^^^10:15 PM ET^^^ ROBT. D. KAPLAN - Winning this war is easy; then what?greenspun.com : LUSENET : Current News - Homefront Preparations : One Thread
October 14, 2001
Winning This War Is Easy; Then What?
By ROBERT D. KAPLAN, Robert D. Kaplan, a correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly, is author of "Soldiers of God: With the Mujahidin in Afghanistan," soon to be reissued
WASHINGTON -- Toppling the Taliban will be easy. The Kremlin overthrew four Afghan governments in the 1970s, as a result of which it became embroiled in a decade-long war in Afghanistan that helped lead to the collapse of the Soviet Union. That the Soviets failed to subdue Afghanistan doesn't mean that the United States will fail there, too. Ending Afghanistan's support of terrorism does not require the occupation of large tracts of its territory, the goal of the Soviets. Still, there are aspects of the Soviet experience in Afghanistan that we should keep in mind.
The desire to expand the Soviet empire southward toward the warm waters of the Indian Ocean was not the only motivation of Leonid I. Brezhnev's Politburo. Another factor was anger at the killing of Soviet civilians. A few months before the December 1979 invasion, a mob in Herat, in western Afghanistan, killed a group of Soviet citizens, whom the Afghans considered instruments of creeping occupation. It should also be noted that as long as the Soviets stuck with Pushtu-speaking leaders, associated with Afghanistan's largest ethnic group, the Pushtuns, outright occupation did not occur. Soviet troops arrived when Moscow installed a more suave brand of Afghan communist--Babrak Karmal, an urbane Kabuli who spoke Dari, the native dialect of Persian spoken by the minority Tajiks from the north of the country. While the Soviets were bedeviled by the brutality, incompetence and disorganization of their Pushtu puppets, the Dari-speaker Karmal had little support among the Pushtuns.
Lesson: If the U.S. is to replace the Taliban with a regime that has a fair chance of both holding power and rebuilding Afghanistan after more than two decades of war, it will need to control its passions and also be cognizant of ethnic realities.
First of all, Afghan governments are easy to topple because they are not governments in any Western sense of the term. Historically, Afghan regimes have been informal, bureaucratically feeble devices that rarely project power beyond a handful of cities, where only one in five Afghans live. Afghans have always been suspicious of strong central government. The Taliban notion that the city, with its creeping Western influences, is the root of all evil encapsulates the historic Afghan distrust of urban-based power. In 1978, when the Soviets tried to help one of their puppet rulers, the Pushtu poet Nur Mohammed Taraki, extend his influence into the countryside through land reform and the enforced secularization of schools, a deeply conservative rural population revolted in mass.
With its disorganized hodgepodge of religious councils, dysfunctional ministries and scholars, the Taliban is more movement than a proper government. It has always been more concerned with propagating a set of values than with overseeing the mundane details of repairing water lines, electricity grids, and so forth. A drought and famine that has affected millions of Afghans has further weakened Taliban's ability to project power throughout the country. But like the regime of King Mohammed Zahir Shah, the moderate-conservative monarch who held power for 40 years until a Soviet-sponsored coup toppled him in 1973, the Taliban is dominated by Pushtuns from the south-central region of Kandahar, a pie-crust plateau that forms Afghanistan's historic heartland.
Kandahar bears the only surviving Greek place name in Afghanistan--the word stems from the Arabic form of "Alexander" the Great, who founded the city in the 4th century BC. Nevertheless, the Kandahar region is the most authentically Afghan. It was in Kandahar where Zahir Shah's forebear, Ahmad Shah Durrani, established the first indigenous Afghan kingdom in 1747. Royal Kandahari lineage is so important among Afghans that, for example, both the moujahedeen during the era of Soviet occupation and the Taliban for sometime afterward sought out the backing of the Popolzai--a 500,000-strong Pushtun clan whose leaders are pro-Western, come from Kandahar and are related by blood to Ahmad Shah Durrani.
Any new Afghan regime, if it is to have legitimacy, will need to reserve a prominent role for the Pushtuns, especially those from Kandahar. The Northern Alliance, which is composed of minority Tajiks, Uzbeks and Turkomans, is a key element in ridding the country of the Taliban, but it will not by itself provide stability. To achieve that, Zahir Shah should be restored to the throne. For many Afghans, the 86-year-old king represents an era of relative stability and creeping modernization, when roads were built and malaria was on its way to being eradicated. Today, malaria is rife in the country.
Every tool to ensure a legitimate, new Afghan regime will be needed because large areas of Central and South Asia are poised to disintegrate. The former-Soviet republics of Central Asia are in fundamentalist ferment, even as the institutional meltdown of Pakistan--a result of severe water shortages tied to population growth, the breakdown of infrastructure in the major cities, and ethnic and tribal violence in the Afghan borderlands--has not substantially been reversed by the military government. Indeed, between Russia, in the north, and Hindu-dominated India, to the south, lies a hodgepodge of restive Muslim peoples whose ethnic borders do not conform to legal ones: Tajiks live in both Tajikistan and northern Afghanistan, Pushtuns live in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, and so on.
The fragility of this region, coupled with the looming political shock of U.S.-led military strikes against terrorists, could turn the area into a shatter zone of collapsing states. Afghanistan is an example of how the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, while they happened at home, will force the U.S. to take on even more imperial responsibilities abroad.
-- Anonymous, October 14, 2001