the official device, you must have an alternative program. Of course, these are techniques that require more serious and concentrated discourses. It may not be possible to say many things in public discourse. There are many techniques. People use some of these techniques in their daily actions. In Afghanistan, many people in the cities have not given cultural legitimacy to the Taliban. They have expanded and protected the private sphere of their lives and have not allowed the Taliban’s wishes and thoughts into their personal and private lives, which is a kind of nonviolent resistance. These patterns will expand and become general and public by non- violence resistance.
We see signs of conscious or unconscious resistance in Afghanistan’s society in during last year. In some cases, these methods have been successful. For example, the use of social media has forced the Taliban to react in many cases. For example, they denied some of their positions and said that they had not said so. It has happened many times that a Taliban official has said a word. After the collective reaction on social media, the Taliban spokesperson denied it and said it was just a recommendation. All of these have an effect. It is not as if Afghanistan is a place where these methods have no effect. We need research on all the civil struggles in Afghanistan since last year to measure its impact, which might be more than many wars.
Sheesha: Doctor, I want to seek your view about a dominant approach in Afghanistan: the military approach. Due to the brutal violence of the Taliban, we can see that some people and social groups in Afghanistan have adopted the military strategy, once again, as a popular option. In your opinion, what cost does the military option visibly and concretely impose on the people, which is irreparable, and what damage does it do to the perspective of our desires and goals and make this perspective sterile? For example, suppose the military option helps us reach specific goals in five years; then, the result will still be counterproductive, and we will experience a cycle of reproduction of violence in another form. The approach to nonviolence and nonviolent civil struggle that you emphasize focuses on the core element of making a new social contract possible. How do you analyze the actual and prospective costs of the military approach?
Ahmadi: I think a person becomes desperate when he is under pressure. Then, the easiest choice is the military option which exerts force and physical means. One might think that the military option is challenging and requires more courage. I believe this is not the case. The military option requires less courage than the nonviolent civil struggle. You have to be very brave to assume the choice of nonviolent civil struggle. You must have the will to sacrifice at a very high level.
In contrast, the military struggle is straightforward and does not require so much courage. You pick up a gun and take a trench in a corner. It’s fifty-fifty: either you get killed, or you kill. Then you will own your home and wealth; instead of, for example, one car, you will earn caravans of vehicles.
As I mentioned earlier, another point is that if the Afghanistan’s people turn to violence, the possibility of violence spreading is very high, and the Taliban cannot control it. Let’s also remember that the Taliban cannot contain the violence that will become common again. Of course, the Taliban severely suppress their opponents, and they have a justification for their suppression too. But it will not be an effective alternative. This repression will be limited because the means of repression at the Taliban’s disposal are feeble. They do not have the power to provide an equipped army regarding finances and facilities. So Afghanistan is going towards collapse again. If it collapses, reunifying Afghanistan under the umbrella of a government system, a political structure that everyone would feel satisfied with, will be hard and far-reaching.
According to the scientific research that has been done, the possibility of winning the war is much less than the chance of winning the civil struggle based on non-violence. The result of this research shows that from 1999 to 2006 non-violent resistance had 70 percent success and war and violence only about 13 percent; from 1990 to 1999 non-violent resistance was more than 50 percent successful, while violent resistance 25 percent; from 1980 to 1989 non-violent resistance 53 percent and war and violence 38 percent; from 1970 to 1979 non-violent resistance 68 percent, war and violence 38 percent; from 1960 to 1969, non-violent resistance was 42 percent, war and violence was 22 percent; from 1950 to 1959, non-violent resistance was 33 percent, war and violence was 35 percent; from 1940 to 1949, non-violent resistance was 40 percent, war and violence was 32 percent.
This research was conducted by Ms. Erica Chenoweth in collaboration with Maria J. Stephan and was published by Columbia University. The title of their book, is “Why Civil Resistance works?”
In the context of Afghanistan’s society, I said that the Taliban could not contain violence. Afghanistan may collapse, which is not a success. The result is not a democratic, pro-civil, and human rights system. In the system caused by the war, those who have fought well have the superior power, not the ordinary people and all the individuals of Afghanistan. Research has also shown that achieving democracy through the war was perhaps fifteen to twenty percent, but it rises to more than seventy percent through nonviolent resistance.
Regarding the fact that there is a strong relationship between nonviolent resistance and achieving democracy, Jonathan Pinckney’s research is the reference for my words. In this research, he has shown that in 78 cases of nonviolent resistance that led to a change of power, at least 60 led to establishing a democratic system based on free elections. According to this research, since 1945, nonviolent resistance has 80% led to the democratic transfer of power, while only 20% by war. The title of the research published by Mr. Jonathan is: When civil resistance succeeds in building democracy after the nonviolent popular uprising.
