Afganistan is sliding out of control. A recent US report concluded that corruption, graft and just plain incompetence is eating up billions of our dollars with few results to show for it. (Also, as you know, 90 percent of the world's heroin originates in the poppy fields of Afganistan. We are not able to prevent or even reduce this.) The seriousness of the situation is such that Obama has announced the transfer of a further 20,000 American troops from Iraq to Afganistan.

I recently read The Travels of Ibn Battuta. The Moslems came to power around 630 AD. They were the dominant power until around 1500, perhaps later, but by then they were in decline. Ibn Battuta's travels took place between the years 1325 and 1354, a period of nearly 30 years. This was during the Middle Ages in Europe. At that time the Moslems were ahead of the Christian world in many respects, especially in medicine, science and mathematics. Ibn Battuta traveled to much of the extensive Moslem world and even went to Constantinople which was then capital of the Christian Byzantine Empire. He went to Afganistan, even then a Moslem country. Here are some of Ibn Battuta's relevant comments:

"It is inhabited by a people from Persia (Iran) whom they call the Afghans. Their mountains are difficult of access, having narrow passes. These are a powerful and violent people; and the greater part of them are highway robbers.

We next left Kabul by the way of Kirmash, which is a narrow pass situated between two mountains, in which the Afghans commit their robberies.

We, thank God, escaped by plying them with arrows upon the heights, throughout the whole of the way."

Before the Taliban (Pashtun ethnics) period of control, Afghans were ruled by some 20 or so individual warlords. When we first invaded Afghanistan seven years ago, many of the Northern warlords rebelled from Taliban control and joined with us in ousting the Taliban. So successful was this that we even gave up chasing Osama and the Taliban into the mountains on the Pakistan border. We left that to our new warlord friends. Big mistake.

The largest ethnic group in Afghanistan is the Pashtuns and this is where the Taliban originated. Some decades ago they took over most of the country by subjugating a majority of the warlords. What we should do is repeat the tactics of our original success except now officially return the warlords to power in each of their own regions. Our presence would only be to make sure that no one warlord subjugates others. In practice this means not letting the Pashtuns (Talibans) get out of hand. We would maintain a "Coalition of Willing warlords," as we had loosely at the start of the Afganistan war, but additionally officially return them to power in their own area. It appears that most of the additional 20,000 US troops are headed for the Pashtun (Taliban) area. Perhaps, inadvertently I'd guess, we are beginning to apply our early war tactics.

Today, except in Kabul and the locally surrounding area, most of the warlords are pretty much independent and running an old tribal system of government. No one has ever successfully occupied Afghanistan. Not the Persians, not the English, not the Russians and so far not us. Are we immune to learning from history? We go off on lofty goals such as converting people to true democrats molded in our US image. Well it is not happening nor will it. What about democracy there? What about women's rights? What about improved living conditions? I say what about it. We cannot convert the world. That has been made abundantly clear in Iraq where, even today, it has a shaky government and where simmering ethnic Sunni-Shiite problems lie just below the surface. Pessimistic? You bet. Any rational person has ample reason to be so.

Theodore Theodorsen


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