Reply Wed 12 Nov, 2008 08:27 pm
rather than tacking this on to the old thread :
i decided to create a new thread and will link the old and the new .

old thread : http://able2know.org/topic/82057-1

with president-elect obama apparently determined to display more military might in afghanistan , would he perhaps benefit from reading history ?
is there any need to shed more blood in afghanistan or would it be better to understand its society ?
the president-elect might do well to arrange for a meeting with the afghan leader of 200 years ago to hear his words :
“We are content with discord, we are content with alarms, we are content with blood,” the old man said. “But we will never be content with a master.”



The TimesNovember 13, 2008

The harsh lesson of Afghanistan: little has changed in 200 years
As President Karzai visits Britain, an account written by the first European to visit his country still has much to teach us
Ben Macintyre

Two hundred years ago this month, in the middle of the Great Indian Desert that separated British India from the uncharted lands to the northwest, British soldiers encountered Afghan warriors for the very first time.

The British force, led by a Scottish diplomat with the splendidly imperial name of Mountstuart Elphinstone, consisted of several hundred near-mutinous sepoy (native Indian) troops, a handful of white officers, 600 camels, and a dozen elephants loaded with gifts.

Elphinstone, the first European diplomatic envoy sent to Afghanistan, had been dispatched from Delhi to coax the “King of Caubul” into an alliance against Napoleon, to explore this terra incognita, and - in the unlikely event that he survived - to report back to London on the “wild and strange” land beyond the mountains.

For a month Elphinstone slogged through the desert wastes, encountering bandits, warring clans and ferocious tribal chiefs off their heads on opium and alcohol who could be spoken to only in the early afternoon, that being the “interval between sobriety and absolute stupefaction”. For guidance, he had to rely on accounts of Alexander the Great's expedition, written more than 2,000 years earlier.

Just inside the border of what is now Pakistan, on November 21, 1808, Elphinstone was met by a body of 150 Afghan mounted troops, riding two to a camel, terrifying bearded figures each carrying a glittering matchlock musket. “Their appearance,” he recorded with fine Scots understatement, “was altogether novel and striking.” No one in his party could understand a word that they were saying.

So began the first formal contact between the British crown and the fractured state of Afghanistan. The latest chapter in that story will be written today, when the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, arrives in Britain for the Prince of Wales's birthday party.

Astonishingly little has changed in the intervening two centuries: the Afghans are still regarded by Britain with a strange mixture of awe and incomprehension. The histories of our two countries are entwined like no other, yet that history has been routinely and tragically ignored or forgotten.

At 29 years old, Mountstuart Elphinstone was absurdly young, entirely fearless and very slightly mad. But he was also highly intelligent, fluent in Persian and Hindi, and profoundly observant. His book about his Afghan adventures - An Account of the Kingdom of Caubul - remains one of the most perceptive surveys of Afghanistan yet written, with such sublime chapter headings as “Rapine - how occasioned”.

In many ways, the society he described has barely changed.

The first meeting between the British diplomat and the Afghan King took place on February 25, 1809, in Peshawar, east of the Khyber Pass. As David Loyn recounts in Butcher and Bolt, an excellent new study of British engagement in Afghanistan, Elphinstone was stunned by the opulence of the Afghan king's outfit - “one blaze of jewels” - and the huge diamond, the cursed Koh-i-Noor, hanging from his wrist.

The British visitor was also intrigued by the Afghans' strenuous fitness regime, and one exercise in particular. “The performer places himself on his hands and toes, with his arms stiff and his body horizontal... he then throws his body forward, and at the same time bends his arms, so that his chest and belly almost sweep the ground.” This special form of exercise torture has been inflicted on soldiers and schoolchildren ever since. Elphinstone had discovered the Afghan press-up.

