Monday – September 17, 2012
The last musing did not mention that for five days Rory had to plow through snow up to three feet deep nor that he did not see a useable road for three weeks. Even those roads were heavily mined, but they were not designed to explode except under the weight of vehicular traffic. Paths along the roads were a different matter, mined extensively with antipersonnel cluster bombs. Almost every evening as he sat in a mud hut after dinner conversing with village men he was warned of the danger because they all knew of someone recently killed by the cluster bombs.Rory made his way across the country by obtaining letters of introduction from the tribal leader of one village to the tribal leader at his next stop, except in one instance in which a vendetta existed between the two. In recent weeks one village had been raided by the other, killing 20. In retaliation, the other village was raided and 30 were killed. Why? Who knows? Rory was advised to bypass the next village and given a letter of introduction to the village beyond. Most of the village leaders had been war leaders, having fought either the Russians, the Taliban, or both, or other ethnic tribes supporting war lords they did not like. He passed many villages that had been destroyed and abandoned, most recent ones because of American bombing of Taliban strongholds, and others burned to the ground by the Taliban to discipline the villagers for not practicing Islam to the extreme that was demanded, which meant, among other things, no music, no dancing, no alcohol, no woman allowed to go to school or to leave her mud hut unless escorted by a male relative. Most stayed inside, weaving carpets in their spare time for which they could earn about $10 a month. Most of them had never been more than a two hour walk from their village. Entering one village, Rory was shot at from a distance. He found the village chief, delivered his letters and that night at dinner the chief admitted he was the one who had fired the shot. Rory asked why? The chief nodded to their dinner partner. “Because he bet me that I couldn’t hit you.” Another tribal leader was asked why he had fought the Russians. “Because they didn’t require our women to wear head scarves and stole my donkeys,” he said. When he was asked why he fought the Taliban, he replied, “because they stole my donkeys and made our women wear burqas (a from-the-ground up outer garment revealing nothing but two narrow eye slits.) He then added, “they also cut off my toes for not having a beard.” The most frequent question Rory was asked was how much it cost to buy a wife in Scotland. Afghans were amazed to hear his answer. Afghan custom is to pay the father-in-law about 3 years pay or the equivalent in donkeys and goats to buy his young daughter, unless a man marries his brother or sister’s daughter, a quite common custom since that kind of marriage is free.
Enough discussion of the book, which was all I originally intended. For additional perspective, a brief history of Afghanistan is offered. With about 26 million people now, no outlet to the sea, not a single railroad, it qualifies as one of the most impoverished, illiterate, war torn and ravaged countries in the world from the times of its first invasions by Alexander the Great and the Mongols of Genghis Khan, through the British invasions from India during the 1800s (the first ended in 1842 when a single soldier – of about 15,000 who invaded – made it out alive to tell the story). The British invaded again in 1878, captured a couple of the major cities and withdrew after setting up a puppet government. For the next 40 years the country was a British protectorate. In 1919 Afghanistan claimed independence and declared war on Britain. The Brits didn’t stick around and until 1933 various war lords fought it out for territorial leaderships until one survivor established himself as king, a total autocrat for the next 40 years, but during that time Afghanistan was mostly at peace and became a safe “haven for hippies” along its roads in the 1960s and early 70s. In1973 the king was deposed by his cousin, who was then assassinated along with his entire family 5 years later. Russia entered the vacuum, invading in 1978 and establishing its own puppet communist government. The Russians were mostly disliked not because they were communists, but because they were foreign and did not show respect for the Koran or religion. The mujahideen declared jihad, a holy war, and Afghans have been fighting ever since. With CIA assistance, the Russians were expelled in1989, leaving behind an Afghan communist government to fend for itself. It collapsed in 1992 amidst civil war, and until 1995 different war lords skirmished in turf battles, each supported by their own militia, and took control of various cities. Out of the strife, corruption and internal fighting, a new movement arose – the Taliban. Born from refugees who had fled to Pakistan and the Pakistani students who had attended the religious schools there, they entered Afghanistan, picked up local Pashtun support, and quickly swept the country, driving the war tribes of the Northern Alliance out of Kabul in 1996 and occupying 80% of the country, leaving only a small pocket controlled by the Alliance in the north. Initially, the Taliban were well received. They were expected to end corruption, restore stability, gain more respect for Sharia law and the Muslim religion. But soon they became brutal enforcers of a most fundamentalist Muslim state, killing many Hazeras and Shia Muslims, anti everything Western, and allowed the former Mujahideen, Bin Ladin, to establish anti western terrorist camps in the mountains comprised mostly of foreign Arabs and Pakistanis. When 9/11 occurred and the Taliban refused our request to turn over Bin Laden, the U.S. invaded. Many Afghans never even knew the reason, but within 3 months the Al Qaeda terrorists had fled and the Taliban were thrown out of power and dispersed – and Rory began his walk.
