Afghanistan: Culture Change, not Regime Change or Nation Building

Niccolo Caldararo, Ph.D.
Dept. of Anthropology
San Francisco State University
Abstract
American policy in Afghanistan has been driven by information lacking Anthropological background. Ideas organized around establishing a regime or conditions of stability deal primarily with military and economic conditions and exclude or are ignorant of cultural reference. Nation building and regime change is proposed to take place with a context of peoples who have histories that may preclude the type of state envisioned by Western planners whose ideals of organization and institutions are embedded by recent concepts of modernity. This is wrongheaded and can lead to the attitudes in practice found in both Vietnam and Chechnya of cultural war and tribal extermination. This paper proposes alternatives based on anthropological information and theory.
America cannot leave Afghanistan because to do so would forfeit the cloak of invincibility so carefully created by the Republicans since Vietnam. Failure in Somalia and Carter’s adventure in Iran can be shoved off as Democratic errors. As if necessary to make up for "their" President (Nixon) being in charge, they have, beginning with Reagan made every effort to conquer, defeat and destroy some nation in every administration (Granada, Iraq, Afghanistan). To extract ourselves from Afghanistan now would be common sense, "good money after bad." Or as Kipling said of Afghanistan, it exists for the manufacturers of weapons and uniforms. For anyone who has read anthropologist Louis Dupree's books (1974; 1978) on Afghanistan and the various attempts to conquer it, or former CIA chief Bearden's estimation of involvement there (http://0-www.jstor.org.opac.sfsu.edu/stable/20050325), our continued presence is as close to insanity as a nation can get in decision-making.
We are in the phase Bearden calls, the put an unpopular emir on the throne period. The British and Soviets both arrived at this point and both thought that their task was nearly done. Instead this is when things get really bad. The only route out, if two terrible lessons are not enough to learn the drill, is to create a regional settlement or leave now, leave totally and leave without looking back. The geopolitical crisis has been in place for decades and other interests will fill the gap, a gap that American soldiers do not have to die for. Both India and Iran are eager to use Afghanistan for their own ends, as is Russia and Pakistan. With our departure the game will go on, but will not change very much.
The only detail will be the names of the foreign soldiers who will die and the number of Afghans who will suffer. This is a long story and even Alexander the Great was bothered by the powers of the Afghans and the difficulty of changing them. When everyone gives up and leaves them alone, that is when Afghanistan will enjoy some stability. One has to remember that the Taliban were a creature of the USA/Pakistan military intelligence, if that can be call "intelligent."
Nevertheless, the arrangement of warlords and their foreign backers will continue after our demise, or exit. The only question for us now is how much the cost will be to Americans.
Dilemma of Truman
Truman had the same problem that faces Obama today, a general in the field who was on the verge of disobeying authority and a public that could not understand why the war was going on so long but could not accept an American defeat.
For Obama, McChrystal is his MacArthur. But Obama is no Truman and Truman went on to try and fight a war that only Eisenhower could end ignominiously. We have to recall that had we not intervened with the Soviet presence in Afghanistan in the 1970s the Soviet's allies might have made some inroads in solving some of the economic problems and all this disaster of the past 20 might not have happened. We started the war, we armed the warlords, we created al-Qaeda, we supplied the Taliban. The only positive option is an international conference with Pakistan, the Taliban, Iran, Russia, China, etc. to attempt a regional settlement.
Today the Obama Administration faces renewed pressure to accept a reworked plan to pacify Afghanistan. The idea is to place more troops on the ground and to produce disorganization among the Taliban and rival warlords at the same time attempting to bribe others into neutrality. Also the plan purports to set up a means to combat corruption after a much contested election where international observers have identified evidence of widespread illegal activities by the current President Karzai. The general idea is to transplant tactics that have "worked" in Iraq to Afghanistan. This requires a considerable degree of fantasy to accept. In Iraq we have achieved what Al Capone achieved in Chicago, managed violence. Like Capone we have bribed some stakeholders while placing our gunmen on the ground to enforce limited stability. For Capone, like us, it can work for a short period of time.

