Monday, February 26, 2018


Johan Galtung’s view from Europe: Not War on Terrorism but Dialogue for Solutions

…West of whatever type, will you please stop invading us!

…And then: Afghanistan is not a Western unitary state with capital in Kabul, that is a Western illusion.  Afghanistan is a co-existence of 8 nations–7 of them also in neighboring countries–and 25,000 villages, very poor, very autonomous.  And invincible: there is no central point from which an invader can conquer the whole country.

Not War on Terrorism but Dialogue for Solutions

26 Feb 2018

#523 | Johan Galtung – TRANSCEND Media Service

I am sitting somewhere in Afghanistan. Across the table are three Taliban; Pashtuns like most Taliban.  My opening question is standard:  “What does the Afghanistan look like where you would like to live?” with some equally standard follow-up questions:  “What is the worst that happened to you?”, and “Was there a good period in the past?”

And they talk, and talk, and talk; it sounds like no Westerner ever asked them questions about what they think.  For them the answers were obvious, and they were very eager to explain the obvious:

And then: Afghanistan is not a Western unitary state with capital in Kabul, that is a Western illusion.  Afghanistan is a co-existence of 8 nations–7 of them also in neighboring countries–and 25,000 villages, very poor, very autonomous.  And invincible: there is no central point from which an invader can conquer the whole country. Maybe a loose federation with villages as the basic unit and a small capital; maybe a community with the neighbors in spirit, Islam and language; the economic priority being the positive, not punitive aspect of Sharia, basic needs for all, all nations, both genders.

And there we have made terrible mistakes, now learning from more advanced brothers and sisters in Muslim countries.  We are improving.

We are very violent so we need some peacekeeping by our more advanced brother and sister countries, Tunisia, Turkey, Indonesia.  And then, West of whatever type, will you please stop invading us! Nobody has defeated us, but it has cost us millions of lives–.

Yes, it was better before Durand and in the periods between the invasions.  What we need now is a coalition government, a loose federation, a community with the neighbors, basic needs priorities for all, peacekeeping by brothers and sisters.  The Afghanistan we want.

I remember myself during my first visit to Afghanistan January 1968 asking myself my standard question, what does this country remind me of?  The answer was, of course, Switzerland; not 8 nations, but 4 (one only Swiss); not 25,000 villages, but 2,300 local communities, a federation with no nations running the country alone, permanent coalition government, neutrality since taking a stand in favor of one or the other neighbor would tear Switzerland apart.  A Swiss model?

I am sitting in the office of David Kucinich before they managed to gerrymander the major peace spokesman out of the US Congress, with 8 of his fellow representatives: “Professor Galtung here is back from Afghanistan and talks with the Taliban; up came a possible solution”.

The reaction in the major “state terrorist” country in the world?

“Very interesting.  But we are elected representatives of the US people and they are not interested in solutions.  They have elected us for this, V for victory, then we will tell them what the solution is.”

I said that victory would elude the USA given their devotion, and unlimited time perspective as opposed to an “administration” or two; that retreat with honor leaving behind a regime to the US taste would also elude them; why not help with a federal constitution and Central Asian Community, becoming their friends?  Answer: not our mandate.      Me: then you are heading for something worse than defeat and retreat.  They:  What?  Me: Becoming irrelevant.  The ball is in other courts.

I am sitting in State Department asking my standard question: “What does the Afghanistan look like that you would like to see?”  And the answer, predictable since it is US world policy: “with democracy in the sense of fair and free multi-party national elections, and a free market”.  And an Afghanistan that cannot attack us–9/11.

I am sitting somewhere in Southeast Asia, in front of me are Al Qaeda.  Me:  “What does the world look like you would like to see?”

I am in Madrid at a Dialogue of Civilizations conference; in  front of me is Hamas with a tape-recording of Bush saying that God has chosen him to bring democracy to the Middle East. Bush?  A blasphemy.

I am sitting in an adjunct of Pentagon with a two-star general, charming and well informed:  it costs them US$10 to make an IED, a bomb–they can go on forever.  Our problem: no Plan B.

He was forbidden by a higher level from talking more with me.

A conference at a think tank in Washington.  An excellent talk by a State Department consultant on the history of Israel-Palestine-USA talks.  Question from the moderator: “And the solution?”  “No idea.”

