Sunday, February 23, 2014

As we, hopefully, near the end in Shitholeistan

It is time to look back and reflec
t on the waste and futility of our efforts there. And to know that if one looks back throughout history it is obvious that we are not alone.
It is a mistake to draw historical parallels too closely, or to seek unambiguous lessons. But looking at the past can clarify the present, even if it offers no secure guide for the future.

The British invasions of Afghanistan in the nineteenth century, the Soviet invasion in 1979, and the American led invasion of 2001, all have one thing in common. By a narrow definition, all the armies won their wars, though the British suffered some humiliating defeats on the battlefield. But neither the British, nor the Russians, nor the Americans achieved, at least through military means, the objectives they had set themselves. All scaled their ambitions down to aims that they could probably have achieved earlier and at less cost. All seriously damaged their own prestige. And all wreaked havoc on the country they claimed to have come to help...

Among British policymakers there were two schools of thought. One held that success could only be achieved by reducing Afghanistan to a protectorate under a British puppet, as the British had already done in so many parts of India. The other held that it would be enough to secure Afghan cooperation through diplomacy, subsidies, and the occasional threat of military action. The ‘forward policy’ proved unsustainable: the Afghans made life intolerable for the British occupiers. But the alternative was a success. The British effectively controlled Afghan foreign policy for eighty years, bribing and persuading even the formidable Afghan ruler Abdur Rahman to match their wishes. Today some Afghans regard Abdur Rahman as a traitor, though he was probably their most effective ruler in the last three hundred years.

Thus the British very soon abandoned any idea of imposing a political solution on Afghanistan, still less of trying to rule it in their own image. Their Russian and American successors, however, made the mistake of believing that they had not only the need, but the duty, to re-engineer Afghanistan’s political and social system, to bring the country, as the Russians said, from the fourteenth into the twentieth century.
And both Russia and the US gave social and cultural re-engineering their best shot, sort of. If you consider throwing bombs and dollars at a problem, yes we did. If you consider achieving a solution important, we didn't come close. So what now?
It is hard to establish what is really happening there amid the competing claims of optimists who say that the country has made significant strides in political and military organisation, women’s rights, education, and the economy, and pessimists who say that the present regime is corrupt, divided, and hopelessly inefficient. One possibility is that, once the Americans and their allies have left, the country will once again be torn apart by civil war, and most of the economic and social progress made in the last decade will be nullified. Another is that the Afghans’ immediate neighbours will be unable to refrain from meddling in Afghan affairs, and will keep the country in turmoil. A third is that enough has been done to ensure at least a kind of stability and a modicum of social and economic progress. What is certain is that however much outsiders may talk of the blood and treasure they have poured out in Afghanistan, it is the Afghans who have suffered most in the last thirty five years. Only they will be able to find solutions that endure.
Let the Afghans determine their own future, what a novel idea. Maybe we won't like it, but we aren't Afghans.


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