Obama is being drawn deeper into the Afghan war. The attacks in the Swat Valley can only destabilize Pakistan more and lead to more chaos and violence in that country. The potential damage to the region is frightening, not only is India still seething from the Mombai attacks, but political tension is running high in the currently over violence in the Kashmir. Many right-wing Indian politicians see Muslim terrorists behind every rebellion. Disorder in Pakistan could invite adventures from both sides of the border.
The best strategy for Obama now is simply to withdraw all American troops in Afghanistan and Iraq and turn both operations over to the UN and try and organize a regional meeting of nations with the participation of the Taliban.
What is strange about the Afghan war is that everyone seems to forget that the Soviets entered Afghanistan to stop a civil war. They quickly won and there was peace. Slowly year by year the war grew, partly manufactured and supplied by the CIA via Pakistan, partly by disaffection. Eventually the Soviets suffered heavy casualties. Air superiority, which has been the foundation of both the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan failed to help the Soviets when the time came. Do we have to wait for that day too?
It is ironic that we are supporting the Pakistani Army in the Swat Valley. The Swat Pathans are in many ways a people who hold many of the ideals Americans claim to cherish. Among the Swat there are small local groups which maintain internal order through coercive authority and larger groups characterized by a social order without a clear demarcation of territorial units. Fredrik Barth (1959) produced an analysis of the Swat Pathans social organization and found that the smaller groups have considerable structural complexity but that recruitment into such groups is formally based on free choice.
In Swat people find their places in the political order through a series of choices, many of which are temporary or revocable. While they have a general form of patrilineal kinship descent groups, organization depends on a number of formal frameworks which kinship and neighborhood ties as well as dyadic relationships unite into a fluid system of alliances. The dyadic relationships are based on the local caste system that links high caste landowners with lower caste labor or craftspeople, etc. Essentially the social order of the Valley is one of shifting bonds between individuals that produces a remarkable amount of personal contact and exchange.
The nature of this fluidity is an expression of some of the central ideals Americans hold, personal liberty, the freedom to chose when and whom to work for and with and the freedom to make and remake family ties and local neighborhood association. The strange irony is that America is now helping the ruling elite in Pakistan to destroy a society that has been self-governed for thousands of years. We have reports as old as 1,000 C.E. of the independence of the people as well as that of Alexander the Great.
America's longest war began in 1990 with the Bush Administration's invasion of Iraq. Unless one joins together all the wars of the American colonies and then the USA against Native American peoples, we have had no war that has gone on longer. We cannot count Korea as that has not been a “shooting” war for 50 years. The repercussions of continuous war have a variety of consequences on a people as one can see with the state of Israel today. When a war is far away the attrition of resources and the death of soldiers is less felt, but a war that is close at hand can have dire consequences on the liberty of a people and their institutions. Why should we pour more billions to make the streets of Iraq's and Afghanistan's cities safe when Americans cannot walk the streets of their own cities and towns in peace as in Oakland California or Binghamton, N.Y. etc. The Bush-Cheney Administration's drug and immigration policies also made our southern border a war zone where murders and lawlessness are exploding. Is it not time to repair the damage at home? The Soviets first talked about leaving Afghanistan in 1982, it took them 7 more years of defeat to find a way out.
Since the beginning of the first Gulf War more than a quarter of a million Americans have been placed in the various war zones (Iraq and Afghanistan) both from regular military services and reserve or National Guard. Given rotations and new enlistments (especially due to the stresses on the air units) the past 19 years has resulted in more than one million Americans experiencing some form of combat service. This is more than at any time since WWII. With the near collapse of the American financial system and our present repressed economy, the stress of war on these men and women is now magnified by the problems of job loss, home foreclosure and bankruptcy. Our continued presence in the Middle East can only endanger stability and prosperity at home.
