On The Conquest of Quagmires
Two days on, and three more provincial capitals in Afghanistan have fallen to the Taliban. None of these is from the strategic trio of Herat, Khandahar or Jalalabad in the news over the weekend, Instead, they have overrun the key northern city of Kunduz, as well as Sar-e-Pul and Taloqan.
What al this means is that those of us enjoying the benefits of Western democracy—and especially those in the USA—must get it through our heads that not everyone else can, or even wants to be, like us. Such ‘rebels’ are not persuaded by the attentions of AC-130H Spectre gunships. Learn this and the future for the highly diverse cultures across our planet becomes rosier.
Let’s discuss this Regional Quagmire issue first as vackground to this.
Mao Zedong said some crazy things, but one of his more profound utterances was “The guerrilla must move amongst the people as a fish swims in the sea”. There are few occupying forces that survive the hostility of the indigenous population for long. Where locals are few (e.g. Australian aborigines) or unused to hardship (e.g. post-Roman Britain) or culturally fragmented (e.g. colonial India), the period of dominance can be long. But where the natives are used to hardship, the terrain makes hiding easy and communication difficult, the problem becomes insuperable. Consider the pre-Culloden Highlands, or Soviet partisans in WW2, or the Viet Minh in French Indochina. Afghanistan may be one of the most virulent examples of this type. The locals were hardy warriors before the British Empire existed. Lord Elphinston’s disastrous expedition from India in 1842 was only the first of a series of setbacks suffered by the British whenever they ventured beyond the Khyber Pass.
Approaching from the North, the Russians fared no better, despite powerful forces equipped with armour, gunships and air strikes. After ten bloody years, their withdrawal in the face of fierce Mujahadeen resistance in 1989 was humiliating. There can be few countries in the world that combine as mountainous and inhospitable terrain with a resilient people, inured to hardship by long tradition of fighting and surviving by their own wits than Afghanistan. There is ample evidence that there may not be a harder for any outside force to crack.
(to be continued)