Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.
Apparently "Afghan" is a name the Pashtun people give themselves. At some times in the past the country has been more or less unified and stable. The key issue in Afghanistan now seems to be that the Pashtun Majority is dominated by the Taleban and that the Taleban and the dominant powers from the other ethnic groups don't exactly get along. The rest of the ethnic groups managed to strike a balance and form the Northern Alliance in 1996, and that grouping still survives today as a "loyal opposition" party to Karzai's (Pastun, non-Taleban) government. The country is split into two by mountains. To the south is essentially the basin of the Helmand river which is the Pastun home turf, as well as the Kabul basin; and to the north is the basin of the Amu Darya river which is where the Tayiks, Uzbeks and Kazakhs have their base.

It seems that, if the Northern Alliance doesn't want to submit to Pastun rule (which they have in the past) they can hold out in their turf North of the mountains for as long as they need to. It also seems that the Pastun, being the majority ethnic group, will tend to hold the overall power. The Northern Alliance seems able to live with Karzai's Pashtun faction, so "the Afghanistan problem" seems to be a civil war between the Taleban, backed by Pakistan and at some point claimed to be "wholly owned" by Bin Laden, and other Pashtun factions represented by Karzai and, say, king Mohammed Zahir Shah, and backed by the US.

That is now, in the 1980's the US saw fit to back the Taleban, and before the 1970's they didn't care.

To be honest, if that is "the Afghan problem", civil wars cannot be won by outside powers, and if they are not won decisively or wound down by attrition they can simmer for decades. But I don't think the West should be involved in the level of brutality needed to win a civil war decisively, and given the proliferation of foreign backers for the various factions the conflict it not likely to die by attrition.

A humanitarian disaster it might be, but in that respect the Taleban are not much worse than the Northern Alliance. The Communist/Soviet one was also a "westernizing" cultural influence in the 1970's and we saw how that turned out. But if a state of peace could be reached maybe work by NGOs on the cultural aspects would actually be feasible. Just don't expect quick results: it might take 30 years.

And, of course, for nearly 200 years Afghanistan has been at the centre of "the Great Game between the British and Russia. Can't we get the fuck out of the place already? We're clearly not helping.

We have met the enemy, and he is us — Pogo

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Feb 23rd, 2008 at 10:37:07 AM EST


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