His book was first published in 2004, and when I read it I thought what a clue it could have given American leaders and our citizens when we embarked on our mission in Afghanistan 11 years ago. About six weeks ago I decided to find out what had happened to him since. He’s been busy. In 2003 he was appointed as a deputy governor of 2 provinces in Iraq (near Basra) by the British coalition forces during that war. In 2004 he became a Fellow at the Carr Center at Harvard. In 2006 he relocated to Kabul at the request of Prince Charles (he had been a tutor to William and Harry) to become CEO of a non-profit foundation trying to redevelop the commercial center of the city by building clinics and handicraft galleries. A rogue British ambassador to Uzbekistan informed the media that Rory had been a member of MI6 (Btitain’s equivalent of the CIA) during his walks. It was denied by all and the ambassador was sacked. In 2008 Rory returned to Harvard as a Professor of Human Rights and a Director of the JFK School of Government. During the summer of 2009 he was a consultant to Hillary Clinton and a member of our envoy Richard Holbrookes’s special committee on Afghan and Pakistan policy. He left Harvard and in May 2010 was elected as a Tory Member of Parliament in the British House of Commons. During that time he has had a lot to say in speeches, essays and his testimony before our Senate Foreign relations Committee on September 16, 2009. The following is a condensed version of some of his opinions:
“The fundamental assumption of the western allies is that an ungoverned, hostile Afghanistan is a threat to global security. This has been presented as a formal argument by President Obama: ‘If the Afghan government falls to the Taliban, that country will again be a base for terrorists who want to kill as many of our people as they can.’ He proposed ‘to provide a more capable and accountable government affording security, opportunity and justice.’ NATO has gone further, proposing to ‘create a democratic state in Afghanistan.’ The fundamental problem with these strategies is that they are trying to do the impossible. Americans are particularly unwilling to believe that problems are insoluble. Conjuring that there can be only one winner, democracy and a strong afghan state, that failure is unacceptable, and promising a final dream of legitimate governance, inflates our sense of power and moral obligation and creates an almost irresistible illusion.”
“Defeat of the Taliban is now unlikely. They are stronger than in 2005, but no longer able to take over the country as saviors like in 1996. Their brutality, incompetence and primitive attitudes have been exposed. The opposition to their presence now by the majority is too strong. Maintaining a troop presence of more than 100,000 and spending more than $130 billion a year does not lead us to believe that our presence might be unwelcome, perceived as illegitimate or that we might be making things worse. In the past 2 1/2 years more than twice as many NATO troops have been killed as in the prior 8. The best policy would be to forget state building and defeating the Taliban, to reduce our troop level to about 15,000, conserve our resources, limit our objectives to assisting in counter-terrorism (not counterinsurgency) and development and be prepared to stay for 30 years working with Afghanis to, at best, possibly get them to the level of where Pakistan is today.”
These were Rory’s views 4 years ago, before the surge. They are still his views, his major regret being the extra 4 years of waste that has occurred in the meantime. I would be interested in your views. For more information, Rory has a blog, website and numerous speeches on YouTube. He is not going away.
Thanks for stopping by.