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February 8, 2012

Afghanistan: A hippie trail or a graveyard?

By Abdulateef Al-Mulhim

An older friend of mine (Ibrahim) told once that he was visiting Afghanistan for an official visit in the mid 1970s. And he saw extra joy on the faces of staff of the Saudi Embassy who met him at Kabul airport. It turned out that the embassy staff had only 3 Saudis who knew how to play the poplar Saudi card game called (Beloot). So, they wanted a fourth player so badly. The first question he was asked by the staff was not about his trip.

The question was: Did he know how to play (Beloot)? He told me you can’t imagine their disappointment when I told them I didn’t know how to play. This is how bored our Saudi staff in Kabul. And how badly they wanted to finish their years of assignment. So, trying to get out of Afghanistan is not a new story. The British soldiers couldn’t wait to leave in 1919 and 70 years later, the Soviets were happy to leave in 1989. Now it is the Americans who want to leave. Soldiers always want to go home.

I remembered this little story last week when all the top American and British intelligence services reported the funniest report about Afghanistan. It simply said, “The Pakistani military and intelligence services supported the Afghan Taleban.” First, I hope they didn’t promote the one who wrote this report.

Wasn’t it the Pakistanis who invented the Taleban? Now, the Americans are asking about the best way to pull out of Afghanistan a year later (2013). It is like telling the enemy, I will give you my 10 years of wasted blood, money and pride, so you can do anything with it. The Americans are telling the Taleban to wait just one year and they can have a party after they kill anyone who worked with or supported the Americans. The Taleban will kill anyone who stands in their way. Afghans take no prisoners.

Afghanistan is a country which is known as the graveyard of superpower. It gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1919. And it has a population of around 30 million people. And an area almost the size of Texas (250000 sq. miles). The people have different background with different way of life. For thousands of years, life in Afghanistan was based on how strong the tribe is. Having a chief is a must. And the irony of the modern history of Afghanistan was the early rivalry between the US and the Soviets in the 1960s.

Afghans took advantage of it. The American built some of the infrastructures in Afghanistan. And until the 1970s and just before the coup in the late 1970s that toppled the regime of Daoud by Nur Taraki and Babrak Karmal, the American and Western young men and women were coming to Afghanistan for what is called the Hippie Trail. It was an all day partying and a day and night Woodstock without having New York state police asking why there is more smoke near the little town of Bethel than the smoke from the steel mills in Pittsburgh? Afghanistan is a mysterious place. What you learn about Afghanistan today will change tomorrow.

Now, the Americans want to leave Afghanistan after 10 years of continued war that crossed the border to Pakistan. Wars always get wider. We all remember Operation Menu in 1969. The US had to cross borders from Vietnam to Laos and Cambodia. And to this day nothing is accomplished except the division between the east and west.

In September of 2001, it was clear that the US was going to attack Afghanistan. I thought the Americans would do an air operation without the use of land forces. We all thought, it was known to the men and women in the White House, the Pentagon, the State Department, the National Security and finally the CIA headquarters, that Afghanistan is no place to send a young man from a small town of the US. I am not sure if the Americans knew Afghanistan or simply wanted to use and try their weapons. And I am not sure of how the most sophisticated intelligent assets miscalculate events. I do understand the grieve of the American administration on Sept. 11, 2001, but we are talking about the lives of innocent people in Afghanistan, Pakistan and let us not forget the lives of young American men and women from the US, Britain, France and Norway and many other countries.

Afghanistan was invaded by the Soviets just one day before Christmas in 1979. And from that day the US was involved in every aspect in Afghanistan. The US boycotted the summer Olympics in 1980. Hollywood made movies about how brave the Afghans are.

The CIA had an operation named Cyclone to stand against communism. And US National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski flew to see the Afghan borders from Pakistan. But, what the US didn’t know was that an Afghan can be a Taleban, a drug dealer, a terrorist, a tribal chief, pro-American, anti-American, a communist, a hospitable man, a killer or a religious man… all in one day.

The US should not have intervened with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan… The Soviets would have left before Feb. 15, 1989. History taught us that no one wants to stay in Afghanistan. And finally, if the US had left the Afghans and the Soviets solved their own problem, then Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001 would have been business as usual at the World Trade Center and a normal peaceful sunny day in the Big Apple.

Abdulateef Al-Mulhim is Commodore (Retd.) of Royal Saudi Navy.