So I am brought in to present the Transcend 1-2-6-20 plan–Palestine recognized also by Israel, with some Israeli cantons on the West bank and some Palestinian  cantons in Northwest Israel; cooperation between the two; inside a 6 state community of Israel with its five Arab neighbors; surrounded by an Organization for Security and Cooperation in West Asia, adding neighbors’ neighbors and some of their neighbors–about 20.  Silence.  No alternative Plan B.

Up come two State Department experts, the task of one being to disseminate US style democracy, of the other a federation.  The former got the I-culture/we-culture answer and in addition that you may need a federation first and then democracy in each part to prevent the most numerous nations from dominating all.  And for the latter: for a federation they must also identify something that binds them together, not only what divides them.  Maybe they want independence, ask them.

Conclusion I:  What the “terrorists” say is not unreasonable; what is unreasonable is not knowing what they say.  I know no case where there is not a basis for a reasonable–accepted, sustainable–solution.  The “state terrorists” in Washington seem so dedicated to military planning and execution that there is little time or manpower left for any Plan B; either nothing at all, or not thought through.  The insensitivity to cultural and structural factors is remarkable.

Conclusion II:  This has to change for the sake of all involved.

And all it takes is dialogues, preferably public, with all parties.

Let me now get into more detail on Afghanistan-Pakistan-USA. Washington, Carnegie Endowment, 18 April 2012:  Ladies and gentlemen, first, thanks to American Muslim Association Foundation for organizing a forum on this controversial topic in the heart of Washington!

You have given me the global perspective on this panel, taking into account much space and time; kind of einsteinian.  Seeing the world from above I sense five grand trends as a backdrop, a context, for the theme: the fall of the US empire; the de-development of the West; the decline of the state system to nationalisms from below and regionalisms from above; the rise of the Rest; and the rise of China.

And then, spiraling down toward the ground, we see those three actors and the countless sub-actors in deadly embraces, so well described by Ahmed Rashid in his Pakistan on the Brink: The Future of America, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.  Let us highlight some aspects.

We see a wound, a 1400 miles border dividing Pashtuns, today 50 millions, carved in 1893 by Durand–an English foreign secretary of “British India”–between the Empire, today Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Thus, Pashtuns crossing the line are not entering a “safe haven”, but are at home.  The “treaty” was in English, which Afghanistan’s emir did not understand.  Another signatory was sovereign Baluchistan, later invaded by and incorporated in Pakistan.  The Pashtuns were not included.

We sense the US reification of conventional world maps of states, like the two mentioned.  Yes, they have governments, more or less of, by and for the people, not only for 1 %, and they have more, or less or not at all failed states, presidents or prime ministers.  But they throw a veil over more important maps of nations, more informative today given the decline of the states.  And maps of civilizations, like Arabs, Muslim, Christians, Jews.  Not only Muslims have the dilemma of who am I, a citizen of a secular state member of the state system, or a believer in a faith, the ummah for the Muslims.

We sense Pakistan’s concerns: internal divisions among nations,  and the conflict with India, above all, but not only, over Kashmir.

We sense Afghanistan’s concerns: others invading, occupying, conquering, from Alexander the Great via the Mongols and three English invasions, one Soviet, and now USA-NATO in a US-lead coalition; with varying pretexts.  Like hiding the search for a base close to China (Bagram), and for oil from the Caspian to the Indian Ocean, under a pretext of 9/l1 coming from Afghanistan in general, and bin Laden in particular; without delivering any public proof of that assertion.

We sense the USA committing the same elementary mistake again and again: the enemy of my enemy is my friend; working well for some issues, but that friend may also have some other points on the agenda.  Use bin Laden to beat the Soviets, but maybe he is against secularism in general, not only the Soviet variety?  Use Pakistan to beat Islamists on their own ground, but maybe on top of their agenda is to beat India in having influence in Afghanistan, and hence protecting Pashtuns, Taliban, and housing the key enemy bin Laden?  Leading to a de facto war, the Pakistani secret service, ISI, taken by surprise(?) by Obama ordering a US SEAL extra-judicial execution on their lands.

And in the background Ali Bhutto’s Islamic bomb, adding to the evangelical, anglican, catholic-secular, orthodox, confucian, judaic and hindu bombs, competing for god-like omnipotence.  Israel’s goals, to eliminate that bomb, and stop one in Iran, become US goals.  The tail wagging the dog?  Partly, but even more important is how the two countries came into being, taking over somebody else’s land in the name of their faith, killing, pushing inhabitants into exile, or into reservations.  The much longer history of India can also be read in such terms.  Maybe a basis for the USA-Israel-India alliance in the area: if one of us falls so does the other, from illegitimacy?  Well, they are not the only ones, look at much of Latin America.

