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A focus of attention in 2001, Afghanistan is now back burner. That is a real shame because the Afghan people deserve better. Unfortunately they are still more or less locked into feudal warlordism. The infrastructure and economy are slowly reviving, but the future is clouded by the resurgence of the Taliban.

The history of Afghanistan is well-illustrated by Afghanistan Online. Much of what follows comes from this and similar sources.

Animal domestication, a precursor for civilization was developed very early in Afghanistan. On the crossroads between Mesopotamia, and other Civilizations, Afghanistan provided vital links for the expansion of civilization itself. Bronze may have been invented there.

Beginning in the fifth century BCE, Afghanistan was conquered by various invaders.

Monotheism came to Afghanistan in the sixth century BCE but Buddhism remained the primary culture until 400 CE when the White Huns destroyed it. Islam arrived in the seventh century CE and Afghanistan has been basically Islamic ever since.

Genghis Khan brought a new administrative system but destroyed irrigation systems with adverse results. With the loss of Baluchistan to the British in 1859, Afghanistan became landlocked. The British involvement in Afghani governance continued through three wars until 1921 by which time its Northern border with Russia became fixed.

During all this time, violence was a common denominator in regime change. Wars with neighbors and imperial powers were another common event in Afghani history. Monarchies were the most common form of government.

America recognized Afghanistan diplomatically for the first time in 1934.

As the British withdrew from India in 1947, Pakistan was carved out of Indian and Afghani territories. Afghanistan turned to Russia for military help in 1955.
The Purdah (Hindu system of secluding women) was made optional in 1959.

1965 saw the creation of a Communist party with Babrak Karmal one of its leaders. The first democratic election occurred that same year. Karmal was elected to parliament but later instigated riots.

After a coup that overthrew the government, Daoud Khan declared himself president in 1973. Women gained increased rights in 1975.

1978 witnessed a bloody communist coup in which Daoud Khan was killed. Civil strife ensued. Afghan guerrilla (Mujahedeen) movement came into being. Mass killings became commonplace; so also for individual assassinations and executions. The Soviet Union invaded a year later.

Mujahedeen continuously opposed the Soviet puppet government and harassed occupation forces. Some 50,000 Soviet troops lost their lives in combat. The peace accord was signed in Geneva in 1989. Civil strife continued.

Mujahedeen took Kabul, eliminated the Soviet puppet government, and liberated Afghanistan in 1992. Rabbani was installed as president. Civil strife continued.

The Taliban militia, born in 1994, advanced rapidly against the Rabbani government. Northern tribes also opposed Rabbani. Kabul was destroyed. Civil strife continued.

Taliban captured Kabul in 1996 and extended its control over most of the nation. Earthquakes and genocidal killings followed that increased the overall misery of the nation.

America launched cruise missiles on Afghanistan's Khost region in an attempt to kill Osama bin Laden in 1998. Genocidal killings continued.

UN Security Council Resolution 1333 was adopted in 2000 imposing additional sanctions against the Taliban for their continuing support of terrorism etc.

In 2001 "Taliban destroy ancient historical statues in the Kabul Museum, historical sites in Ghazni, and blow up the giant Bamiyan Buddhas from the 5th century. World expresses outrage and disgust against the Taliban action."

During this period bin Laden formed an alliance with Mullah Muhammad Omar, the head of the Taliban.

11 September 2001 and the destruction of the World Trade Center in New York by bin Laden changed the direction of history in Afghanistan. US bombing began on 4 October and in five short weeks the Taliban were routed from the Northern provinces. The Taliban collapsed entirely on December 7, remnants of the movement fled to mountain sanctuaries that had provided historic security and bases for continued resistance. This time it did not work that way. Smart bombs either took out the caves directly or created avalanches of rock and boulders that sealed them. From there, most Taliban and Al Qa'ida remnants fled into Pakistan.

How long the present government will last is anyone's guess. Warlords and terrorists remain to be pacified. A society infrastructure must be created from scratch. And, if democracy is to survive, a generation or more of experience in such governance may be needed before continuity of governance with stable opposition groups in equilibria can be established. Feudal remnants in the form of warlords, radical Islam in the form of terrorists, or inept governance could bring it to an end. At the least, an extended United Nations presence seems necessary.

During the first six months after the war, a large number of officials flowed through the embassy; reconstruction projects outside Kabul were put off until Mr. Karzai became transitional president; vital projects such as the Helmand province water system were ignored because they were too expensive and and extended to have any immediate effect. Work on the road system has barely begun at this late date.

War lords took over the governorships of provinces with US and other foreign support to keep the Taliban at bay, never mind that such behavior alienated the people whose support is also needed to counter the Taliban. When Karzai tried to dismiss the worst ones, US officials demurred. Karzai, miffed then refused to dismiss the one or two the US would have allowed.

The US policy became one of hedging its bets with a primary result that Afghanistan was transformed into something akin to warlordistan. Warlords themselves are extremists and will not reform. They use what foreign assistance is provided to kill and subdue enemies as they enrich themselves. For them it is the same business-as-usual approach to life that has worked well for them for the last three decades.

Even so, some progress is being made. A start on the road system is tangible evidence. And army officers are learning individually how they can deal with the Afghani populace to better effect. Finally, the embassy staff now has some responsive diplomats on station who may be in a position to make a difference.

Still the big ticket items needed for a firm national recovery are being put off. And the warlords continue to be coddled.


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