No amount of money, military aid or advice has helped bring peace to the region, in fact, it has only made the situation worse. We have to remember that then Secretary of State James Baker organized the efforts to bring about peace in Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal, it was so successful the Taliban conquered the country. The means by which we created the current conditions in Afghanistan can be found in George Crile's book, Charlie Wilson's War (2003). Fighting the Soviets was only one part of the effort of creating a lethal secret army that is based on fanatic religious belief and the unlimited terror of revenge. More on this is to be found in Ahmed Rashid's Jihad's book, The Rise of Militant Islam in Central Asia (2002).
While arguments over the legality of the Afghan, Gulf War, or the Iraq war and occupations aside, the objectives have always been murky at best. The entire enterprise from 1990 on has only served to destabilize the region and create more anti-American sentiment as well as more enemy combatants. The failure of the Democrats to criticize the wars or to see through the present stalemate where we are paying Iraqis not to fight us is one reason to expect a debacle sooner than later.
The Afghan people have had a great and glorious history. Prior to the Arab conquest Afghans (as the state of Ariana) had a vibrant cosmopolitan culture that had survived Alexander the Great's conquest and his Macedonian followers exploits after his death. From Bactria (Balkh) in the 3rd Century B.C.E. to the 12th Century of our era when Sultan Mahmud's city of Ghazni was considered one of the world's most splendid in learning and architecture, the Afghan people have demonstrated their abilities. In 1505 a Turkoman chieftan Baber crossed into Afghanistan and gained control of the tribes and Cabul. In 1525 he defeated the Sultan of Delhi at Panipat and by 1530 had conquered as far as Bengal. His sons and grandsons, including Akbar and great-grandson Aunrungzeb became masters of the entire peninsula by 1700. They established a uniform government that contended with European powers. The Afghans have shown they are capable of peace and security, it is the constant invasion of foreigners that has upset their history. Both the Soviet invasion and the counterinsurgency army we created in the past three decades that has created chaos.
Yet we hear that if the US pulls out of Afghanistan terror will result and chaos. The acts of the Taliban will return, especially in suppression of women and art. Of course, it is convenient to forget that Europeans have been most intolerant of indigenous peoples' art from the near complete destruction of Native American cities by the Spanish, their literature and art to the bombardment of the Sphinx by the French and the destruction of Ife art and architecture in Africa. Certainly the concern for the liberty of women is quite recent in the West. Some of the same people who make these claims have opposed affirmative action programs for women, making rape a hate crime or making companies responsible for rape by their employees. I am not interested in debating the potential repercussions of American withdrawal on the Afghan people, and this cannot be predicted any more than the scenarios of massacre in Vietnam were expected with the Viet Cong victory and did not materialize.
In the more than two millenia since Alexander the Great, one invader after another has destroyed the indigenous kingdoms of Afghanistan, its people have been beset by succeeding foreign rulers. However, like the Vietnamese people, left alone what they determine should be their own creation and not the imposed image of modernity the West conceives is best for them.
Al Capone and the “Surge” in Iraq
Joe Biden's statements during the election were particularly centered around his stand on the surge of troops in Iraq and the position of the Democrats in general on this issue. Biden, like most Democrats, ended up wavering at times and at others agreeing that the surge was a success. The fact that the violence level fell during the surge is no indication of success as the players in the warfare simply could regulate their activities until the US troops left. However, what was more important was that the Bush Administration was bribing the Sunni's and Shite warlords and tribal leaders. This is neither honorable nor a policy to solve the sectarian war. Anyone can see that Al Capone was able to make Chicago safe if he was paid protection money. This is all the Bush surge did. Troops came but the real effect was the millions in protection money paid out to our enemies. This policy cannot produce legitimate government based on civil authority.
