US mistakes in Afghanistan

Dr Akbar Ahmed lists US mistakes in Afghanistan

* Writer says no history of subjugation have made Wazir, Mehsud tribes ‘very confident’
* America’s ‘fatal error’ was to ‘walk away’ after the war with Soviet Union

By Khalid Hasan; Daily Times, January 24, 2008

WASHINGTON: The key for the United States in dealing with Waziristan is to work through the government of Pakistan to pacify or calm the tribes, get hold of Osama Bin Laden, if he is there, and to make the tribes respond positively to their needs, something the government has failed to do, according to Dr Akbar Ahmed, who once served as a political agent in the area.

Dr Ahmed, author of a book on how to deal with the culture and people of the tribal areas, told an online magazine Globalist in an interview that the Bush administration should learn from history, which it had not. Asked what makes the situation so tricky, he replied, “The people of Waziristan feel that they are the toughest, the noblest, the bravest of the very brave and noble people, the Pashtuns. Their self-esteem is very high. They are not intimidated by anyone.

Never subjugated: “Throughout history, Waziristan has been invaded by empire after empire, and was never subjugated. With that history in mind, the Wazir and Mehsud tribes are very confident.”He noted that after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the tribal people and the people of the region — not just the tribal people — thought the US and the Americans were their close friends. Together with the Americans, they faced a common foe that was the Soviet Union. “They are simple people. They saw Americans as God-fearing and the Soviets as godless. And they saw the Soviet Union as a bully, a superpower that had charged into Afghanistan and was raping, looting and killing people. These people have a great sense of local democracy and fair play. They felt that this invasion had to be resisted. So the tribal areas were enthusiastically sympathetic to the Afghans, not just because they are ethnically akin to the Afghans. In the 1980s, the Americans were popular with the local people.”

Fatal error: Asked what reputation the CIA and the Americans have in Waziristan after the Soviets were expelled, Ahmed said initially, the Americans had a good reputation, because it was on account of them, especially the CIA, that the Afghans had won the war. The CIA, working with Pakistani intelligence, was able to provide weapons to the Afghans and especially Stinger missiles to shoot down Soviet helicopter gunships. But not long afterwards, Afghans realised that their land lay devastated because of the war. One-fourth of their people had lost a limb or a leg because of Soviet’s brutalities. Their homes had been uprooted. There was starvation in parts of Afghanistan. It was then that they thought their American friends would help them. But the Americans just walked away. That was the fatal error. When the US walked away, it left a vacuum. The warlords came back, along with local rivalries. This time the king of Afghanistan was no longer there to act as a unifying force. It was just an implosion of society. In that vacuum, the world saw the emergence of the Taliban. In that anarchy and chaos, emerged Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda and the stage was set for the September 11 attacks, Ahmed said.

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