Sheesha: Another popular option in Afghanistan has been the ethnic approach to politics. It is an ethnic approach that usually determines political fronts, political groupings, and political positions. In Afghanistan, since the Taliban represent the most naked form of a monopoly of ethnic power, they have also justified and incited ethnic politics on the other side. What is your assessment of ethnic politics as a traditional and old option within the society that has turned it into ghettos and taken it to pre-civilized polarizations? How do you measure ethnic politics in your specific context in the nonviolent civil struggle as a new theory? How can you put it together for a more significant effort to freedom and civility? How can you suggest that we go beyond ethnic politics? Or how can we consider the ethnic realities in the society to include some traces of civil approaches in politics and ethnic polarization? And how can we assess the realization of this theory possible in the context of ethnic politics?
Ahmadi: In this part, I will mention a historical experience before addressing the issue. The historical background that Pashtuns have in the field of nonviolent civil struggle is a very successful example. After Gandhi, the experience created by Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan in the history of the Indian subcontinent was the most successful. This experience has been very significant in peace research. Many books have been written about Khan Abdul Ghafar Khan. The ethics and character of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan were also highly distinguished and unique. Abdul Ghaffar Khan’s success lies in a society where tribal violence and Pashtun zeal are the first words. He made these people patient, tolerant, and enduring folks. He trained those who did voluntary work and carried out constructive programs whose number reached eighty thousand members called Khudai Khidmatgar (literally “servants of God”). All of them did voluntary and constructive work. Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan contained and moderated their violence and tribal zeal. They say that a policeman once whipped a Pashtun. All his body, from the back of his neck to his wrist, was scarred entirely. The Pashtun was patient saying nothing, his body covered with the mark of the whip. This Pashtun man comes to the office of a Servants of God, lifts his shirt, and says, “Have you seen throughout the history a Pashtun get whipped and bear it and not say anything?” This story shows a high capacity in the Pashtun community.
I have repeatedly said if, the negative capacity in violets people is very high, then when it revers to positive force, become very strong and effective. Therefore, Afghanistan has this capacity and experience in civil struggle without violence, in and we should give this historical experience serious attention.
Another point is that we have something called ethnicity. There is ethnic diversity in Afghanistan, and there is also a feeling of deprivation based on ethnicity politics. One can say that ethnicity forms the basis of Afghanistan’s conflict due to the nationalistic policy called postcolonial nationalistic strategy. In many postcolonial countries, the idea of government and governance lies in the centrality of an ethnic community. In Afghanistan and many postcolonial countries, the concept of the state has been formed based on one ethnic community. One ethnic community has become the owner of power, the owner of politics, the owner of culture, and the owner of the history.
In contrast, other ethnic groups have been considered the satellites. As if there is a supreme ethnic group and others revolve around the axis of this one, and they have to live on the edge of this group’s power, make decisions based on its will and finally have a small share in some of the affairs. This concept is the basis of nationalism in many postcolonial countries.
According to Mr. Edward Azar American-Lebanese thinker, this type of nationalism has formed the social basis of the power conflict in Lebanon and many countries in the Middle East, including Afghanistan. Therefore, we must recognize this fact. We must acknowledge this fact at the level of our elite discourses. The ethnics demand equal rights. In this context, we can refer to Johan Galton’s point of view, who believes that Afghanistan consists of six or four nations. He believes that we have 2000 nation in the world but 200 governments. It means that one government controls ten nation on average, which is unnatural and has been the source of conflicts. He mentions Afghanistan specifically and says that Afghanistan’s conflict also rooted in this reality. So Afghanistan elites must accept and pay attention to this fact.
Pay attention that you can never solve the problem of Afghanistan by making an ideology out of ethnicity, race, and religion. We need a unifying doctrine for nonviolent civil struggle. This doctrine is the ideology of equality, freedom, and justice. With this ideology, we must solve the problems of identity, ethnicity, language, culture, the way the government forms, and all such issues. Among other topics, we should discuss whether Afghanistan can be a federation. According to Galton, the best solution for Afghanistan is the Federation. He says that Afghanistan is like Switzerland. It is no different from Switzerland, and Switzerland’s answer is also Afghanistan’s solution. These are ideologies, justice-oriented ideologies.
We must accept these realities and change our political culture and our views. We should respectfully abandon the official idea that has existed so far so that all the elites of Afghanistan agree upon a new theory and ideology that is unifying. This view creates a solution and resolves the conflict. We must adopt a civil, peaceful, humanitarian, and patriotic approach.