I've been reading a lot of stories about difficulties in Afghanistan lately....
Almost daily attacks by remnants of the Taliban on aid workers and Afghans as well as deadly factional clashes pose serious threats to the future of Afghanistan, a senior U.N. official said on Tuesday.
Hundreds of protesters chanting "Death to Bush" and "Long live Islam" marched through Afghanistan's capital today in the first anti-American protest to erupt here since the United States and its allies drove the Taliban movement from power in late 2001.
Desperate for better lives, protesters accused the Bush administration of breaking its promises to the Afghan people by not rebuilding their war-battered nation.
--Washington Post, 5/7/03
"We don't like the Americans, and Karzai is a puppet of George W. Bush," said Abdul Karim, 26, a member of the Taliban movement until he left Afghanistan two years ago, referring to Hamid Karzai, the new leader of Afghanistan. "We want an Islamic government in Afghanistan," added Mr. Karim, who is now a student at a madrasa, or religious school, in Quetta.
Nasrullah, a religious student here who recently arrived from Kandahar, in Afghanistan, said that "if the situation continues and the Americans do not behave well, I am ready to fight, because jihad is the duty of every Muslim."
--New York Times story on the resurgence of the Taliban on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, 5/6/03
If you'll bear with me, I have a long gloss on the situation in Afghanistan from a newly published book, The Main Enemy by Milt Bearden (a former CIA chief in Pakistan who worked with Afghan rebels during the Soviet era) and James Risen (a New York Times reporter). It's written from an ex-spook's point of view and I'm not endorsing every word of it -- I just think it's interesting:
Enduring Freedom looked easy -- maybe a little too easy, like the British march on Kabul in 1839 or the Soviet Christmas invasion in 1979. All three enterprises had a common thread -- getting in was almost painless. Then Afghan history always kicks in. The British would founder and be forced into retreat in January 1842, three years after their fluid entry. They marched out of Kabul with a column of 16,500 souls, headed east to their garrison at Jalalabad, a distance of 110 miles. A single British officer made it to safety. Almost a century and a half later, the Soviets faced a similar fate. After a flawless invasion, the Red Army bogged down, and a decade later it limped home across the Oxus after giving up almost 15,000 dead. Their Afghan misadventure would also cost the Soviets an empire.
Now, in the second year of America’s Afghan enterprise, there is less talk of things being easy. The accounts of Operation Enduring Freedom and Leonid Sherbashin [of the KGB]’s sobering analysis of Soviet operations in the Panjshir in 1984 have begun to sound hauntingly familiar: crisp military briefers giving cheerily optimistic but unconvincing accounts of a beaten enemy, of high enemy body counts, but again without the bodies. “How can thirteen hundred rebels carry off seventeen hundred of their dead -- and their weapons?” Shebarshin naively asked the 40th Army briefing officer in Ahmed Shah Massoud’s Panjshir Valley in 1984. Those same questions have already been asked by journalists briefed on the battles of Tora Bora and Shah-i-Kot. And more are now asking how it is that those we have liberated seem to shell and rocket our troops with such regularity.
According to the premier historian on Afghanistan, the late Louis Dupree, four factors contributed to the British disasters in Afghanistan: having troops there in the first place; installing an unpopular emir on the Afghan throne; allowing “your” Afghans to mistreat other Afghans; and reducing the subsidies paid to the tribal chiefs. These fatal miscalculations, barely altered in form, were committed by the British in 1839 and again in 1878, and a century later by the Soviets. They are being committed today, and how we deal with them will determine the ultimate outcome of the American undertaking in Afghanistan.
The United States may not have placed a wildly unpopular emir on the throne -- indeed, America’s choice for an Afghan leader, Hamid Karzai, was the least objectionable of the possible candidates -- but Afghan politics, always murky, is as much defined by the contenders to the throne as by the occupant. The real power in Kabul after the rout of the Taliban is not Hamid Karzai but Marshal Mohammad Qasim Fahim, the successor to the murdered Ahmed Shah Massoud. Fahim is a Tajik, a Panjshiri with a reputation for ruthlessness. He has, to be sure, violated Dupree’s third dictum by grossly mistreating other segments of the Afghan population, notably and most dangerously the majority Pashtuns. As each day passes, Fahim is increasingly viewed by the Pashtun population and some other ethnic groups as the unpopular emir America has placed on the throne. Finally, the continued failure of the United States and its allies to make good on the pledges of massive reconstruction assistance -- more than $4 billion pledged but undelivered -- amounts to the same as the reduction of tribute paid by the nineteenth-century British to the tribal chiefs. This failure of the United States and its allies to engage in nation building is behind much of the unrest in the provinces.
Afghanistan, a year into its “American era,” is troubled and dangerous, but it is not hopeless. The success or failure of the Afghan enterprise will depend in large measure on how the United States manages to build alliances with the inhabitants of all of Afghanistan, not just the Tajiks from the Panjshir Valley. The CIA will have to rekindle and nurture old relationships with the dominant Pashtuns of eastern Afghanistan and undertake measures to convince the broader population to take a stake in a new Afghanistan and join in its reconstruction. It is a daunting task and the learning curve is short. But failure could allow the country to become a haven for international terrorists once again. Afghanistan will thus be the ultimate testing ground for the new CIA as it seeks to remake itself for the global war on terrorism.