The Bush Administration transferred the payment scheme to the Iraqi government. This allowed US agencies to wash their hands in the corruption it has engendered and to blame the Iraqis when it breaks down. There was evidence of conflict due to new shakedowns and demands for more money by our supposed tribal friends. Various stories on the development of the bribery scheme can be found in news articles (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/01/09/AR2...) (http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/iraq/2007-06-24-tribes-iraq_N.htm) and (http://www.foxnews.com/wires/2006Sep18/0,4670,IraqTribes,00.html).
McCain and the Bush Administration convinced the media and most of the nation, including the Democrats that the surge in military operations in Iraq had worked. The essential measure is to visit various showplaces the Administration has made available, and to rely on Administration figures on violence, especially ethnic violence. While these measures are unreliable at best we find on closer analysis that the level of violence has changed, as some military sources have argued, but at the cost of honor. The Bush Administration has bought off the very tribal and Baath Party elements who they claimed in April of 2007 to be "pure evil." See Ben Feller's AP story on April 5th 2007. Reports of cash payments to Sunni warlords and clan leaders have appeared since March of 2007 (see Washington Post story at www.msnbc.com/id/20006005 but Fox News has reports as old).
Bribery and displacement are our main tools along with terror. At home we can see the right organizing a comprehensive ideological assault against any criticism. Anatol Lieven, senior researcher at the New American Foundation in a book, America Right or Wrong: An Anatomy of American Nationalism sets out the guidelines to defeat Democratic criticism of Bush adventures abroad by constructing a religious identity for them as well as a Cold War mentality toward critics. The goal is to unify the American public around outright military intervention when necessary to protect the interests of America's ultraright 5% richest people and support for covert operations to protect and further our majority economic interests. One need only look at how close the pipelines are to Georgia's borders with Russia to see the point of our backing the illegal Georgian invasion of East Ossetia. It also plays to the point of a concerted destabilization of Russia, its economy, investors and its military.
We have organized systematic terror in Iraq, not only attacks on civilians, but on clan leaders, Baath Party members, journalists, and any critic, balanced with bribery. We are acting like organized crime. We have disappeared people, our "rendition" concept should be condemned, but it is tolerated. Further, we have gone through the cities and villages spreading murder and destruction filling prisons and failing to charge or treat prisoners according to law. Most of what has occurred in the past 2 years was predicted by the Brookings Institute report of January 2007, especially the continued spill over of refugees and the restarting of the Palestinian Peace process as a diversion to the conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Success vs Delayed Response
It seems clear that the theory is that the US military must stay as the current conditions will erupt into not only sectarian violence but chaos once we leave in both Iraq and Afghanistan. One of the best discussions of the problems is from Major General Douglas Stone former Silicon Valley businessman, UCLA Ph.D. and Marine Commander of Camp Bucca in Iraq (Financial Times Weekend Section 29/29 June 2008). The more you know about Iraq, its people, its past and societies that have experienced such conflict the more the situation seems on hold for a future explosion. Certainly we could continue to dole out the bribes and set up a regime like that in the Congo from the 60s to the 90s. If that is "success" then McCain is right.
The current propaganda jibs between McCain and Cheney and the Democrats over leaving Iraq and the proposed timetable for exit in Afghanistan, parallels the recent should be viewed in the context of history. It is amazing to find people speaking of the war in Iraq being 8 years old. Here we find demonstrations against the "eight years of war." Have people forgotten that we invaded Iraq nearly 19 years ago?
Whether we want to recognize it or not, the current war in the Middle East is a multi-front war. To consider withdrawal from Iraq without consideration of what is occurring elsewhere is sheer folly. And yet each “problem” leads to the need to intervene in other states, to protect Israel, involvement in Lebanon is required, or Iraq, to fight al-Qeda, invasion of Iraq, Afghanistan, then Pakistan, then Iran, and then….
