Monday, December 1, 2008

WHERE OBAMA WANTS TO FIGHT HIS FIRST WAR

Robert Fisk, Indpendent, UK - Throughout the 1980s, the Soviets and the ANA held the towns but lost most of the country. Today, America and its allies and the ANA hold most of the towns but have lost the southern half of the country. The Soviets secretly sent another 9,000 troops to join their 115,000-strong occupation force to fight the "mujahedin". Today, the Americans are publicly sending another 7,000 troops to join their 55,000-strong occupation force to fight the Taliban.

In 1980, I would sneak down to Chicken Street to buy old books in the dust-filled shops, cheap and illegal Pakistani reprints of the memoirs of British Empire officers while my driver watched anxiously lest I be mistaken for a Russian. Last week, I sneaked down to the Shar Book shop, which is filled with the very same illicit volumes, while my driver watched anxiously lest I be mistaken for an American (or, indeed, a Brit). I find Stephen Tanner's Afghanistan: A Military History From Alexander The Great To The Fall Of The Taliban and drive back to my hotel through the streets of wood-smoked Kabul to read it in my ill-lit room.

In 1840, Tanner writes, Britain's supply line from the Pakistani city of Karachi up through the Khyber Pass and Jalalabad to Kabul was being threatened by Afghan fighters, "British officers on the crucial supply line through Peshawar... insulted and attacked". I fumble through my bag for a clipping from a recent copy of Le Monde. It marks NATO's main supply route from the Pakistani city of Karachi up through the Khyber Pass and Jalalabad to Kabul, and illustrates the location of each Taliban attack on the convoys bringing fuel and food to America's allies in Afghanistan.

Then I prowl through one of the Pakistani retread books I have found and discover General Roberts of Kandahar telling the British in 1880 that "we have nothing to fear from Afghanistan, and the best thing to do is to leave it as much as possible to itself. . . I feel sure I am right when I say that the less the Afghans see of us, the less they will dislike us".

Memo to the Americans, the Brits, the Canadians and the rest of Humpty Dumpty's men. Read Roberts. Read history.

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