Welcome back to Lacking Credentials, and happy 4th of July (one week late) to all of my mysterious and unknown American readership. I feel this day commemorating your nation's independence from Britain 335 years ago is an appropriate one to comment on the "pullout" of 20,000 out of your 130,000 soldiers from Afghanistan. My country, Canada, has just removed its 2,500-strong force from Kandahar after almost 10 years of maintaining a military presence in Afghanistan.
Unfortunately, up here, I have been able to obtain little analysis and few articles pertaining to this very significant event, because this is the week the world's two favourite twentysomethings who have accomplished nothing in their lives besides being born and getting married, Prince William and Kate Middleton, have decided to parade around Canada. The media in this country have chosen to fulfill their sacred duty of protecting the public interest by minutely scrutinizing every pathetic photo-op and public wack-off session these two professional smiling faces have placed in their itinerary. I don't need waste any more type on that, let alone a whole blog posting, and will content myself to leave it at the four words I know are on most peoples' minds: WHO the F*&K CARES?!
Since the media cannot be relied upon to communicate to us the goals and purpose of the critically important Afghan mission (other than transmitting meaningless anecdotes from North American politicians about "staying the course" and the "bravery of our troops"), one wanting to learn more about the country where North America's two armies have decided to spend 10 years and untold billions has had to seek out information through books. I have had the good fortune during the past year of reading two excellent ones to acquaint myself with Afghanistan, and recommend that you do the same if you have the oppurtunity. Rory Stewart's The Places in Between is a great initiation for a Westerner to this country to a by a guy who literally walked all the way across it, and was familiar enough with local languages to not be completely stunned by the whole experience. And Ahmed Rashid's Taliban is a painstakingly researched and fantastically written account of the Taliban's rise to power during the period of 1990-2000, which is essential to understanding why the west has been embroiled in this latest ten year conflict in a country that has been a mess for the past thirty.
As a person who is generally opposed to war, conquest, and colonialism, I can tell you that the Taliban are honest to god dirtbags who are worthy of being wiped out if there ever were any. These guys, Pashtun villagers with no education or literacy skills to speak of all, spent time and money on such worthy initiatives as dynamiting lakes to kill all the fish in them and blowing up 1,500 year old Buddha statues while other Afghans starved to death. The Taliban didn't really care about those who suffered, because those starving were Hazaras, a rival ethnic group. In fact, the Taliban went into all non-Pashtun areas Afghanistan, including the Tajik-populated west, the Uzbek-populated north, and the Hazarajat in the mountains and the centre, and slaughtered thousands. They stood in cities (Herat, Mazar-e-Sharif) where they had never been and whose languages they did not speak and ordered women to remain indoors with the windows blackened. These cities had never had such customs in their millenia of existence. Worse, the Taliban had taken over the burgeoning drug trade and now had more money and resources than ever to make people lives miserable with this boneheaded bullshit. And where did the money for the toyota pickups and AK47s used by the Taliban come before the drug trade? From America's gas pumps (via the Saudis) and from America'a government (via the CIA via Pakistan's government).
If you see the film Charlie Wilson's War, starring Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts, you can enjoy an entertaining dramatization of how, in the mid -980s a charismatic democratic congressman from Texas managed to appropriate what was supposed to be a few million dollars for anti-aircraft firepower in covert aid to the Afghans in the war against the Soviets. He used his testimony and influence to turn this into a multi-billion dollar finagling of military aid. As with most cold war narratives, it has a happy ending at the point in history it stops at; as we all know, history trudges mercilessly on, and this military hardware lies strewn all over Afghanistan today and is used by the Taliban, many of whom themselves are issued out of the anticommunist guerrillas that received US military training.
