So we are pulling out of a place we should never have been; Afghanistan is a misunderstood matter and applying 21st century thinking about solutions will only result in calamity as is being shown by the latest attempt to “modernize” what has never been anything other than nine plus ethnic tribes living in proximity to one another.

The Mongols, Moghuls, Persians, British, and Russians could not create a nation state out of this region and now the United States has learned what it should have learned from history but didn’t; Afghanistan isn’t. That’s right, there is no actual place known as Afghanistan. The region is dominated by a number of tribal areas with the largest being the Pashtuns and the Tajiks. There are Uzbeks, Hazara, Balouch and a number of minor tribes but ask someone from “Afghanistan” for their identity and they will respond with their tribal affiliation. Some from the city of Kabul may be international enough to tell you they are an Afghan but it will be only a small percentage.

The area has Shia and Sunni Muslims as the majority religions with a number of the tribes having Irani/Persian ethnic origins. There is lots of cross border interaction between tribes and their ethnic cousins in countries like Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Iran and Pakistan. This is especially true in the east where the Pashtuns cross freely into that area of Pakistan known as Waziristan, a region unto itself, where even the Pakistani Army fears to venture. This is the base of the Taliban (Taliban is a Pashto word meaning students. It’s root is ta li ba “to study,” one who studies is a talib and more than one is taliban. In this case they are supposedly students of the Koran and Islam.)

So Afghanistan doesn’t exist in other than a name and the boundaries the Brits and then the UN drew on a map. There is no ethnic cohesion and certainly no national cohesion. Look at how quickly the security forces have evaporated. Why? Because they have nothing to fight for. There is no national identity to protect, there is no loyalty to a government comprised predominately of Pashtuns situated in Kabul. There is no religious aspect to the war, they are not defending their way of life, so why fight?

The same situation applies to some extent in Iraq where identify is fast becoming more tribal and religious oriented and any national identity that existed under Saddam is being lost. At least Saddam was able to unite most of the country under one government by playing down religion and playing up national identity. This, of course, was aided in no small part by having Iran and its spear-shaking mullahs next door.

Many of the problems in the Middle East are the results of carving up hegemony in the area after World War I when the British and the French divided the region without regard to ethnic or linguistic identities and placed false potentates on the thrones of the made-up countries. So, Afghanistan is an artificial construction yet the U.S. persists in trying to deal with it as if it were a self-sustaining nation state with a history of self-determination.

The answer to Afghanistan is simple: divide it among the surrounding countries according to the predominate ethnic/linguistic populations of the area. Where the territory abuts Tajikistan make it part of that country, Uzbekistan the same, Balouch to Iran and the east and southeast to Pakistan. You may end up with an much larger independent Waziristan by taking that territory from Pakistan and joining it with the territory the Pashtuns occupy. There will still be internecine warfare but there has been for millennia so we shouldn’t be worried by that.

Conversely, we could give the Chinese their turn in the cauldron and let them try to sort out the area. They might do this by immigration settling the area with hundreds of thousands of Chinese. In fact it might be the answer to their Uyghur problem but then again the Uyghurs might just join the Taliban and become an even pointier thorn in the side of the Communists.

At any rate these things should now be clear to all concerned: You can’t jump from the 14th to the 21st century in a decade; tribal loyalties are more important in that area than any nationalist concept; you cannot change what the majority of the people don’t want changed; attempting to impose a concept for which there isn’t even a word in the local languages (like democracy) will be met with failure; and lastly the tribes of the area invented the four square offense in a game that does not have a shot clock (see Princeton basketball) and can wait you out because they’ve been doing it for centuries.

Many of us were against introducing general purpose military forces into the area and billions of dollars and thousands of lives later we have been proven correct. We were not prescient, we just knew the history of the region. This is what the hubris of thinking you can do what other more aggressive and repressive entities failed at can lead to. People should look to the past, especially in this region of the world, to discover the future. Adios Afghanistan, we won’t miss you.

2 thoughts

  1. Well stated. We seem to not be able to learn from history. I find it frustrating and puzzling that our so called “leaders can’t read history “.

  2. When I was there in the early 70’s there was real progress and hope. Girls were being educated in Kabul University and there was a small but growing middle class. A large USAID project in the Helmand valley was turning the desert green. The tribes were living together in relative peace and you could safely drive to almost anywhere in the country. Had the Russians not invaded, it is possible that progress would have continued and we would have an entirely different situation there.

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