Afghanistan is not a country. Never was, never will be. If you are looking for Talibans, they are everywhere and nowhere. What you have is an amorphous collection of tribes roaming their traditional range. Their allegiances changing with the ability of the range to sustain life. Even in the good old days, the reach of King Zahir Shah’s rule was limited to the major cities, with a lot of help from, yes, the Russians, and it diminished exponentially beyond the city walls.
Afghanistan is inhospitable territory, part of a larger desert. The western mind nurtured on the economics of exploitation and exponential growth where every citizen is monetized has a hard time putting its arms around the hard but independent life of the tribes-people in Afghanistan and NW Pakistan.That part of the world has been a “terrorist” factory since the dawn of humanity.
Some 30,000 years ago, the ancient ancestor of the Pashtuns, in the seventh year of the 100-year famine, summoned his 4 sons, and said, “Go west, young man,” just like Horace Greeley or John Soule…but he did not stop there, adding East, North, and South as well, and told them to beat the crap out of anybody they see. A true story, documented better than any story in the bible, and borne out by the genetic evidence of the earliest of human migrations out of Africa. Arnold Toynbee has called this land the “roundabout of the ancient world.” They have followed their ancestor’s advice like clockwork: descending on India in the times of famine, for example, they ruled the country for thousands of years, setting up dynasties after dynasties like the Moguls, by beating the crap out of the local Nabobs and Rajahs at will.
They beat the British, so the Brits, jointly with the Czarist Russia, invented the Durand line. The Durand line was an acceptance of defeat by the British, but not for trying. NW Pakistan is littered with “monuments” to the defeated and dead British soldiers.
They beat the USSR. And now, they are beating the US/NATO. The alien US/NATO cockroach, like the Russian and the British before, has just swallowed Agent K and the world is awaiting for the slimy explosion with abated breath. The Pashtun (Taliban) have all the time in the world.
To put things in perspective, there is a fable about the Pashtun and the Prostitute – When the Prostitute complained that he was not counting correctly to win the bet on his staying power, the Pashtun said, “Verily, I will start counting afresh, one, …” They may not be good at math, but they have the staying power that the US/NATO cannot match. They have that uncouth will to carry on in the face of certain annihilation that the “civilized” west cannot swallow.
While the Waziristan/Swat Emirate and other stories like that make for good copy, they have little significance. Pakistan inherited the NW territory in 1947 from the British with its Pashtun tribes…and the years of uneasy truce followed. The tribal areas within the borders of Pakistan have always been quasi-independent. (Pakistani Pashtun population is significantly larger than the Pashtun population in Afghanistan.) The tribes invoke their Jirga for justice, do not fully recognize laws of Pakistan, and are free to cross the so-called international border to Afghanistan and back at will. History of Pakistani control over these tribal lands (and those in Baluchistan) is full of military action and aerial bombardments whenever the tribal chiefs have tried to mount unruly insurgency to get more power or money.
Pakistani military profits handsomely from the US (and the USSR in the 70s) oil and opium dreams. General Musharraf followed the time tested strategy: it is not the rebels against the USSR when General Zia was in power, it is the Talibans against the US/NATO. Same difference. We still have to deal with the Pakistani military even so the political power is now in the hands of the feudal landlords, who always win in “democratic” elections.
The land of tribes now has a number of US/NATO bases scattered on the proposed oil pipelines from central Asia and Iran. Are they looking for a 6 foot 5 Arab hooked to a portable kidney machine? Chances of Bin Laden being still alive are rather slim. Even if he is still alive, Al-Qaeda has shown time and again it does not need him or Afghanistan to carry on their low level activities. Are we there for oil? We better hurry, since increasingly, Iran and the central Asian dictatorships are entering into bilateral oil contracts with China, the new 800-pound gorilla on the block, or are compelled to deal with Russia at their door-steps. In short, the strategic reason for us to be in Afghanistan is no longer solid! Perhaps, we are there for opium. Enterprising generals can make a quick buck while the industry sells a lot of arms and ammunition to support their enterprise at the expense of the taxpayer.
The upshot of all this is simple: For the rulers in Pakistan, the militants or the Talibans are an essential part of the strategy to scare and contain an impoverished populace, and they are noisy enough for the Pakistanis to collect billions from US taxpayers. For the corporate-military complex here at home, Orwell’s “perpetual war” is of the essence. It keeps the dollars rolling, rolling, rolling. The corporate-military complex is not worried about winning. All they want is their share of the opium trade as there is little chance to snatch central Asian oil away from China.
Perhaps Sarah Palin was the better choice: she could have unwittingly pulled out of Iraq and Afghanistan while keeping the corporate-military complex busy drawing up plans to invade Alaska. They have oil, don’t they?