But he also noted something more profound. For all the finery, Afghanistan was chronically unstable, and about to tear itself apart. He compared it to ancient Scotland, a place of complex tribal animosities, clansmen raised on mountain hardship and bloodshed, riven by untraceable feuds and alliances, where central authority barely extended beyond the royal palace gates.

As so many British observers have been, he was drawn to the Pashtuns, with their fierce code of honour. “Their vices are revenge, envy, avarice, rapacity and obstinacy; on the other hand, they are fond of liberty, faithful to their friends, kind to their dependants, hospitable, brave, hardy, frugal, laborious and prudent.” They spent most of their time fighting each other, but they swiftly combined to repel any outsider and were ever “ready to defend their rugged country against a tyrant”.

Afghanistan, he wrote, could be understood only through its kaleidoscopic tribal structures. “The societies into which the nation is divided possess within themselves a principle of repulsion and disunion too strong to be overcome,” he noted. When the British marched into Afghanistan to bring about regime-change a few years later, Elphinstone, now in retirement, advised that the venture was hopeless.

Sure enough, in 1842, 16,000 British soldiers and camp-followers were slaughtered during the retreat from Kabul, the worst military disaster the Raj had suffered.

Britain's subsequent misadventures in Afghanistan followed a similar pattern, as successive generations of diplomats and soldiers sought to shape policy and impose change from outside without regard to local circumstances. In 2001 the EU representative to Kabul, Francesc Vendrell, candidly admitted that, since democracy had apparently been implanted in the country, “it was not thought necessary for us to understand the tribal system”.

There are small signs that the realities Elphinstone understood two centuries ago may finally be sinking in: General David Petraeus, fresh from Iraq, plans to enlist tribal leaders against the Taleban; a political settlement, John Hutton, the Defence Secretary, insists, is essential to a long-term peace.

Barack Obama has pledged greater commitment to the Afghan conflict, and will soon be making his own perilous journey into the diplomatic and military wilds of Afghanistan. Before he sets off, he might ponder the insights of the very first emissary to that beautiful and benighted place, and the words of an Afghan tribal elder who accosted Mountstuart Elphinstone, two centuries ago, to explain his turbulent world.

“We are content with discord, we are content with alarms, we are content with blood,” the old man said. “But we will never be content with a master.”
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Reply Wed 12 Nov, 2008 08:41 pm
“We are content with discord, we are content with alarms, we are content with blood,” the old man said. “But we will never be content with a master.”

Were the Afghanis content with their Taliban "masters" running things?

More appeasement rhetoric.
0 Replies
Finn dAbuzz
Reply Wed 12 Nov, 2008 08:49 pm
There is a disturbing sense of cynical smug Western condescension whenever someone argues that Afghanistan is and always has been a land of bandits whose people cannot possibly understand, yet alone embrace the notion of liberty and democracy.

Historically, Afghanistan has been fiercely independent and this would certainly argue against any foreign power's attempt to conquer or control it, but it take a a leap of cynicism to suggest not only that pre-Obama but post-Obama America itends to do just that.

Merry Andrew
Reply Wed 12 Nov, 2008 11:33 pm
Rex and Finn -- I hope you both realize that the thread is about Afghanistan, not Barak Obama or his foreign policies?
Mr Stillwater
Reply Thu 13 Nov, 2008 02:14 am
@Finn dAbuzz,
a land of bandits

**** that! Whether the Afghans will ever become 'democratic' is moot. Right now they are the world's supplier of opium, a crop grown and distributed in the so-called 'secure' areas. This stuff becomes the currency of criminals and terror groups, no matter what their colour or stripe. To talk of 'liberty' and 'democracy' in a nation where the only career path is either drug grower or gun-man is meaningless. That might occur when the Afghanis can actually have a future that includes clean water, an education and a chance to engage in lawful trade.
Reply Thu 13 Nov, 2008 02:25 am

A good article, thanks Hbg.

I, although previously ignorant of the exploits of Mountstewart Elphinstone, counselled against attacking Afghanistan in the days before the ill-fated "Shock and Awe" campaign. For reasons of morality, legality, and common sense as well as historical reasons.