The Soviets believed they could avoid setting dates for withdrawal and eventually win in Afghanistan. In Chechnya they essentially destroyed the country’s infrastructure and committed atrocities condemned by the US and the UN. The USA and NATO are in exactly the same position the Soviets were in the 1980s in Afghanistan, 1) aiding clients and apparently friendly tribes or warlords, ignoring increasing civilian deaths, 2) believing that improving services and social benefits to the local population in roads, buildings, water, schools, health etc. will win the people over. All of these efforts lead to corruption and are undermined by sabotage since they threaten traditional relationships and values, alienate tribal leaders and create conflicts due to patronage struggles. The American coalition, as in the case of the Soviets, faces increasing resistance in the wake of this resulting in political opposition and warfare.
NATO leaders should keep in mind that the Taliban was not defeated. The situation is just like the "victory" of the Soviets or the Taliban (or the British before them). Most fighters just changed sides when things looked bad and their leaders went into hiding or exile. Today these fighters are still there with little loyalty for the USA/ NATO client leaders. They will change sides in a moment and that could be a disaster for NATO forces. Today’s Afghan National Army will be tomorrow’s Taliban units or some warlord’s troops. NATO leaders should remember assurances the US Military gave the world over the training and preparation they gave the South Vietnamese Army before the American departure.
Cheney and Gates (Rumsfeld before him) have ignored this history and plunged ahead. In this case they followed the propaganda and dogma of the Neocons especially in refusing to follow international law and attacking two countries in the process. Cheney and Rumsfeld set America and NATO on a blind course with no plan for the future. Perhaps Obama’s advisors have done better, but this “plan” now before the nation is that any better. It was interesting how during the presidential election McCain stated that Iraq will be our next Korea!. Increasing resistance is producing increasing collateral damage. One can simply replay 1980s news clips of the Soviet adventure and international condemnation to see the future.
Affects on Troops
The Republicans have used the American military for over 20 years as a distraction for their domestic and foreign failures. First we saw Reagan invade Granada to pull focus from the disaster in Lebanon, then George Bush in Iraq over the economy, then George Bush, Jr. in Iraq and Afghanistan. The continued rotations of American regular troops and reserves and National Guard are having a toll on performance and safety.
The American people are told at home about battlefield victories, when we are simply bribing Baathist forces in Iraq not to fight and warlords in Afghanistan to be neutral. The over extension of American forces, and the use of private military firms is causing more hatred of America abroad and degrading the fighting capacity of our military.
The Ft. Hood tragedy should cause us to look at what 20 years of continuous deployment as done to our military.
If we just focus on the training problems this event demonstrates we have to conclude that there is trouble abroad. The recent report that most American youth are not fit for military service should bring the nation to its feet in concern.(http://www.sciencedaily.com/...
Consider that the building that the killer attacked contained over 300 armed forces personnel. We expect these people to be trained to respond to attack, to know how to organize themselves and act. In the first 60 seconds properly trained soldiers should have been able to assess the situation and develop a plan of action. In the next 2 minutes they should have been capable of recruiting associates and engage the killer. With over 300 such personnel present and given the internal structure of the building several such units should have been able to neutralize him within 5 minutes and that would have saved lives. The fact that it took a civilian police officer who was not even on her beat to respond and act effectively is troubling. The MPs on patrol did not even arrive until that officer had acted and been seriously wounded.
As far back as the Roman attempts to establish order in Judea in the First Century of our era military forces dealing with insurgencies have had to plan for terror attacks and to train soldiers to respond to local people who work in camps or as support troops. The British in Ireland learned this lesson the hard way and we saw numerous examples in Vietnam. However, the rising numbers of American soldiers who are committing suicide should also be considered here as the numbers of people committing "suicide by cop" is also rising and seems to show a parallel here.
Ft. Hood is a sign that our military is in trouble and should not be used as a Republican football. But both the Democrats and the Republicans over the past 20 years have failed to define a foreign policy that can take the pressure off the military. There must be clearly defined goals for military engagement and excuses that terrorists do not allow that simply is defeatist. We can take initiatives to change the situation. This is what diplomacy is for.
