When American college students study abroad, they’re given an orientation before departure to help understand the culture and religion of the country they’re visiting.
That same was not done 16 years ago when troops were sent to Afghanistan.
Quoting then-Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn from an interview in 2013, Alam Payind said, “We are no more than a fingernail deep in our understanding of the environment of Afghanistan.”
“This is not very good,” said Payind, causing his audience to laugh.
Payind, director of the Middle East Studies Center at Ohio State University, spoke at the Great Decisions series on Friday. Flynn, now retired from the Army, was fired Feb. 13 as President Donald Trump’s national security adviser after less than a month in office.
Payind’s talk, “Prospects for Afghanistan and Pakistan,” was broken into two parts: The history, political conflict and migration of the two countries and their neighbors; the second half focused on the current situation in the region.
“If the United States is not changing course in Afghanistan, the United States will be in the list of those who did not succeed in Afghanistan … from Alexander the Great, to Russians,” said Payind. “It is both politics and art.”
Payind was born, raised and educated in Afghanistan and has done almost 38 years of research on it and Pakistan. He travels to the area regularly.
During his talk, he showed a political map of Pakistan, Afghanistan and neighboring countries. He explained the ethnography of the region and talked about the diverse identities that make up those nations. Afghanistan is 85 percent Sunni Muslims and about 15 percent Shia. Pakistan also has a Sunni majority.
In 1979, two important developments happened: The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan and Iranians revolted. The Iranians held 52 American diplomats for 444 days, fueling animosity between Iran and America. The Soviet Union made a big mistake, according to Payind, because historically Afghanistan is not used to being colonized.
“It was just extremely difficult to capture Afghanistan,” he said.
Therese Spaulding, a Delaware resident, said, “The frustration for me is how much damage corporations have done in this entire situation over the years … and how Americans are not very educated of what’s happening. I just really appreciated (Payind’s) honesty about really how devastated these areas are and how our ignorance has played a role,” she said.
Payind surprised the audience when he said the ongoing war in Afghanistan is longer than the American Revolution, the Civil War, the Vietnam War and World War I and II, combined. Some audience members gasped; a few sighed in disbelief.
Payind said terrorist organizations such as the al-Qaida, Taliban and ISIS thrive on weak states; and military invasion is not the solution to the Afghanistan problem.
The last program in this year’s Great Decisions series is April 7, when Michael Houlahan, a retired foreign service officer, will discuss U.S. foreign policy and petroleum.