In the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan, where there is little government, law enforcement, or social services to speak of, Pashtun villagers (yes, the same fiercely conservative Sunni muslim ethnic group that the Taliban are issued from - the border with Pakistan is an arbitrary creation of some unknown picked alcoholic British military man grunting in his office chair fifty or sixty years ago, and has nothing to do with ethnicity, history or geography) operate a network of 9,000 madrassa schools. Here, young schoolboys (who are plentiful in this backward region of sky high birthrates) learn such valuable life skills as hatred of Westerners (who are depraved, bloodthirsty perverts), militarism, and how to subjugate women, who occupy the space between snails and carpenter ants on the evolutionary totem pole of this branch of Islam. When these boys come of age, they become a new batallion of...Taliban fighters! Since the name Taliban actually means "students", they are one group of people on Earth we can say are truly dedicated to lifelong learning!
All kidding aside, this is why thousands of elite Western troops with the latest and greatest military hardware cannot kick this quagmire's ass to an end. When NATO or US CENTCOM brag about killing 2,500 Taliban in a weekend, Mullah Omar (the too-shy-to-be-photographed leader of the Taliban) picks up the phone, dials Peshawar, and approves the waiving of the remaining madrassa curriculum for that year (bashing your third wife's face in for menstruating 101, fundamentals of balancing opium shipments and bribes) to freshen up his manpower reserves. Why can't they just fire a couple of heat-seeking, cruise guided missiles into this guy's house in Kandahar, a city he has after all only left once in his life, and end this thing that way? I don't know. Your guess is as good as mine.
What I do know is that, as sorry as I feel for the poor, impoverished, hungry, illiterate people of the nation of Afghanistan, is as sorry as a death it is for a Canadian soldier to die from some cheap plastic explosives at the side of the road in Kandahar. This mission, which has been sold variously as "helping little girls go to school" and "winning hearts and minds", is actually the propping up a pathetic and corrupt (and Pashtun dominated) Hamid Karzai government in Kabul that has no authority outside of that city, while fighting a vicious and unending stalemate with the Taliban. Insolvent Western nations, naive and ignorant pacifists and "pur et dur" asshole colonist hawks all agree, for different reasons, on one thing: this cannot go on much longer. If the Taliban take over the country again, the 55% of non-Pashtun Afghans (and hopefully, a sizeable chunk of reasonable Pashtuns) will have to get over their differences and defeat them themselves. It almost happened in the 90s, and it would have happened had it not been for the pettiness and miserly backstabbing of the Uzbek, Tajik and Hazara military leaders who refused to cooperate for their peoples's common best interest because of old ethnic, religious baggage or whatever. This is why, as much as I don't want to wish the Taliban on anybody, Afghanistan needs to grow up and crush the Taliban itself (I'd like to say peacefully, but I'm pretty sure the Taliban with all their acid in people's face throwin and public execution havin ways, don't do peaceful). The West, for sad and murky reasons, was not able to accomplish this objective for them. It is similar to the situation with Israel, who I am no apologist for. But to the Arab states surrounding it that bitch about it non stop and cry for its imminent demise, I say - You guys surrounded a small nation for three decades, who you outmanned, outgunned, and out-experienced at a ratio somewhere between 10 and 30 to 1. Yet you guys lost, mainly because of your infighting and your general idiocy and ineptitude. So despite its maintaining apartheid and ongoing terrible behaviour (which I am firmly opposed to, but thats another column) Israel deserves to exist. Idem for the Afghans deserving our abandonment (sorry, harsh). In theory we should have obliterated the Taliban sometime in mid-2003, but we didn't. It's because people in North America are too busy mowing their lawns and watching So You Think You Can Dance to have any skin in your fight/oppression. Only you can take down the Taliban, because only you can appreciate from firsthand experience how truly terrible they are.
When NATO and the States went into Afghanistan in October 2001, it was so far gone as a nation and a state that people wondered what aggression could really accomplish. Some good things have been done by Western soldiers, in truth, and today it might not be quite as far gone. But its nowhere near even halfway where it needs to be. Lets leave Afghanistan with the gift of our reasonable expectation. Afghans, try and claw your way back to only half gone. Think of this as a goal for your country, to be attained. Half Gone ee stan.