US policy in Afghanistan hasn’t so much failed as it hasn’t even materialized.  With the original rationale for overthrowing the Taliban their relationship with Osama bin Laden now long forgotten, buried with, not only the death of bin Laden many years ago but much more.  No ties between bin Laden and 9/11 have ever been established, none of the training camps seen in the online videos existed anywhere but in fiction, truth is such a delicate thing.  Children in Afghanistan are taught to be fighters from birth.  Training an Afghan to fight is like training a fish to swim.

The legacy of Karzai and Hollbrooke and McChrystal, pointless posturing, mismanagement, a deluge of narcotics and a sea of corruption have spelled failure, a failure from the first days, a failure in Marjeh, and more failures to come.  The result of these failed polices is more delegitimization and debt for the US and destabilization and terrorism for Pakistan, but it has been far worse for the tribal regions of both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The explosion of terrorism has come with a variety of causes, beginning with the collapse of the Taliban, flawed though it may have been as a government, it governed, eliminated drug production and brought stability.  The arrogance of the Taliban was misconstrued by the United States, misconstrued purposefully by a government looking to point a finger of blame somewhere for 9/11, point away from Israel, away from Saudi Arabia and away from themselves.  The Taliban in Afghanistan made the perfect “fall guy.”

Whatever government the Taliban was, built partially from the Mujahideen fighters the US and Pakistan armed against the Soviet backed Kabul regime in the 80s, the Taliban had become inconsistent with the needs of the majority of the people of Afghanistan, certainly the northern tribes, now overrepresented through Karzai and his Indo-Israeli connections.  The Taliban were destined to fail Afghanistan’s women who not only deserve education but also full participation in national life.  With so many of Afghanistan’s most talented having fled the Soviet occupation, every human resource is a vital one.

Pakistan had understood the Mujihideen and many of their military had built strong relations there.  That was decades ago, decades that mean much more in Afghanistan than the west.  There, almost two generations have past and allegiances are only a memory.  The desire many in Pakistan have expressed, to see an American withdrawal and the return to a stability from the past is unrealistic, as that stability is from a past that may never have existed nor can it be created.  The Russian occupation wiped out any remnants of a cohesive Afghanistan.

What was Afghanistan?

There is an intimacy and stability to a traditional tribal culture.  It is almost impossible to explain to someone from the west how scientists and educators, the intellectual elite of Afghanistan, the “technocrats” were and are never intended to rule.  When the west compares its democracy, it fails to see in a realistic way how its own leaders are selected.  They are never the strong, seldom the best and certainly not the brightest.  The characteristics most valued in a leader in the west are worthless in Afghanistan.  Telling people what they want to hear while doing nothing and pleasing those with money means nothing in a tribal culture.  It should mean nothing in the west either.  Perhaps this is why America is failing so miserably.  Maybe this is why the west chose Karzai, he is so much like a western leader.

Afghanistan is dozens of families in a complex weave that goes back centuries.  Alliances that can still hold a people together were established, some hundreds of years ago, alliances being restored all over Afghanistan including critical areas in the south.  What can be reestablished is a traditional value system that can survive with a constitution and full rights for women in a country that can trade more than opium.  That business, the drug business that has filled Kabul with human vermin from around the world brought to Afghanistan like flies to a festering wound, has to go, that and everything built around it.  Drug lords and gun culture are not tribal culture.

Why Pakistan and Afghanistan

Afghanistan is largely Pashtun but can only survive with an inclusive government offering full participation and respect to every group.  The current  US sponsored disaster has put the label of “terrorist extremist” on 25 million citizens, only a few of whom are criminal terrorists who would resist a legitimate government, something America forgot to bring in its bag of tricks.  Pakistan survives similarly, a nation with a large number of Pashtuns, though a minority in a country of over 180 million.

Where tribal unity could stabilize both countries, economic collapse, drug lords, criminals and terrorists have created an untenable situation.  Corruption and economic collapse, Pakistan and Afghanistan, has left large regions subject to radicalization, extremism and violence.  Adding to this problem, foreign elements profiting off the drug trade in Afghanistan and looking for the collapse of Pakistan feed this terrorism with arms, training and logistical support.

