"The Russians went in without totally comprehending the implications of what they were getting involved in," said J.N. Dixit, a former Indian ambassador to Kabul. "America is reaping the results of its miscalculation also." http://sg.news.yahoo.com/010913/3/1g3m0.html Thursday September 13, 9:55 PM Afghanistan-a chilling story of bungling superpowers By Myra MacDonald -------------------------------------------------------------------- NEW DELHI (Reuters) - They massacred the armies of the British Raj. They virtually destroyed the Soviet Empire. And now they are under suspicion in the biggest attack on the mainland of the United States, the world's sole superpower. If Washington decides to strike at Afghanistan for sheltering prime suspect Saudi-born dissident Osama bin Laden, it will be following others who tried to tame the Afghans. And failed. "In addition to the natural hatred which every Afghan feels towards a foreign invader, there is a strong underlying current of fanaticism," wrote one old Afghan hand. "Unless promptly checked, (it) becomes at times, and especially against a Christian enemy, uncontrollable." That was about Afghanistan in 1880, written by British Field Marshal Lord Roberts, after ill-fated British invaders had been massacred in Kabul. The story of Afghanistan, an arid mountainous country at the crossroads of central Asia, is a chronicle of miscalculation. The British army tried twice to invade in the 19th century in a bungled attempt to build a buffer to protect India's borders. Moscow sent in troops on Christmas Day 1979 to protect its southern borders. Its retreat, at least 13,000 Russian deaths and nine years later, precipitated the collapse of the Soviet Union. And the United States supported the very people who may now be trying to destroy it -- helping Islamic militants, including Osama bin Laden, to drive the Soviet Union from Afghanistan. "The Russians went in without totally comprehending the implications of what they were getting involved in," said J.N. Dixit, a former Indian ambassador to Kabul. "America is reaping the results of its miscalculation also." THE GREAT GAME For many in the British Raj, the tangle with the Afghans started as a game, or the Great Game as it became known, led by eager, ambitious soldiers determined to make their names. They also had the missionary zeal of 19th century Christians who believed their desire to tame the wild Muslim tribesmen of Afghanistan was a battle of good over evil. Prompted by fear that Russia might seize control of Afghanistan, Britain decided in 1838 to invade. Twelve thousand men, 38,000 followers, and thousands of elephants and camels marched to Kabul to install a puppet ruler. But then came rebellion, and a disorderly evacuation in which thousands died, killed by tribesmen or of cold and hunger. Britain invaded again in 1878. This time the British resident of Kabul and his escort were massacred by a mutinous mob. A century later, Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev ignored those urging caution and invaded to back a leftist government in Kabul. Like the British before them, the Russians underestimated the complexity of Afghanistan, failing to see that support for the left in Kabul had no backing among the tribes in the countryside. "You cannot talk about Afghans as a single cohesive identity. They are fiercely autonomous people, not inclined to accept centralisation," said Dixit. U.S. SUPPORT Fearing a spread of Russian influence into South Asia and even as far as the strategic oil-producing nations in the Gulf, the United States provided covert support to the Afghan rebels through its then main South Asia ally, Pakistan. But far from extending its power, Moscow became bogged down in a nasty guerrilla war in what was the Soviet Union's Vietnam. Reformist leader Mikhail Gorbachev ordered a withdrawal in 1988, but in doing so lost support at home and eventually his job. The collapse of the Soviet Union followed. The vast majority of Afghanistan is now controlled by the Islamic fundamentalist Taliban government, allegedly supported by Pakistan, the United States' erstwhile ally. Pakistan denies providing military support to the Taliban but is one of only three countries to have recognised it, along with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The Taliban has also denied bin Laden was behind the U.S. attacks. "There was a feeling of triumphalism among the jehadi (holy warriors) terrorists when the Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan," Indian defence analyst K. Subrahmanyam wrote in The Times of India on Thursday. "Many of them, including...Osama bin Laden, used to tell the Americans who trained him in special operations that the jehadis had defeated one superpower and thereafter it would be the turn of the other superpower," he wrote.