What a tragic episode in our history Bushco has engineered.
Reply Thu 13 Nov, 2008 06:17 am
The real tragedy will be what O-boy does in Afghanistan.
0 Replies
Reply Thu 13 Nov, 2008 07:33 am
Normally I am on the side of anti-war when these discussions take place, but I don't understand how anyone can claim that the war with Afghanistan was unjustified. I agree that it could have been run better and the way they seemed to have just picked everybody up and put in prisons without due process and used tactics that in my opinion bordered or crossed over in torture was and is not excusable. However, we were attacked on a scale which was nothing less than a statement of war from Al Qaeda with Bin Laden as its leader. The Taliban refused to cooperate with us so we had no choice to but to go after him and AQ. What should we have done, just said, "that was a bad thing to do" and then done nothing else?

Those behind the attack should be caught and brought to trial and sentenced no matter how long it takes. They have to be held accountable.
0 Replies
Merry Andrew
Reply Thu 13 Nov, 2008 08:00 am
I have to agree with Revel here. The Iraq invasion, from inception to the present day, was and is an unjustifyable total disaster. Afghanistan is an entirely different kettle of fish. And Afghanistan is "unfinished business" as long as the Taliban remains a force to be reckoned with. Afghanistan must be secured and the Taliban neutralized. It is heartening, to me, to know that President-elect Obama has said that he intends to scale down operations in Iraq but beef-up the defense of Afghanistan. There is also a world of difference between how the US is involved in the two countries of Iraq and Afghanistan. We seem to be treating Iraq as a sort of client-state, much like the USSR treated, say, Poland. In Afghanistan, on the other hand, we seem to be doing the right thing. We don't appear to be interested in establishing any sort of semi-permanent presence there. We're just backing the present government until it becomes capable of taking care of its country by itself. But if we don't neutralize the Taliban now, we'll just have to back at a later date and bail out that democratically elected government. That would be calamitous. Let's see how Obama handles this.
Reply Thu 13 Nov, 2008 08:24 am
@Merry Andrew,
To suggest the Police Action is Iraq is different from the Police Action is Afghanistan is proof that the govt and media did a good job in selling.

We really have no interests in either place. Our soldiers should NEVER be used in police actions. However, in our never ending battle to bail out Europe and the UN, if our military is needed, we should minimize the use of troops and maximize our use of bombs, tactical nukes or whatever.

If Pakistan has a problem with that, then we should bow out and tell Europe and the UN to handle it.
0 Replies
Reply Thu 13 Nov, 2008 09:54 am

first it was a senior british general who publicly stated that a "military" solution in afghanistan is not about to be achieved - a reference is in the original thread - , now the british public is getting tired of this ill-fated mission .

Britons call for troop withdrawal
More than two-thirds of Britons think UK troops should leave Afghanistan within a year, a BBC poll has found.
Of 1,013 people polled, 68% - 59% men and 75% women - said troops should withdraw within 12 months.
... ...
'Public opinion'

But another participant, columnist Simon Jenkins, said the government should take notice of the survey.
He told the BBC: "I think the government should always pay attention to public opinion, particularly in matters of war and peace. It has never received a popular mandate for this war in any realistic sense.
"It was done at the bidding of the Americans - there's a new American president we might be able to capture something from that but he's equally in favour of it. I just think we should pull out."
... ...
The Ministry of Defence said the UK was committed to keeping a military presence in Afghanistan until the Afghan government could maintain security and the rule of law in the country.

link to full article :


how afghanistan with a "totally" corrupt administration can be brought back to some semblance of normalcy through war like action , i find difficult to understand - and so find many that have extensive experience in afghanistan - read what the former british commander said in the original thread .

