Monday, June 12, 2006


Recent loses of British troops in Helmand province, Afghanistan reminded me of a book by James Michener, Caravans (1963).

As a piece of literature, it is somewhat flawed. The characters are not entirely believable, and the situations they find themselves in are contrived to the point of incredulity. Only recently did I learn that it had been made into a movie, which suffered greatly at the box office due to the increasing strains developing between Iran and the U.S.A. at the time of its release. Not much of a surprise there.

Still, I thoroughly recommend it to Ol' Dubba and his mate Tone. Perhaps if they had read it - or learned a little about this troubled part of the world - we might not now be contemplating further troop losses in pursuit of what must be described as a failed policy.

No-one (including the Russians who had a go in the 80's) has ever successfully waged war against the Afghans. This includes the British - in the guise of The Bengal Lancers and Kim. The "Great Game" has been played out in Afghanistan for more that a few centuries - and the western powers have not yet come to terms with their inability to "persuade" the Pathans (or Pashtoons, if you prefer) to abandon their traditional war-like life and settle down and watch some TV. Not very likely.

Tradition has it that some of these folk may be part of the lost tribes of Israel - though supporters of the Taliban and Oozama Bin-Liner may be horrified to think of it. They could be the lost tribe! What is not in contention is that they view war as an on-going, fairly traditional occupation. In other words, they like it. They are unlikely to change their minds just because we would like them to.

Now, the Taliban have had a bad press. Though they were active in Pakistan, they are chiefly know as the crazy guys who ran Afghanistan for a while and were hostile to western way and western interests. Religious nuts. Problem is: when you look at the situation for a neutral point of view, the picture is somewhat different than the one the media paint. Mostly they came to power as a result of the corruption of the previous regime, and they enjoyed some measure of popular support. They were, from many accounts, a nationalistic organisation opposed to Western influence on the culture of Afghanistan. Perhaps, to you and me, their political programs may seem anti-progressive and anti-westerner. To the Afghan people it is likely that they seem the usual bunch of folks who have run Afghanistan for a very long time and are likely to do so for a very long time after we have left. You are not going to wear these people down. They are experts at guerilla warfare. It's part of their life style and culture.

What have we to oppose them. Modern weapons. We out-gun them. They, however, have the support of the people. Sound familiar? It ought to. It's what we call a no-win situation. The puppet regime in Kabul will fall (just like in Vietnam). The Taliban will return to power (just like the Viet Minh). In twenty years Afghanistan will be the British people's choice for a cheap holiday. Remember, you heard it here first.

Unfortunately, some American and British boys will not be there to enjoy the sunshine.

No comments: