AFGHANISTAN – LAND OF A MILLION GRAVES
Afghanistan - a hard, "schizophrenic" land of terrible courage & indomitable will. It is a land where millions of graves line the horizon of Afghanistan.
Why there will be no peace in Afghanistan – EVER?
Afghanistan has always been an unsolved puzzle to the world – a land rich in culture, history & mineral wealth. It has ironically always been a poor, desolate place. Afghanistan sits astride the confluence of 3 geographical junctions – Central Asia, Middle East & South Asia. It has been ignored by all three. As a gateway, Afghanistan has great strategic value but it has never risen upto it’s true potential and today’s, Afghanistan remains one of the poorest countries. Trying to understand the reason is a step in the direction of understanding the WHY of Afghanistan.
The afghans defeated Russia in 1989, but surrendered meekly to Pakistan sponsored Taliban. After that, within a couple of years, the afghan army surrendered meekly & Taliban took over Afghanistan. Again in 2001 the US comes into the country defeats Taliban, dismantles their government and after in withdraws in 2021 the afghan army – trained & equipped by the US, has started surrendering to the Taliban – AGAIN …. sometimes without even fighting.
I will not go into the who’s who and what’s what of the Afghan situation. What I try to do here is tell you, WHY DO AFGHAN FORCES LOOSE CONSISTENTLY TO TALIBAN?
Usually the seed of any current problem lies in the past, in the culture and in the psyche of a nation & it’s people. So it does for Afghanistan.
The British during their 200 year of rule, conquest & defeat, described them most accurately.
When the Imperial British army entered what is now known as Afghanistan seeking to expand the boundaries of it’s Raj (British Raj), they encountered these strange people who demonstrated such opposing qualities that it confused and bewildered the British. But the afghans had one more equality that set them apart from everyone on the Indian subcontinent. They were fiercely religious and subservient to the mulla, the maulvi & the kazi. They would grovel, kowtow and even kiss the feet of these traveling, proselyting, healers & soothsayers in white clothes and flowing beards.
It was this last characteristic of the Afghan people that makes them what they are as a nation – A land of a million graves.
Across centuries, the British, the Russians & the United States (and countless others) invaded the area, sometimes for land, for route to Asia or to fight terror – like madmen, the Afghans fought each of them. Primitive & under developed, that they were/are, they fought and lost but sometimes they won too. They have consistently demonstrated a lack of military skill but they make up for it by unadulterated unmatched bravery. No defeat was ever final – they kept on fighting. (were they too stupid to stop?)
QUESTION : HOW DO A PEOPLE SO FULL OF TERRIBLE COURAGE & INDOMITABLE WILL LOOSE SO EASILY TO THE TALIBAN?
I present below a few interesting & true anecdotes of their history. These events amply demonstrate the schizophrenia that characterizes them & gives a reason to explain their repeated capitulation to Taliban
The Anglo Afghan wars of 1839-42, 1878-80 were, like all wars fought by afghans were bloody and hard – BUT after the second Anglo-Afghan war, the afghans also served in the British Indian Army (Imperial Indian Army). The British army employed the afghan trials to man the Khyber Pass and keep it open for the British Army to come into their country and invade them. For the right price they agreed. For the right price, the afghan tribals kept the Khyber Pass open throughout the duration of war. And it was a brutal war that resulted in 2 million afghan deaths. It did not bother them too much besides these afghans were not too averse to looting the British too – if the opportunity rose and the reward was right.
PS – the responsibility to guard the Khyber Pass was given to 3 Afghan tribes – Afridi, Orakzai & Shinwari. These three tribes were called the “Great Robbers of Khyber”
The British recruited a number of afghans into the IIA ( Imperial Indian Army). Afghans were much sought after (initially) as soldiers mainly because of their physical attributes however the British learnt a lesson they never forgot.
A majority of the afghan recruits never completed their training. As soon as they were issued a gun, they’d run away with it back to their villages. Upon investigation the British found that they would enroll into the army to get a gun – not to fight or to wage any war. The gun was a symbol of “mardangi” for the Afghan and bigger the gun the more ‘mard” he was. So the afghan would steal the rifle and run away to afghanistan (forgetting that without bullets the gun was useless) and show off his gun in his village, impress the girl’s father enough to marry his daughter. These guns were much better than their single shot jezails (muskets
Yes, it is funny, but that’s what they did – enrol in the army, steal a gun, run off & marry.
If the second anecdote was funny, this last anecdote is deadly serious.
When the British, represented by Elphinstone met the Amir of the Yusufzai clan in the Helmund Valley, in Afghanistan, he described them as men who were deeply religious and unbelievably generous. But those who followed Elphinstone had a very different experience.
General John Nicholson, (the great war hero of the Anglo-Afghan wars and unanimusly hated by the afghans), saw that the Afghans had an almost childlike trust in the mullahs and preachers. The most revered were the Sayyieds who claimed to be descendants of Ali (of the prophet’s family & the fourth Caliph). They demanded absolute obedience and instant compliance. The Afghans acquiesced quietly and willingly. So ingrained was this behavior that –
Kandhar, April, 1996 :- Mullah Omar, appeared on the rooftop before a large crowd of Afghans he declares himself the Amir ul Mominen of Afghanistan/Taliban. No one opposed nor resisted – WHY?
Mulla Omar had carefully orchestrated the entire episode to imitate the self coronation by Umar ibn Al-Khattab (637 CE), the second Caliph (Khalifah) of Islam. Like Umar ibn Al-Khattab, Mulla Omar draped himself in Afghanistan’s most revered relic – the white mantle of prophet muhammed. After declaring himself Amir ul Mominen (a title used in time of Umar), descends onto a white minivan (Caliph Umar rode on a white camel) and declared the march towards Kabul.
Simple use of these symbolisms enabled Mulla Omar to subdue inter tribal rivalries and grudges. Every tribe got behind the Mulla and marched towards Kabul.
PS – we have witnessed their child like trust in mullas but once this caravan ul mominen reaches Kabul In September 1996, they display extreme sadistic brutality. They capture President Najibullah, publicly flog him, castrate him and then hang him in the central square.
Tribal loyalties & rivalries, love for the gun (Ticket to marrying a good girl) coupled with religious submissiveness towards the Taliban ( religious students & maulvis (adepts in islamic ways) makes this war, a war that the afghan state will loose and chaos will once again reign. And once again another million graves will line the horizon in Afghanistan
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