Bribery rules on Afghan roads

By Bilal Sarwary
BBC News, Nangarhar province

On a hot summer afternoon in the chaotic border town of Torkham in eastern Afghanistan, Mohammad Younas is counting the money he needs to bribe local customs officials.

Torkham, in Nangarhar province, is one of the busiest crossing points between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Every day, hundreds of trucks and cars, laden with passengers and goods, pass through.

The 35-year-old Afghan truck driver is carrying 15 tons of tomatoes he picked up in the Pakistani city of Peshawar.

Trials and tribulations

However, before driving towards the city of Jalalabad Younas has to wait an hour to get to the front of the queue.

One Afghan customs official checks his papers and gives him the green light, but then asks Younas to wait until his papers are "cleared".

After a few minutes of waiting, Younas pulls out 5,000 Afghanis ($108).

''You see this bribe? If I don't pay now, they will make me wait here for hours. The tomatoes will be spoiled in this hot weather."

Younas has agreed to let me ride in his truck so I can see for myself the trials and tribulations faced by the average Afghan transporter.

link to full article :

Reply Fri 14 Nov, 2008 01:12 am
India was the same as Afghanistan but instead of warring tribes it had kingdoms. The difference was the prize. India by pre-industrial standards was a rich nation with fertile soil and land of spices. Afghanistan by far is a poor country with dry mountainous landscape. There is limited agriculture except for poppy growing from which heroin is produced. The Brits wanted India and captured India by winning one kingdom at a times. Afghanistan can be won over one tribe at a time. The problem is Kashmir. India refuses to have a Kashmir referendum as promised to the UN in 1949 or so fearing all the Muslims will vote for independence and later join up with Pakistan. India instead sent in thousands of Indian troops into Kashmir. The Raja or king of Kashmir was Hindu and joined up with India while the majority (90%) of Kashmiris are Muslim and don't want to join with India. This is what is generating the Muslim extremists who are setting off bombs in India. Pakistan has a population of 200 million and there are also 200 millions Indian Muslims in india. These extremist are also interfering in Afghanistan.
0 Replies
Reply Fri 14 Nov, 2008 06:54 pm

the looming food shortages - really a famine - in afghanistan may undo much of the work that has been done to bring stability to afghanistan .
as even generals have pointed out : the solution has to be a political one .
and now it's quite clear that a political solution has to include getting enough food to hungry villagers .
if no food aid is brought in , there is one group ready to provide relief : THE TALIBAN !


'Famine greater threat than Taliban to Afghanistan'
31 Oct 2008, 1009 hrs IST, AFP

LONDON: A looming famine in Afghanistan poses a greater threat to international efforts to rebuild the country than the ongoing insurgency there, a leading defence think-tank warned on Friday.

According to the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), a combination of factors -- from rising global food prices to a summer drought -- have created the conditions for a famine in Afghanistan this winter.

"While the eyes of the world have focused on violence which is increasingly terrorist in character, an estimated 8.4 million Afghans, perhaps a third of the nation, are now suffering from 'chronic .. food insecurity'," RUSI analyst Paul Smyth said in a briefing note.

"Whatever the effect of insurgent violence on the UN-mandated mission in Afghanistan, it is widespread hunger and malnutrition that will place a greater obstacle in its progress."

He continued: "To maintain its credibility and moral authority to act in Afghanistan the international community must take timely, concerted and effective action."

British charity Oxfam warned earlier this year that around five million Afghans face food shortages, and the UN's special representative in Afghanistan has appealed to insurgent leaders to allow aid workers to distribute food ahead of winter.

Since the Taliban were ousted by a US-led invasion in 2001, they have been waging a bloody insurgency against the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) there.

Smyth noted that "for all the focus on insurgency, a more serious blow will be dealt to the Afghan government and the UN/ISAF mission if the international community does not prevent a predictable humanitarian disaster."
0 Replies
Finn dAbuzz
Reply Fri 14 Nov, 2008 10:16 pm
@Merry Andrew,

Simply because someone references the name "Obama" doesn't imply a desire to discuss his policies.

