Karzai and Kipling

"Sept. 20 — President Hamid Karzai on Tuesday questioned the need for further international military operations within Afghanistan, while the top U.S. military commander here predicted more fighting in the weeks ahead as Taliban guerrillas continue to mount attacks and U.S.-led forces respond.

Karzai, speaking at a news conference two days after landmark parliamentary elections were held with minimal disruption, called instead for a "stronger political approach," focused on shutting down guerrilla training camps and financial support outside the country."  Washpost.

Hamid Karzai is an Afghan, a Pushtun to be precise.  He knows that Afghanistan is a wild, high, tribal place that was created in the 19th Century by imperial Britain and imperial Russia as a convenient buffer state between the boundaries of their Asian dominions.  Their purpose in doing this was simple.  The "Great Game" was being played at that time with increasing ferocity and danger of war in Central Asia.  A neutral space was needed to cushion the effects of super-power competition.   Domination and occupation of what is now Afghanistan had been attempted by both empires.  They had found it to be an unprofitable, in some cases disastrous, enterprise.  A brilliant idea emerged in Delhi, London and St. Petersburg.  The conversation in these cities must have been something like this – "Let’s draw lines around this unoccupied space on the map and recognize it as a sovereign state!  What shall we call it?  Ah. The strongest group call themselves ‘Afghan.’  Brilliant!"

The world has "cycled" a number of times since then and in the latest turning of the wheel of history we see the recreation of an independent Afghanistan under the aegis of the West and America in particular.

We Americans see the campaign in Afghanistan as just one theater of war in a global struggle against international Jihadism with the Moriarty-like figure of Usama bin Laden lurking in secret, somewhere.  Afghanistan for us is a place to pursue his followers to the death.

Karzai is trying to tell us that Afghanistan is what it always was, a country made up of many ethno-religious communities, ruled at the local level by leaders whom we call "war lords" and who the Afghans know are the same as the tribal and regional figures who have always ruled this region.  We are pleased to think of Afghanistan as an emerging, centralized and globalized democratic state, but the Afghans, like Karzai, know the truth.  They know that Afghanistan is a poor, loosely knit country in which all the different factions and peoples in the country must be brought together by the "central government" in a consensus that establishes a "status quo" accepted by the local forces that will always hold the balance of power in the country.

Karzai also knows that the interests of all the foreign players must be satisfied if there is to be the modicum of quiet which would constitute "peace" in Afghanistan.  Iran, Russia, Pakistan and now the United States must all be brought into consensus before the Afghans can once again weave exquisite textiles and play "Buz Kashi" in peace with their bearded Green Beret friends.

He wants us to stop pusuing OUR dreams in Afghanistan.  Our dreams are too destructive, too massively disruptive.  They are interfering with his important work for internal and external reconciliation.  They are interfering with a return to the real Afghanistan.

"Four Things Greater Than All Things Are; Women And Horses, and Power and War."  Rudyard Kipling writing on Afghanistan in the 19th Century.

Pat Lang


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9 Responses to Karzai and Kipling

  1. RJJ says:

    Do we even know how to think about a place like Afghanistan, sitting here in our deluxe walmarted double-wides, with the jacuzzis, the central heating/AC, and the ATVs parked outside in the paved carport?
    27 million people with 6 million in cities??
    How does the price of fuel affect the average Afghan (or tribes person).

  2. Pat Lang says:

    Depends on who you mean by “we.” If you mean Americans in general, we can’t even understand that there are different cultures within this country. How could we be expected to understand Afghanistan or the “culture continent” within which it is embedded.
    Personally, I wish I wasn’t too old to play Buz Kashi. pl

  3. RJJ says:

    Is Buz Kashi polo with a sheep, loser dies (in the olden days) contest?

  4. J says:

    i suggest that if you ever see a buz kashi horse headed towards you, get out of its way. and if you ever want to play the sport, make sure you wear heavy leather garments to avoid being cut up by your opponents whips. but fear not, there is no shooting or stabbing allowed. other than that, have a blast and enjoy.

  5. RAM says:

    When we went into Afghanistan, I was sure we could remove the Talaban government. We’re really good at breaking things. But, I wondered, then what? The 19th Century British had experrience with eliminating what we call Third World governments these days and installing their own, and they were abject failures in Afghanistan. And Iraq, for that matter. We, on the other hand, are lousy at the game. How many times have we taken over in Haiti? And how many times have we been successful at establishing a democracy in a tiny island nation just off our own coast? Zero. And we pretend we can be successful at it in Afghanistan and Iraq? A question we might want to ask ouselves–if we were ever in the mood to ask ourselves questions–is who will be the 21st Century Dr. Brydon?

  6. RJJ says:

    To play with Afghans I would need more than heavy-duty outerwear, I would need a whole new set of genes and a different upbringing.
    Some of these Central Asians appear to be one with the horse.
    This is probably stereotyping.

  7. Pat Lang says:

    Nah! It’s like with Rugby. You need “leather balls” to play with the Afghans. pl

  8. ali says:

    That’s a realistic view of Karsai’s dilemma. Assertive central government has always meant war in Afghanistan.
    Seeing Afghanistan as a constructed imperial buffer zone is very perceptive. The other thing the British did was slice the Pushtun ethnic groups territory in two. The half that was in the Raj is now Pakistan’s ungovernable northern province the rest in the Afghan South. This is one of many factors that makes Pakistan inherently unstable and also explains much of their meddling in the affairs of Afghans.
    To the South lies the multi-ethnic miracle of democratic India which is to some extent a product Iranian and British domination. Nation building can work but allow a few centuries.

  9. W. Patrick Lang says:

    CKz— So, you trust these genruls to do the right thing… Well, bless you. Hope is not a planning system. Pl

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