20 August 2009

Coloured Pencils for the Blind

Today the people of Afghanistan were called to elect a new President. This is the second time such an election takes place under the general rules of a 'democratic' system.

The first time, in October 2004, the incumbent Hamid Karzai (photo below, inspecting a guard of honour in Kabul) was elected President. He is hopeful to be elected for a second term, but he is not popular with everyone.

Karzai is a Pashtun (or Pathan) and son of a wealthy and influential tribal leader from the south of the country. With close to 40% of the population the Pashtuns are the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan and have provided the ruling elite ever since the establishment of the first singular state called 'Afghanistan' in 1747. Their territories are predominantly in the south, and they also make up a significant minority in neighbouring Pakistan.

There are more than a dozen other distinctive nations and ethnic groups in Afghanistan, of which the Tajiks - with ca. 37% of the total population - are the largest (and the second-largest in the country). Their territories are all in the north, and over centuries there has been a balance of power between the southern Pashtuns and the northern Tajiks.
All other ethnic groups are much smaller and less well represented in the political structure and make-up of Afghanistan. The two most visible of these minorities are the Hazara and the Uzbeks, each with about 9% of the overall population.

Politics in Afghanistan is based on strict tribal loyalties and age-old alliances between leaders of various clans. Even though there have been political parties for some time, they too reflect only too clearly the tribal structure of the country. The idea of an 'Afghan nation' has not arrived yet in the high and rugged mountains that control the links between the North and South of Asia, as well as the links between the West (Iran) and the East (China) of the continent.

Since the overthrow of the monarchy in 1973, some Afghan politicians have tried to establish some form of nationalism, but it has never worked or lasted for long. All their efforts ended in even more tribal conflict, which is still the predominant situation in Afghanistan.

Only a complete fool like George W. Bush, with no idea of history and ethnic structures outside the USA, could ever even think of invading Afghanistan and hoping to control it. Many nations and military leaders have tried - and failed - in such enterprises before.
Even Alexander the Great, perhaps the best army commander of all times, failed in his effort to control the mountains of the area that is now Afghanistan. And he was wise enough to realise that and withdrew his forces gracefully, after having founded a city that bore his name.

During the 19th century Britain tried - and failed - twice to occupy and rule Afghanistan and took massive casualties in the process. One of their expeditions entered the country with 42,000 men, of which only one single officer - an army surgeon - returned alive to tell the tale of total defeat.
More recently the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan from the north - at Christmas 1979 - with more than 120,000 troops. After nine years of fierce and bloody guerrilla war that helped to bring the USSR to her knees and end her existence, the Russians withdrew again - with a very bloody nose and tails between their legs - in 1988.

It has always amazed me that no-one in the political and military leadership of the USA warned George W. Bush of the dangers any military action in and against Afghanistan would bring to the invading force. Especially since they should have known what was waiting for them, after they had supported massively - but in a covert operation - the Afghan Mujahiddin (freedom fighters) in their struggle against the Soviet occupation force.
Perhaps they did warn him, but Bush - in his usual combination of ignorance and self-importance - did not listen. He just made one of his arogant and bellicose statements and sent his troops into war against a people who have not been defeated by anyone in more than 3000 years.
Like a blinded bear he just walked into the unknown, into the largest bear trap on Earth.

This was in the Autumn of 2001, and ever since Afghanistan has been - once again - an occupied country. The difference is that the current occupiers - the USA, the UK, NATO and a mixed bag of smaller contingents from various countries - claim that they are there 'to establish Democracy' in Afghanistan.

For the people of Afghanistan that means nothing. They remember only too well that the USSR was there not so long ago in order 'to establish Socialism', another idea with no value or meaning for tradional Muslims who live on the technological level of the Middle Ages.

- more to follow -
(I have to get some sleep first, sorry)

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