Cultural Bridges – The Students taking “Back” Afghanistan

Taliban destroyed bridge

The Picture depicts a bridge destroyed by the Taliban in Afghanistan in the Kandahar province in March 2021 (taken from

The situation in Afghanistan is worthy of analysis from an Intercultural perspective, at least to learn something from it for the future, or even to add to the creation of a more compelling common future together.

Taliban in Pashto means Students (borrowed from the singular student in Arabic طالب) and the fundamentalist group was founded in the 1990s by Mullah Omar and his students that wanted to get rid of the corrupted and terrorizing Mujahideen warlords. Wikipedia has a lot of information on this, and it is worthy to give it a read. The main idea is that the Students (Taliban) grouped around an initial (accepted) positive purpose, under the welcoming and support of some western leaders that didn’t understand how the Cultural values work, and how they can backfire if fueled for secondary purposes, like fighting communism.

There are several things to observe currently:

  1. In the whole complexity, we need to find the most important thing to focus on, and in this article this most important thing will be the humans of Afghanistan, which are distributed in various groups (ethnicities, gender, national army or militia, supporting or not the Taliban values, etc). By being part of a particular group, a human in Afghanistan has more or less power to influence how things will evolve, so we have to accept that, and not assume that the western values of equality could or should apply. Not everything will be directly connected to these humans, but everything will be discussed keeping them in mind (versus, for example, complaining about how a superpower lost its edge in front of another superpower while sacrificing lots of Afghanis and their own people in the process – a disappointing article published on a very respectable news outlet).
  2. Seeing humans which hope that you have better chances of survival by holding on tight to the wheels of an US army plane that flies with 900 km/h (500 mph) at an altitude of 9000 m (31000 feet) could give us an idea of the terror some of the humans of Afghanistan expect to be unfolded upon them with the transition to the Taliban regime. In some cultures, betrayal, revenge and harsh punishment are still accepted as part of life and are not regulated in any way. One of the main focuses of some of the International bodies could be to convey an appealing alternative to this current states of affairs. An opposite extreme example of mild (or lack of) punishment would be the way the 2011 Breivik case was concluded in Norway, with which probably many humans even from the West do not agree. (It’s good to have glimpses into what’s possible out there.)
  3. We can accept that some of the Afghanis have embraced some of the western values, either because they truly believed in them, or because they needed to support their families, but most of them being conscious that by doing so they have “betrayed” some of the values of the Taliban. Basically, they have put their lives in the hands of a Western future, which is not compatible (yet) with the Afghan near past and unfolding present, and were heavily relying on Western support. It would be interesting to explore in which ways the Western support (or more correctly the International support) could continue for these humans and the ones around them in the current setup.
  4. The fact that the Taliban regrouped so fast, means two things: 1. that the Western presence was mostly operational there, missing the opportunity to be envisioning (maybe), and 2. that the values of the Taliban were much stronger and attractive for the young local men that decided to join their forces as soon as that was possible. We have to understand that the Taliban didn’t come from space. They are Afghanis (pashtuns or people from neighboring countries) that believe in the values the Taliban promote versus the (maybe confusing) values the West might have been promoting. We could accept that the humans that have decided to join the Taliban were living a hard life and found meaning for themselves in the Taliban fundamentalist doctrine, even beyond their own individual lives.
  5. The fact that the Afghan National Army capitulated so fast, points out to the fact that the humans working there didn’t believe in what they were doing (at the grassroot). It is a classic case of missing an envisioning, or of being confused by the messages that are sent by whoever is guiding the actions of the humans on the ground. Being open to bribes just reinforces their lack of commitment to their role.
  6. It would be a pity for the Afghanis (including the Taliban) to have jumped in the arms of yet another superpower that has other values fundamentally different from theirs, so, although we have to keep that possibility in mind, for now we’ll focus on the Afghanis’ optimistic options for a positive evolution in a complex world with many competing opposite values.
  7. From an intercultural point of view, China’s (expected) pragmatism to accept the new regime so promptly could be a good lesson about their capacity to accept the existence of different (and even opposite) worlds on the same Earth. This is an opportunity for some of the Western countries that believe that we should all strive to be the same and operate in the same manner, which is unlikely in the next 100 years.
  8. In the light of this, we could accept that the concept of “Democracy” is not attracting or energizing anymore many humans around the world. Although Democracy is the system that provides the most fairness towards the majority of the people when it works (and by all means it should be persued by any society), because of the fact that it was used in various countries to drive personal business on the expense of the evolution of the country, the concept is less likely to attract humans in groups to support various transitions. It is not the foreigners that have abused the Democracy paradigm the most, it is the locals that came to power that did so by interpreting “Democracy” with their local mentality as being their turn and their right to get rich and famous this time.
  9. Understanding how Cultural transformation works, it is reasonable to estimate that the freshly ousted regime of Afghanistan might have been involved as well in corrupted activities. It happens in countries that have closer values to the West and have spent more time moving towards the “rule of law”, so it would be naïve to think that it didn’t happen in Afghanistan.
  10. Another thing that we should expect (maybe) is the fact that the presence in Afghanistan of all the international organizations with all of their professionals from various cultures, might have inspired the local humans that joined the Taliban to adopt some of the commonly accepted values regarding human rights, and maybe made them give up some of their past extreme tendencies (the punishments, the retaliations, the genocides, etc). The PR team of the Taliban and their diplomatic appearance in the past days is a sign that they might be open to a different type of dialogue. It would be a pity (regarding the humans of Afghanistan) for the international community to miss this diplomatic opportunity. However, we still have to keep in mind Myanmar and Aung San Suu Kyi’s promissing impact on her country, although the cultures are very different with different perceptions of the Truth and Honesty.
  11. We also have to keep in mind the current Taliban destruction of some of the infrastructure built with foreign money that points out to some despise towards some of the values and practices coming from the West.
  12. One thing maybe is clear now: with war you don’t change fundamental values, you only reinforce them and increase the abyss between the two worlds. It is (for some time now) an open homework for the international community to find a better way to react to various genocides that are happening in various parts of the world in cultures that value more other things than the human life, so we could focus some energy and expertise into finding a set of solutions for this challenge.
  13. I am using the term “Western values”, but from an Afghan point of view (or any hierarchical point of view, for that matter) it would be important to understand that the countries bundled in the concept of “West” are very different between each other, hence the confusing values sometimes. Are we talking about Dutch values? Scandinavian values? British values? French values? American values? They are all different, but we need to appreciate the way they have managed to reach a state of “living together” with all of their differences.
  14. We also have to accept that the Sharia law (شريعة) is sacred for around 1.8 billion humans and it was created with the best intentions for the way the world was operating at that point in time, and like any law it can be interpreted in several ways. It is الله (God) that allowed the evolution of the world all the way to this present point so it would be interesting to understand why an interpretation should be favored by الله (God), to the extreme detriment of some groups of humans. I understand that from a secular point of view this question might be disengaging, but for the sake of the humans from Afghanistan it is worthy to explore it together.
  15. As well, for some humans, especially from the West, it might be disengaging the fact that in this article there is little being said about the genocides and terror the past Taliban regime has unfolded upon their own people, but as I’ve mentioned in the begining, the main purpose is finding solutions for the currently living humans in Afghanistan, hence, expressing concern should fall in the attributes of a Diplomat, and not of an Expert Practitioner on Cultural Differences. In this whole complexity, it is easier to take a constructive point of view, if you are a professional that is not part of any superpower and can see things from a human point of view or from a small country’s point of view that is searching for its meaningful existence in this complex world.
  16. Coming back to a previously mentioned idea, it is doubtful that all of the Cultures in the world will merge in the next 100 years, or even beyond that, and that is not a bad thing. There are societies that have accepted their internal differences between their various groups of humans, moved beyond them and have developed the concept of “living together”, so that could be our inspiration.
  17. Basically, we have two options: either we focus our energies, expertise and collective creative powers to evolve and learn to “live together” or we perfect the art of killing each other in mass. Maybe now it is clearer why in the title “Back” is as it is: the Taliban have the opportunity to regress the progress Afghanistan might have registered in the past 10 years, or to make it a country of their own for all of the humans inside Afghanistan.

The real Expertise on Cultural Differences is the most useful when the situation is unclear, vague, and under pressure, because an expert can give you practical variants to proceed further (versus the traditional use of InterCultural knowledge to explain past events through a particular framework). The more details are available, the more precise the variants to proceed further can be offered by the expert on the fundamental Differences between Cultures.

If anything in this article might have been offensive to any of the readers, it is most likely because of my writing style, and less likely because of the individual cultural education of the reader, but I am open and willing to respond to any of these comments or concerns.

Imagine a world in which the Taliban and the Human Rights Watch shake hands and both sides are genuinely happy!

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