How about US-Pak relations?  Agendas that coincide only on some points and diverge wildly on others will drive them from one conflict to the next as they have for a decade or two.  But Afghanistan, and Pakistan in general and ISI and the Army in particular, also use the USA as a milking cow–Pakistan to the tune of $3 billion a year or so.

Some cow.  These are the meager, not the fat, cow years.  Milk is printed, comes as vouchers, old arms.  Not a lasting relation anyhow, and even less so in an Afghanistan where they have to create army and police for the milk transfer.  Not strange that the more or less willing partners and US civilians cooperate to have dialogues with the Taliban to get off the hook, the US military saying “give us only X years more and we’ll beat them”.  With drones and SEALs.

USA and NATO will withdraw and bones of the US empire will be buried on Afghan soil. Maybe NATO too.  That game offers no solution.

We are back to the grand trends of the opening: power moving to the south and the east, states yielding to federations and regions.  Pakistan can probably only survive as a federation with very much autonomy for the parts, and as part of a Central Asian community with eight Muslim neighbors including Afghanistan.  The more open the border the more will the Durand wound heal, not by Pakistan or Afghanistan yielding territory to the other, or as a new Pashtunistan. And that region will be more interested in good relations with China–already owner of enormous resources in Afghanistan–than with the USA.

And the USA?  Hopefully withdrawing before the war with Pakistan becomes hotter.  Into the same, the fate of the times: maybe into a North America region.  Or a USA-Israel Judeo-Christian civilization, with all the problems that will imply?  A true federation for WASPs and for dominated nations in the USA?  A conference with Pakistan to exchange experiences, compare notes from the period 2001-2012?

Where love is missing, separation may be better.  Even divorce.

*                           *                           *

In conclusion some words maybe guesses, about 9/11 2001.

The Arab/Wahhabite goal was probably justice, by executing two buildings in public space for alleged sins against Alla’h and lack of respect for Islam. The US goal was and is status quo, with free trade.  Even to talk about bridging the gap is today taboo.

And yet the key parties, let us call them Washington and Al Qaeda, not 1.4 billion Christians and 1.3 billion Muslims, will have to start doing exactly that, through dialogues, secret and public.  They cannot go on eliminating each other in the search for the elusive “roots” of the Evil on the other side that would make them victorious.  Wiser people on either side–probably some steps removed from the two over-focused, and very similar, top figures–Obama and Osama–may already have started feeling their way into dialogue processes.

“No attack on the USA in exchange for US military withdrawal from Muslim countries that so want” could serve as an example of a possible deal.  Another would be to explore the concept of “globalization-free zones”; like no US economic penetration in the Muslim ummah.

But the basic approach would be mutual exploration to identify the legitimate elements in such goals as “free trade” and “respect”.

Cultural violence stands massively in the way of positive structural peace and in the case of 9/11 2001 even in the way of negative direct peace, simple absence of violence.  In the case of 9/11 2001 the culture of violence goes beyond racial prejudice, bringing in such pre-modern, pre-Enlightenment Puritan and Wahhabite figures of thought as Chosenness, by God for Self and by Satan for Other, with visions of glory as God’s reward and trauma as punishment, and of the final battle, Armageddon, where whoever is not with us is against us.  Maybe one day Enlightenment will strike in both cultures.

And one day even reconciliation.

In the meantime let us drop the terms “terrorist” and “state terrorist”; as a beginning put them in [” “], quote unquote. Of course they stand for something: very often hitting defenseless people not in uniform, from the ground or the air.  People in uniform hitting each other, also known as inter-state wars, are dwindling with the state system, and also because the wars are too risky for the combatants, they prefer defenseless victims.  Up came the “terrorisms”.

However, more basic than their violent strategies of various kinds is something deeper: conflicts, contradictions between parties, incompatibilities.  Name the parties, identify their goals, explore incompatibilities and compatibilities for conflict and cooperation, and turn the former into the latter: through dialogues for solution.


Johan Galtung, a professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, is founder of TRANSCEND International and rector of TRANSCEND Peace University. Prof. Galtung has published more than 1500 articles and book chapters, over 500 Editorials for TRANSCEND Media Service, and more than 170 books on peace and related issues, of which more than 40 have been translated to other languages, including 50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives published by TRANSCEND University Press. More information about Prof. Galtung and all of his publications can be found at

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