Reread my post, and in particular:

...but it takes a a leap of cynicism to suggest not only that pre-Obama but post-Obama America intends to do just that.

Clearly I am refering to American foreign policy as respects Afghanistan whether it be pre or post Obama.

You guys need to be a bit less reflexive with your bias.

0 Replies
Finn dAbuzz
Reply Fri 14 Nov, 2008 10:25 pm
@Mr Stillwater,
So you, obviously, believe it to be a "land of bandits."

Whatever point you are trying to make is incoherent.

It is "meaningless" to discuss liberty and democracy in terms of Afghanistan?


Because the Afghanis are historically and inextricably intertwined with banditry?

Because a long succession of invading conquerors (including America) have consistently reduced them to banditry, and always will?

You seem to have a rather low opinion of Afghanis. Have you met many?
Mr Stillwater
Reply Sun 16 Nov, 2008 03:41 am
@Finn dAbuzz,
I merely quoted you, that was the expression you used in your post.

I don't think they are 'bandits', I have not expressed the opinion that they have historically been 'reduced to banditry'. Again, that is your expression.

I think they are in the uneviable position of having no rule of law at present, only the rule of strongmen. And if the strongmen prefer to trade in opium, that is detrimental to the majority of those Afghanis who don't.
Finn dAbuzz
Reply Mon 17 Nov, 2008 12:19 am
@Mr Stillwater,
Yes, you took a phrase I used out of context and then used it incoherently.

Am I to blame for that?

Reread your post. It is not unflattering to Afghani Warlords alone.
Mr Stillwater
Reply Tue 18 Nov, 2008 12:22 am
@Finn dAbuzz,
Am I to blame for that?

Sheesh Rolling Eyes

OK - I will play along.

1. Name one Afghani growth industry since 2001, ie a private employer
2. Name one product that you might buy from a ordinary US supermarket (not just a shop that specialises in products from the region) that was grown in Afghanistan
0 Replies
Reply Wed 19 Nov, 2008 10:26 pm
At present the only real value of Afghanistan is its geography. It is located next to the Caspian Sea oil region such Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Western oil companies wouldn't want the oil pipelines going thru Iran which is next door to Afghanistan. East and South of Afghanistan is Pakistan. The extremist Muslims want to cut off the oil from the region by controlling Afghanistan. Many Western oil companies have drilling operations in Kazakhstan.
Reply Tue 25 Nov, 2008 01:31 pm
the U.S. may not like the idea of letting afghans decide what's best for them , but more and more brits seem to think that there is little choice in the matter - "they've had it up to here" .

for complete article see :

New realism in Afghanistan rhetoric

By George Alagiah
BBC News, Lashkar Gah, Afghanistan

When the commander of British forces in Afghanistan tells you that "good enough" is the best that can be achieved here, you have to sit up and listen.

Brigadier Gordon Messenger is every inch a military man, which makes it all the more surprising to hear him settle for something that sounds suspiciously close to second best.

He would deny that characterisation of his words, but accepts there are limits to the Afghanistan project.

The Afghanistan British troops leave behind - and no-one is willing to commit to any timeline other than to repeat the mantra that it will take "many years" - is going to be an imperfect state.

Parts of it may well remain beyond the reach of central government in Kabul, and some of those responsible for the mayhem of the last 30 years could well retain much of their power and influence, perhaps even their militia.

New realism

It is a far cry from the beacon of democracy some had hoped for.

"I don't think it will be recognisable in Western Europe, but Afghanistan will be something which will provide good enough security for the people. I think good enough should be what we look for," the brigadier said.
"It's not second best, it's realistic.

"There is a new realism in the air. In fact, all that has happened is that the rhetoric is finally catching up with what is actually happening on the ground.

add a word or two from the british ambassador :

It is time to dismantle the insurgency by opening up a dialogue

Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles
British ambassador

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