The countries suffering from terrorism are Afghanistan and Pakistan.  Their destabilization feeds the short term needs of India, Israel, American intelligence agencies and the arms industry, groups that influence everything from American foreign policy to actual terrorist attacks in ways the mainstream media never reports.  Long term regional stability has fallen to the wayside through lack of  leadership and a platform for constructive dialog, a dialog that should include, not only India, Afghanistan and Pakistan but Israel, Iran, Russia and China as well.  All have critical issues in the region and, under assurances their security issues are addressed, have the potential of lending critical resources to addressing the stability of Afghanistan.

What is Realistic?

President Karzai will not step aside without an honorable exit.  Though he has been unable to rule and his attempts to bring the Taliban to the table have not met with success, his attempts do him justice.  However, failure to rule is inexcusable.  Bush held on for 8 years of one disaster after another, dragging America down, the most powerful nation in the history of earth.  Karzai’s failures have been in the presence of a greater and perhaps insurmountable challenge, while no alternative form of rule was possible.

A decade of lessons, senseless slaughter, billions spent, billions wasted has altered perceptions everywhere.  Peace and security, seen by a previous American administration as a hindrance more than a goal, are now necessities.  Profitable chaos is a luxury few will be allowed to afford without chickens coming home to roost.

It is in the air, hidden among the threats are the promises.  The feelers are out, nobody has survived ten years of conspiracy and insanity unscathed, no matter how their balance sheets look.  The massive paper gains for the few never manifest themselves as nation building or security.  This year, the doors will creep open.

Gordon Duff is a Marine Vietnam veteran.  A 100% disabled vet.  He has been a featured commentator on TV and radio including Al Jazeera and his articles have been carried by news services around the world. He has been a UN Diplomat, defense contractor and is a widely published expert on military and defense issues.  This article first appeared in Veterans and Foreign Affairs Journal.

Senior Editor: Veterans Today .

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One Comment

  1. Matthew Doye on the 06. Jun, 2010 remarked #

    Whilst I have read many of Mr Duff’s articles, have agreed with some and disagreed with others this particular one is just wrong in so many ways about such an important topic I feel I have to comment.

    For starters Afghanistan is not largely Pashtun, only about 40% of the population are from that group and even less use Pashtu as their first language. It is Dari, the national version of Persian that is closest to a lingua franca.

    The reasons for Hamid Karzai’s rise are many but it’s mostly down to the fact he was the one person whom most of the indigenous leaders felt they could trust having been well connected since the pre-soviet era. His ability to recognize when foreign powers, from the US to Pakistan, are working to their own interests counter those of Afghanistan and his willingness to stand up and say so form a good part of the reason he retains power. He may not be an ideal leader by Western standards but he is the closest thing to a uniting figure at the moment and probably the least worst option.

    Concentrating on the Pashtun and the Pakistan relationship is asking for trouble, many other ethnic groups have suffered terrible atrocities at the hands of the Pashtun dominated Taliban and other ethnic Pashtun militias, it is only because of Karzai’s long connections with those from other areas of the county that he has retained any trust.

    Pakistan has, since the Soviet war, had a history of interference in Afghanistan indeed it is not unreasonable to regard the Taliban regime as Pakistan’s proxy. The incessant plotting by elements within the ISI have destabilized both Afghanistan and Pakistan in addition to supporting insurgencies threatening both Iran and India. Recent years have seen incursions by Pakistan into Afghanistan across the Durand line in an attempted land grab as well as nearly provoking Afghanistan to strike at Taliban groups receiving safe harbour just across the border. One would have thought that Pakistan would have welcomed cross border security co-operation to deal with groups that she claims to oppose but apparently not; instead she warned the Afghan government against any such operation.

    All in all Pakistan has not been a good neighbor and the sooner she stops trying to interfere in Afghan affairs, the better.

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