I had just arrived in Afghanistan with my Tactical MISO Detachment in Herat City and my predecessor was showing me around. We were out with our Provincial Adviser Team (PAT) at a Taliban Reconciliation Ceremony. So my replacement, Ethan, and I showed up with our interpreter at the ceremony to find ourselves and our PAT (a lone Lieutenant Colonel) in a large room amongst nothing but a few Afghan Policemen and about 250 former Taliban. The rest of our Detachment was pulling security. The awkwardness in the room was palpable. Most of the former Taliban had never been this close to an American. They ranged from ages 15 to 60.
We took our seats and the ceremony began. The governor of Herat Province began with a speech about strength through unity and peace, and as he spoke I saw many of the younger men looking and whispering in our direction. They kept trying to mean-mug us. We just ignored it and listened to the speech, or our interpreter’s rendition of it. As the governor wrapped up another man got up to speak. He was some sort of adviser to the governor and he had a Powerpoint presentation to deliver.
The Powerpoint was the driest, most devoid of life presentation I’ve been witness to. It was terrible. Most of the former Taliban grandfathers were asleep. The younger ones, though, kept rolling their eyes. One of them looked our way and I rolled my eyes back. He thought that was the funniest thing he’d ever seen so he started pretending to sleep, so I did the same thing. Then I asked my interpreter to write “Boring” in Pashto on my notebook but when I showed it to them they shook their head and I then realized they couldn’t read. So they kept making faces and telling their friends to get in on the joke.
After the ceremony was over we all went our separate ways. We went and spoke with the Governor and Police Chief and Elders who were helping with the Reintegration, and the kids went with their fathers and grandfathers back to the refreshments tables. But I believe that most people are just people. Demonizing one another doesn’t contribute to anything lasting or effective. It dehumanizes us and makes us into monsters, and when you treat someone like a monster they’re more likely to behave that way. At the same time I believe there is real evil in this world, but most of us are just people who, if they’re on the wrong side, just got duped into it. But we can connect; at least we all hate Powerpoint.