The failure of the military to meet its recruitment needs in the past few years in both the regular service and the reserves and National Guard is a very threatening problem, as is the declining standards of recruit, though it has improved recently due to the declining economic conditions . The vote more than four years ago in Congress on reinstating the draft was not only a farce but a shameful display of cynicism. If there is anything we can learn from history it is that professional armies are a danger to democracy and freedom. Our National Guards and Reserves are depleted in both personnel and equipment, seriously affecting our states' ability to respond to national disasters. Bush's two architects of this situation are Rumsfield and Cheney who made their careers privatizing the military.
After the Punic Wars the Roman Senate could not convince the Assembly of the people to vote for war, the people were so tired of its consequences. The Senatorial Party was only able to trick them into war with Philip of Macedon, claiming he was about to attack Rome. But the Senate connived to achieve their aims not with a traditional vote to raise an army by conscription. Instead the people resisted and the vote was to allow for the first time private armies to be raised with paid soldiers from the proceeds of the war. This situation led to the creation of independent forces which obeyed their leaders and not the government, and then to civil war for control of the government.
While most arguments for the draft focus on the issue of fairness, we must consider the future of our republic and the corrosive power of a professional army. The history of the British army alone should stand as a strong argument against them. The British government of the 18th and 19th centuries gave rights to various corporations (like the East Indian Company) to raise armies and maintain forts in lieu of taxes (think here Blackwater today). The result was corruption, pillage and neglect and private crimes in the name of public honor. The power of the corporations sapped the strength of the military with a thorough corruption both in promotions, use of commands and expropriations of military stores. Mistreatment by corporate agents and their military governors brought rebellion in colony after colony. By the end of the 19th century this system had left the British military in shambles and British power in ruins.
The draft may be inconvenient, but if properly applied it is a fair and safe means to defend the country. Arguments for the need for a rapid response military for the 21st century are specious. It is better that we think first and then respond later. Speed will not make us either more effective, safer or wiser. In both the Balkans and Rwanda in the 1990s, inaction not reflection characterized the West. In Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq speed has resulted in a harvest of destruction and no solution. Our citizen army forced our leaders to reflect and to prepare. Reports, like that by the New York Times recently of rising incidents of rightwing, KKK and Nazi group organizing in the military and by militant Christian racial separatists, is also a troubling part of this "new army."
The most absurd statement of the 21st century has been Rumfield’s, "You go to war with the army you have not the one you want." Only the unprepared go to war without the army they need.
A General View of The Problem: Reportage & Knowledge
One would think that there would be some reference to the anthropological literature on Afghanistan in the current public debate over our involvement. Instead the "experts" that the public hears are journalists and retired military. The general idea concerning both Iraq and Afghanistan has been that a few days, weeks or months on location provides one with sufficient background to be an expert. This is like saying that a visit to a hospital makes one a surgeon. The expertise acquired from training in ethnology and the study of a culture and knowledge of its history is the required background to begin an understanding of how people are experiencing events on a local level.
Recent articles on the U.S. future in Afghanistan, by Max Hastings and Edward Luce in the Financial Times are typical of the attitude of the media but focus on different issues. The point Mr. Hastings seems to make is that neither the Afghanistan-U.S. supported government nor the Pakistan government "are able to deliver progress to the people" of Afghanistan. This is a problem in perception that has its foundations in a serious cultural blindness. What is progress to Mr. Hastings and the West does not seem to be progress to the majority of the Afghan people. Mr. Luce is concerned with the interests of the US in Afghanistan and the stability of the region as envisioned by Western military and political leaders. This is formed without a clear understanding of both recent history - the Soviet experience - and the views of the Afghan and Pakistani people. Mr. Luce refers to a recent poll on the feelings of Pakisanis about the threats they face and the USA is the greatest one they see.

