Afghanistan: To Soothe the Militant Mind

Among the many unlikely elements in a Wall Street Journal article yesterday (October 26):

Vice Adm. Robert Harward, a U.S. Navy SEAL and yoga practitioner who until recently. … headed Task Force 435, a coalition unit that oversees detention facilities housing Afghan insurgents, including the major center at Bagram.

Yoga and Bagram? That’s enough to induce a bad case of cognitive dissonance. Also unusual is the heights of cleverness that the Wall Street Journal attained with the title for the article by Don Nissenbaum: For This Yogi, Afghan Peace Plan Needs More Downward Dog.

But most unlikely is the central story itself. Former “super model” Cameron Alborzian, who is now an “enlightened guide who would come to your home and serve as a live-in guru reportedly for up to $30,000 per week”

… sat down with Maj. Gen. Phil Jones at the U.S.-led coalition headquarters in Kabul this past summer to discuss a novel way to persuade Afghan insurgents to lay down arms. … Mr. Alborzian presented a bold plan to the British general who oversaw the coalition’s effort to lure Taliban fighters from the battlefield: Afghan militants should join Western troops in meditation and yoga, embracing a new spirit of brotherly unity.

With considerably less cleverness than the title of the piece, Nissenbaum writes that Alborzian’s “message of peace may seem kooky.”

But it has been persuasive enough to get meetings for Mr. Alborzian and his project’s Kabul-based representative with senior coalition officers, Afghan ministers and even a onetime insurgent leader. The project also won a sympathetic hearing from Vice Adm. Robert Harward. … And it has opened doors at Afghan prisons, where [Alborzian and his Kabul-based representative] have taught guards at detention centers to do basic, nonreligious Ayurvedic yoga poses. The pair say they have secretly taught a former Taliban commander how to meditate and soothe his militant mind.

After pointing out that to some Muslims this pollutes Islam with Hindu practices, Nissenbaum presents yet more qualified approval of Alborzian’s plan in an article that, despite its platform, is generally complimentary. Apparently states are beginning to realize that convening representatives of religions such as Christianity, Judaism, and Islam can pave the way for détente among warring factions. Canada has been at the forefront of this (hope to post on this as I accumulate more information).

Meanwhile, as we see often in business, it’s often those who are constitutionally unable of focusing on the downside — men and women of all ages who are eternally hopeful to the point of naivete or in denial that they’ll be denied — who succeed with their dreams. His status as a $30,000-a-week yogi coach to the stars aside, more power to Cameron Alborzian and those assisting him.