This is a post I wrote a month ago and forgot to publish! Here it goes.

Tonight I helped my 16 year old daughter, Isabella, study early 20th century Indian history. She has a test tomorrow. As a result, I ended up getting really into the whole issue regarding the current Afghani/Pakistani border region, which used to belong to the northeastern province of India, and which the Viceroy George Curzon tried to run, unsuccessfully.

If you study the conflict between the Russians and the English over control of what is today Afghanistan (The Great Game), and see how both parties failed completely in the Pashtun Pakistani/Afghani region, you realize that we, meaning the Americans and Europeans in Afghanistan today, have not learned too much. What I read of this Wikipedia article made a big impression on me, especially this bit, which is referring to when the English fought the Pashtuns:

The British, who had captured most of rest of South Asia without significant problems, faced a number of difficulties here. The first war with the Pashtuns resulted in a devastating defeat, with just one soldier coming back alive (out of a total of 14,800 people).

That’s right. They sent 14,800 soldiers to fight the Afghani Pashtuns…and only one returned.
From what I’ve read it looks like 100 years have passed, but little has changed. Trying to control Afghanistan/Pakistan continues to be mission impossible. You can also understand how it can be that those behind the terrible Mumbai attacks came from Pakistan, but that Pakistan in itself is not responsible for them, because for a whole century the Pashtun tribal region has been a land of fanatical warriors (the Taliban among others). They not only cause many problems around them, but getting involved with them appears to be the equivalent of falling into a black hole of death. This region includes parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan. I will cite an article by the expert María Amparo Tortosa Garrigós, published in my foundation’s online bulletin.

The data show that there has been an increase in terrorism since the initiation of the Anglo-American coalition’s combat operations. There were no suicide attacks from 2001 to 2003, three in 2004, seventeen in 2005, and in 2006 the figure shot to 124, resulting in 4,400 victims. What does this peak coincide with? With the spread of said operations to the southeast (Operation Medusa in Kandahar during the summer of 2006, and to Helmand in March 2007 with Operation Achilles). We must add to this that in 2007 there were 137 suicide attacks resulting in 6,000 casualties (of which 210 were coalition soldiers and 700 Afghans). In June alone of this year, 90 civilians died in ten days from collateral damage. Up to this point, there have already been 4,300 civilian victims in 2008.

I suppose there are two reasons to be presently occupying Afghanistan, with the occupation, of course, being led by the United States. One is that in Afghanistan itself, atrocities are not being committed against women, children, or any of its residents in general, although we are all aware of the horrors and abuses that the Taliban (with a majority being Pashtuns) committed. But frankly, although I understand why human rights issues in Afghanistan worry us, to me it doesn’t seem like it would be easy to explain to an American parent that his or her child died defending the rights of Afghan girls to go to school. The other reason to invade is because if we leave, Al Qaeda will come back, and from there export terrorism, like it did in the past by controlling the government. This justification is more reasonable and supported by history because that’s exactly what Osama Bin Laden did: he took control of the government and attacked the West. It is no secret that Barack Obama intends to shift the war on terror to Afghanistan, and indeed he has been calling for such a shift for over a year. In fact, it looks like, under Obama, the number of troops on the ground in Afghanistan will double by as early as next summer. But, as I learned while helping Isabella, the cost of them staying there will be very high. Aside from the fact that these additional troops must be budgeted for during this very serious economic crisis, this year has already been the deadliest for American and NATO troops in Afghanistan. What’s more, I would say that the possibility of really reforming Afghanistan and transforming it into something resembling a democracy is very slight. I often wonder if, instead of trying to stick with the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, it wouldn’t be simpler to have more border and internal security.

I will finish by recommending an article by professor Zidane Zeraoui, also published in my foundation’s bulletin, which addresses the topic of what the government of India can do now that it is known that the Mumbai attackers came from Pakistan. An English version may be published in the near future.

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Alun John on January 21, 2009  · 

Hi Martin

Perhaps you might also want to teach your daughter the difference between English and British. You will find that it wasn’t just the English involved (and getting killed) then and now but also Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish.

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Martin Varsavsky on January 21, 2009  · 

@ Alun John:

You are right. The British.

David Oliver on January 22, 2009  · 

There is a long history of foreign forces getting bogged down in this part of the world. However while the coalition forces have made a lot of mistakes in Afghanistan they did need to do something. The biggest mistake the Taliban made was providing a base for Osama Bin Laden, otherwise they probably would have been left alone.

Its interesting how these countries change as far as their openness to foreigners over time. In 1988 I backpacked across China into Pakistan traveling right along the Afghan border. However the Soviet Union was closed, the Russians were still in Afghanistan and I couldn’t get an Iranian visa so flew to London. But in the mid 1970’s my uncle drove his family in a VW Combi van all the way from London to Iran and around Afghanistan before driving back. Pakistan was considered too dangerous back then.

Today the countries where westerners can (relatively safely) travel has changed again.

3.0 rating on January 29, 2009  · 

I took Martin’s reference to the ‘English’ as rather an enlightened dig: those other inhabitants of the British Isles referred to would, i am sure, much rather have stayed at home than travel the world in the name of imperialism.

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