Perhaps the single most astounding lack of discussion in recent years is the Soviet invasion and failure. Like the British failure a century ago, no one seems to be concerned with how culture has affected the outcomes. As Frederick Barth, the anthropologist who studied the area in the 1950s and 60s noted, the British established a degree of tolerance of their presence by bribery not military success. The Americans have used the same means in Iraq and call it "success" as well. The "surge" had no real affect in Iraq, but the truck loads of dollars has and without them there would be chaos. We should also note the parallel with the British experience and the Americans, since it was the East India Company that had been most involved militarily in both India and the Afghan zone at the time. Today private military companies are doing the same.
It is clear that no "progress" can be made in the region with the present situation and tactics. For Obama to listen to the military now is like LBJ listening to them about Vietnam. Only failure can be produced no matter what it would be called in a decade or more of war. We should all leave now and allow the Afghans to produce their own "progress". We should also recall that the Taliban and al-Qaeda are both the products of Western military meddling, more of which can only further destabilize the area. For every day we are there we create more volunteers for each organization. Since Alexander the Great, for almost 3,000 years invaders have justified their crimes in Afghanistan as bringing progress or helping them.
American “Interests”
Discussions concerning U.S. involvement in Afghanistan today center about two significant arguments, American interests and the strategic value of the area. Often these discussions simply leave the ideas of interests and value unexplored. Also the interests of the Afghan people are seldom included. In recent media articles the Afghan elections have played a significant part in the debate, arguing that the current Karzai government has engaged in fraudulent activities. Added to these concerns is that of corruption. Accusations of massive waste and incompetence color local Afghan criticisms of U.S and European presence, as the Nangarhar project have placed in bold relief.
If we consider the issue of the strategic value of Afghanistan first we must ask, of what value are we addressing, military, economic or political. If we look at the location of Afghanistan we can see the varied surrounding players in its future, none of whose interests are aligned exactly with those of the U.S. These players benefit from continued US presence. It is obvious that the instability of Afghanistan affects the political stability of its neighbors, especially Pakistan.

Dictatorship is so well established in Pakistan that in 1999 when General Pervez Musharraf seized power there was hardly any notice and in 2002 when he suggested a referendum to affirm his rule the daily English-language newspaper, Dawn, urged him not to hold it as it would be a "farcical route to legitimacy."
India has recently built a road to Kabul from Iran as well as engineered a power line to the city also from Iran. India claims it is just engaged in helping a friend, but the obvious utility of such aid is to balance the interests of Pakistan with whom it has a long antagonistic relationship and conflicting land claims in the region. This aid enhances Iran’s access and role in Afghanistan whose alliance with border tribes and warlords has a long history. One might say, with a certain degree of practical use, that after the Soviet defeat Afghanistan was divided into spheres of influence between Iran in the west, and Pakistan in the east with the north a semi-autonomous zone. The effect, then of the Taliban victory, an organization promoted and supplied by Pakistan, was a defeat of Iranian surrogates. America had had a considerable involvement in building up anti-Soviet forces in Afghanistan and supplying them with money, arms and intelligence by people like American anthropologist Louis Dupree.
During the Vietnam War it was popular among some scholars to liken the American involvement there with the Athenian adventure in Sicily from 415 B.C.E. to 413 B.C.E. Often critics of the Vietnam War argued that the Soviets could be seen as the Spartans and that the Sicilian Expedition led to the eventual Athenian defeat like Vietnam would lead to a U.S. defeat. History does often repeat itself, but seldom exactly, in this case the Soviets had their own Vietnam, it was Afghanistan. The situation today in Afghanistan, however, does parallel better that of Athens at the time of the Expedition for Athens and Sparta were at peace and the Athenian Expedition was an enterprise where Athen’s generals could see no end in a conquest or pacification and once begun it could not be ended except in disaster as with no plan for the conclusion of the Expedition, no end point could be described. America finds itself in this position today. Why engage further in Afghanistan, what is the goal, how do we recognize victory or a job well done? Can we know what defeat is?
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